09/05/2013 07:52 BST | Updated 09/07/2013 06:12 BST

The Queen's Speech and Its Hidden Impact on Children


If you'd listened to the Queen's Speech yesterday, you'd be forgiven for thinking that - with the exception of a welcome announcement of more help with childcare - the government's agenda for the next year isn't going to have a big impact on children.

But changes to immigration, anti-social behaviour measures and the care system will all make a real difference - both positive and negative - to some of the most vulnerable children in the UK. And it's imperative that politicians sit up and take notice.

For example, the Care Bill that the government announced today is a perfect opportunity for young carers to get the support that they need, even if it isn't focused on children at the moment.

At present, there are hundreds of thousands of children who do an amazing job providing care to a parent, sibling or grandparent. The last census said that there are 175,000 young carers, but there are likely to be many, many more. There are barriers to support services identify them which mean at the moment we can only make an estimate. And these barriers mean they miss out on the support they need, which can result in a negative impact on their health and well-being.

The Care Bill will set out clear responsibilities and entitlements for adults who provide care, and we want to make sure that the Bill also ensures children get the same rights. We are going to be talking to politicians, working with young carers and generally shouting from the roof tops to make sure young carers aren't forgotten.

Then there is the government's 'tough stance' on immigration. We heard much from the government and in the media about how reform will 'deter those that won't contribute', including foreign criminals.

But there needs to be an honest debate, which acknowledges that these rules will also apply to children, many of whom will be fleeing danger or who have been trafficked to the UK against their will.

We already work with far too many children experiencing homelessness and destitution because of immigration restrictions, which mean they can't access essential support and services. If these changes further restrict access, there is a very real risk that more children will find themselves destitute, homeless or vulnerable to exploitation.

The government also announced it would introduce changes to tackle anti-social behaviour. Without more of an emphasis on restorative justice, there is a danger that we'll end up repeating ineffective measures taken in the past.

These measures could be a sticking plaster that fails to tackle the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour, while at the same time risking pulling more children into the criminal justice system, meaning we all lose out.

So there are negatives and positives for children - not least the government's announcement about more help with affordable childcare, which has potential to help in the fight against child poverty. But what's really important is that today - and over the coming year - the government, the media and the public are clear about the impact these changes will have on some of this country's most vulnerable children in the UK.