There is a, quite correct, intense focus on the needs of children variously categorised as being at risk, in need of care, or in distress because of neglect or abuse. The numbers of such children varies and has recently been rising. What are the factors within families that are most likely to lead to children being abused or neglected? What is the threshold for statutory intervention? What is the current and likely future scale of the issue? Are there new kinds of abuse emerging, or unrecognised forms that are not yet on the radar of those watching out for such things? How prepared are we, as a society, to respond rapidly to any new sources of distress to vulnerable children?
It is clear that the neglect and abuse of children is far from a new phenomenon. My own first academic contact with the issue was Alec Clegg and Barbara Megson’s book “Children in Distress” in 1968 and the UK White Paper “Children in Trouble” which led up to the 1969 Children and Young Person’s Act.
Children’s everyday experience of distressful lives did not start with their public accounting in such documents. This is an old and extensive problem that continues to take new forms and occur over fluctuating scales – always demanding new attentions and expecting new responses.
Currently the focus is on the expectation that something should be done, immediately and robustly, whenever abuse or neglect is suspected; that preventative mechanisms should be in place for early detection of such risks in order to head things off before they become more serious; that being alert to such situations is the responsibility of everyone and not to be left to particular individuals; and that new forms of neglect and abuse are constantly emerging so that vigilance and foresight are required more than ever.
The threshold between the rigours of childrearing and the spill-over into abuse or neglect is not crisp. The extremes are obvious. Just as healthy contexts for childrearing will ‘make’ children – so there are a number of risky contexts that, if not addressed, can ‘break’ children. Around the boundary between these two are family contexts which may, or may not, turn into something risky – but things cannot always be assumed to be problematic. Family behaviours may simply be transient, may sort themselves out, especially if early help is on offer. Read more
In response to national legislation Birmingham (UK) set out the range of planned actions that were most likely to have an impact on levels of child poverty across the city, and that were already contained within City Council plans and within the plans set out by partner agencies. These included actions with immediate impact on child poverty; actions that will impact on child poverty in the near future; and actions that will impact on child poverty in the longer term.
Across the four-year period 2007-2011 Birmingham reduced its level of child poverty at four times the national rate. Not only has Birmingham has been making better than national average progress in reducing the level of child poverty (closing the gap to national figures), most progress was being made in the wards with highest levels of child poverty (closing the gaps between high-poverty wards and the city average).
Child poverty remains a significant issue for Birmingham, not least because of the size of the child population. Of the major cities, Birmingham had the fifth largest proportion of children living in poverty but, because of its population size, Birmingham continues to have by far the largest volume of child poverty to deal with of any local authority in England.
The next 3-5 year period presents new challenges to combatting levels of child poverty in the city, not least because of the impact of several recent national budgetary and local economic decisions. With all this is mind, in moving forward 2014-2017, there is a continuing need to ensure that this work gets carried forward at the scale and pace needed in the city, with sufficient traction to continue to make differences, and plugged into other social inclusion processes already in place. The city’s thinking framework and the successful actions can be maintained such that – despite national austerity measures impacting heavily on poor families in the city – Birmingham can continue to take seriously its duty to counter levels of family poverty in the city.
A link to a fuller account with statistics is here: combatting child poverty in Birmingham
This article is a composite write-up based on a number of presentations and interviews undertaken in September 2014 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. It intended as a broad-ranging, general interest exploration of a set of ideas, puzzles and practicalities, covering:
- Recent economic trends
- How poverty gets thought about, recorded and measured; the realities in some people’s lives
- Policy and social approaches that affect levels of poverty
- How poverty links to the development of children and families
- How these influence life chances
- What things might reduce the numbers of people growing up in poverty
A full write-up of the inputs can be read here: Poverty and some of its impacts