It's Time to Talk About the Kids

The notion of children's developmental and emotional needs is practically a no-go zone; taboo; too controversial to deal with, whether out of fear of provoking guilt in parents for some perceived failure or out of a prioritising of adults rights over children's needs. This really does need to change.

My Politics of Mothering Trilogy of 'Huff Posts' is on the shelf in its box set. Have a binge when you get the time. But for now, it's time to talk about the kids.

Yes. I really am that brave.

Where, oh where, to start. How about some impressions. Childhood and adolescent mental illness is woefully under-funded. Childhood obesity is at crisis point. The time children spend in front of screens, whether tablets, smartphones or television, is increasing. Children spend huge amounts of time in non-family care. Children arrive at school tired and hungry. The frequency with which children are assessed within the school system has increased massively and is inflicted on younger and younger children. Count the tuts in public when you have a tantruming toddler on the floor of the supermarket or just marvel at the lack of free and safe places for children just to play outside. Child poverty still exists in 21st Century Britain, one of the richest nations in the world.

We are not a child-friendly society.

So, I think it might be safe to say that kids are pretty miserable in the United Kingdom. Yes, I know, so are the adults. So is that cat who broke the Internet.

But, come on. News about our children's welfare does not make happy reading. I am not some lady standing on the corner of the street bashing a saucepan, wailing "someone think of the children". Except I wonder when it will ever be the time for people to start to think about thinking of the children.

Oh, I'm in trouble now!

The outgoing government repeatedly spoke about 'families (although rarely mentioning the words 'love' or 'care'), even deigning to employ a 'family test' in its departments to consider the impact of policy on families. Charities and organisations which deal with family life and children are extremely concerned about the life experiences of - and pressures on - our children and adolescents

Despite this, government cuts to public services disproportionately affected women and children, schools are overburdened by increasing populations, libraries and children's centres are being shut, and home-educating families are up some creek without a paddle.

What intrigues me about politics and society often comes down to language and its power to manipulate, obscure and deceive within the age of 24-hour connectivity. A political class says it values family life, whilst simultaneously whitewashing it away from political election campaigns and undermining a mother's wish to mother her family full time. The State says it appreciates the need of children for time with their families, whilst incentivising greater separation of children from their parents in the early years and before and after school. The State treats a family as a unit for benefits yet demolishes the family for the removal of tax from its purse. Politicians profess to find ways to improve the conditions of children's lives, yet it sits by while the use of food banks soars.

Think about the 'call centre' approach to public policy

For childcare dial 1; for child benefit dial 2; for childhood mental illness dial 3; for food banks dial 4; for zero-hour contracts dial 5; for health dial 6; for education dial 7; for housing dial 8; for family life, best hang up. One suspects that there is a computer-says-no attitude within the heart of the State, with the left hand disowning the right and it not knowing its bottom from a hole in the ground.

As friends would say, I am a fan of the word 'holistic', and I believe there should be a use for that word in most contexts *closet hippy* - so, let's try this out: what policymakers need to do is to take a holistic view of families and society.

This means people who work within education, health, public services, social services, housing and employment, as well as local authorities, ministerial departments and agencies which promote the welfare of children actually listening to, and working with, each other on a priority - the wellbeing of our children and communities. I know. Not quite the mainstream capitalist agenda, yet it would have huge beneficial potential for our health and wellbeing as a society now and in the future.

As things stand in 2015, we must push policymakers to address family and community life as a priority instead of regarding the welfare of families, children and the vulnerable as a hurdle or, at times, a human shield propped before economic and business interests.

As I have hinted in previous writings, the notion of children's developmental and emotional needs is practically a no-go zone; taboo; too controversial to deal with, whether out of fear of provoking guilt in parents for some perceived failure or out of a prioritising of adults rights over children's needs. This really does need to change.

And, as adults, perhaps we could start at home. Yes, you. Yes, me. Does this mean less TV? Does this mean put-that-blasted-smartphone-down and listen to your son? Might it mean finding ways to prioritise our children consistently rather than expect tit-bits of quality time to satisfy them? Might latch-key adolescents require a little more parental input and involvement in their lives?

If you have baulked at the idea that there might be a grain, just a small one, of truth in a degree of parental failing then consider this. If it not our job to love, listen to, play with and engage with our children to give them a secure base from which to explore the jungle out there, no one else is going to do it for us.

So - how about an honest look at how we, the adult population, relate to our children. Then we might start pressing the political establishment on matters which affect our kid's lives in wider society, including, say, school and academic pressures, a living wage for families, and improved public services.

There, there. Nobody said this was going to be easy.