Thursday, 22 December 2011

Generosity and kindnesses

Every Christmas we receive thousands of gifts of toys and games for children and young people, and donations of food and money for parents struggling to make a good Christmas for their families. They come from staff in businesses, well meaning individuals, radio appeals who then pass on gifts to us to distribute. A few children came with their parents bringing gifts to our head office.

This year we encouraged people to consider gifts that will brighten a child's life and be a vivid memory for months to come - tickets for ice skating, visits to Santa, the pantomime and the Christmas film releases. We know that poorer children and young people miss out on these experiences in particular and a great many people and businesses have given generously, some including extra cash for hot chocolate drinks, ice cream and treats on the trips out.

You might have thought there would be fewer gifts and donations this year in hard times but not a bit of it. We have received more gifts than ever before plus all the generous trips out as well. Our project and office staff have all rolled up their sleeves to sort and distribute everything in time for Christmas - it has been quite a job but lots of fun too.

This is the season of goodwill and I am an optimist but can I detect a slight change in public opinion? Is it possible that people are thinking we are 'all in this together' and paying a little more attention to each other? Could it be that not being able to afford to spend, means money and spending are slightly less important to us all? Maybe it is even possible that how much a person has might become less important than the kindnesses we show each other? I wonder what 2012 will bring? Happy Christmas!

Friday, 16 December 2011

120,000 'Troubled Families'

David Cameron has announced a network of 'caseworkers' and £400 million (from existing grants to local government) to coordinate services to 120,000 so called 'troubled families'. This is part of the government's response to the riots last summer and what David Cameron calls the 'responsibility deficit' whereby people are apparently disconnected from community and family.

This initiative is not new, it is a reworking of the 'Family Intervention Programmes' piloted by New Labour. Some of the 'FIPs' were targeted at families engaged in anti-social behaviour and some at families living in poverty. FIPs recognised that most of these families already have a plethora of professionals involved with them but their combined efforts are not coordinated. The FIP workers not only engage with the whole family but also the professional network. FIPs have been effective but they are very time intensive and there are families who refuse to take part.

David Cameron appointed Louise Casey, a civil servant who was policy adviser on Anti-Social Behaviour to New Labour, to lead on this new approach to families. However in the new scheme the 'caseworkers' will not work directly with the families, instead they will coordinate the professionals currently working with them. At the press conference announcing the initiative Louise Casey pointed out "The typical profile of a rioter is 35% out of work or on benefits, 42% on free school meals, 66 % with special educational needs, only 11% with five plus GCSEs, and 70% living in the 30% most deprived post codes, and 36% excluded from schools."

Out of work, free school meals, deprived neighbourhoods describes poverty not poor parenting. Students with unmet special educational needs are unlikely to do well at school, more likely to become frustrated at schools and are therefore more likely to be excluded. That is a problem with the educational system, although parental interest in and support for education is certainly very important in success at school.

Louise Casey quoted an opinion poll saying "86% of the population thinks that the riots were caused by bad parenting."

So here we have policy lead by opinion poll which lets the government off the hook of dealing with the real problems of lack of jobs and rising poverty. The approach is based on existing good practice but watered down because caseworkers will not be working directly with families. Money for the intiative will be diverted from other necessary local goverment services for children, young people and families. Coordination is important but any family worker, counsellor, therapist or youth worker will tell you what actually works, what makes a difference is not the system, or the model or the theory but the relationship with the family, client, service user, young person.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

What do you think about child poverty?

Yesterday the National Centre for Social Research published the British Social Attitudes survey for 2011. One section is about child poverty. 43% of people agree with the statement that there is some child poverty in Britain and 36% think there is quite a lot. That's 79%, a clear majority agreeing that child poverty exists in Britian today. I find that encouraging beacuse we had assumed that most people thought child poverty was something that existed in third world countries, not in the UK. Furthermore the survey found 51% think that child poverty will increase in Britain during the next decade.

The survey also asked people about the causes of child poverty. 75% thought the reason is due to drug and alcohol problems of parents; 63% think it is that parents do not want to work; 56% blame family breakdown; 51% put it down to lack of parents education; and 50% think the cause is long term unemployment. Undoubtedly these are all possible difficulties that families may experience but in the experience of Children North East and the academics who spoke at our conference overwhelmingly child poverty is a 'structural' problem caused by there not being enough well-paid jobs to go round.


82% of people surveyed consider it very important to reduce child poverty in Britain while 16% think it is quite important, that is pretty much everyone. However 79% think central government should be responsible for reducing child poverty but 46% say responsibility for ending child poverty rests with parents and 32% say relatives should be responsible.



Questions about child poverty have been asked in the surveysince 1986. Much was made in the press yesterday that this year's survey showed a hardening of attitudes towards the poor. In fact successive surveys show that attitudes are not consistently moving in one or other direction. There is speculation in the survey report that attitudes to poverty may vary according to the prevailing economic circumstances. When times are hard, people think that the poorer members of society are likely to be even more worse off.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Dissing the North East?

We have received some adverse comment about the children's photographs depicting poverty in the North East. A few people think they display a negative image of the North East.

This rather misses the point. The pictures were taken by children and young people to illustrate their experiences of their lives and where they live. The fact there are no pictures that tell of the great cities, history, sport and culture of the North East and very few of the beautiful countryside and coastline, demonstrates how excluded the children and young people are from all those things. Poverty excludes you from the expeiences and opportunities that everyone seems to take for granted, it makes you feel those things are not for you.

On 23rd November, the night before our child poverty conference, the BBC hosted a viewing of the documentary 'Poor Kids' before an invited audience at the Tyneside Cinema. The film interviews and shows the lives of 3 children living in Leicester, Bradford and Glasgow. The issues shown are exactly the same as those we found among children and young people all over the North East.

Another comment about the photographs was posted on our website and said, 'Reminds me of my childhood in the 70s in the East Midlands. You would have hoped things would have got better.'

Far from the photographs being isolated and negative portayals of the North East, they probably reflect the everyday experiences of poor children and young people in all parts of the country. They remind me of houses, places and experiences of children and young people I have worked with in London and the North East for 36 years. What poverty looks like does not seem to change much.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Child Poverty, Definately Not a Thing of the Past


Jonathan Miles devoted his morning show on BBC Radio Newcastle yesterday to child poverty and our conference "Child Poverty, Definately Not a Thing of the Past" at the Sage, Gateshead. One elderly lady heard it and made her way to the Sage to see for herself some of the 11,000 photographs depicting child poverty taken by north east children and young people last summer.

She told us when she heard on the radio that poor children and young people could not get to the seaside because the bus fares are too expensive, she thought of her free bus pass and felt sick at her good fortune when so many children and young people never go anywhere unless they can walk it.

Earlier this week one of our supporters phoned Children North East bitterly disappointed with our Christmas appeal. She felt it wrong that donations would support children of parents living on benefits. In her opinion these families do not deserve charity.

Public opinion about poverty is very polarised. Even if you chose to ignore government figures that 24% (132,000 0 to 19 year olds) in the north east are living below the official poverty line; or you chose to ignore 11,000 images of poverty taken by over 500 children and young people this summer of every part of our region; many people still chose to blame the poor.

Professor Tracy Shildrick of Teesside University told the conference her research in Middlesbrough over 12 years found virtually no evidence of the so-called 'multigenerational' workless families who make a 'lifestyle choice' to live on benefits. Instead she consistently found parents who wanted to work but in the absence of well paid, sustainable jobs found themselves constantly moving in and out of short term poorly paid jobs with spells on benefits in between.

The conference generated over 100 actions for participants, organisations working together and messages for government. Top message was to stop blaming the poor, instead shame the overpaid and the tax dodgers into contributing to the common good.

Children North East is determined to build on the success of our conference to do all we can to ensure Child Poverty becomes a thing of the past.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - 11,000 images


Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live.

There have been projects before that record images of poverty in the north east. However we do not think anything on this scale has been done before, the children and young people produced over 11,000 photographs.

Many people do not believe poverty exists in the UK today. This project gives the lie to that. It is impossible to ignore so many images, impossible to pretend poverty only affects a minority in a few places. Child poverty affects neighbourhoods in every part of our region - Northumberland, Tyneside, Wearside, County Durham, Teesside and Darlington.

It is a scandal that poverty on this scale should exist today in the 6th wealthiest country in the world. The children and young people who photographed their lives demand our attention. So what are we going to do about it?

The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The aim of the conference is to generate personal and regional actions, and demands to government for action that together will end child poverty.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Hopes

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group if they wanted to live in the same neighbourhood when they grew up. Almost all of them said no.
Many of the children and young people had aspirations - to go to university, to travel and live abroad, to own luxury cars, but they felt they could never attain them.

The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Anti Social Behaviour

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.
The children and young people spoke about racism and bullies. Many objected to smoking but some talked about being smokers themselves. Among the photographs were some of substance misuse too.

The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Chidlren's experiences of poverty - Shops

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.
 
The children and young people took many photographs of shopping streets where many shops were closed down. They spoke about too many tanning salons, cheap booze and take-away food shops but a lack of fresh food shops.

The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Food

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.

Children and Young People understand the importance of healthy eating but fresh foodwas hard to obtain and expensive compared to processed food.

The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Love

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.

Love - family, friends and pets, and animals for those living in very rural areas were very important to all the children and young people.


The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Holidays

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.

Very few of the children and young people went away on holiday.


Most families could not afford a week away on holiday. Chidlren and young people told us that school trips (even day trips) were too expensive for them. Some enjoyed free day trips organised by local community projects or Children's Centres.
 
The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Money

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.

Lack of money was a regular theme among the children and young people.

 
It is rare to see children on the streets without shoes these days but no one knows how many children and young people are wearing ill-fitting hand-me-down shoes. Many children and young people thought a win on a scratchcard was potentially a quick way to increase income. “Money, it’s a big problem, if you don’t have money you can’t do anything”
 
The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Transport

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.

Children and young people spent a lot of time out of the house, but the cost or lack of public transport prevented them from leaving their immediate neighbourhood.

Children and young people said public transport was either too expensive to use or did not exist. They did not go anywhere unless they could walk there.
 
The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Monday, 14 November 2011

BBC Inside Out North East

BBC North East presenter Chris Jackson's report about Children North East's 120 year history working with poor children was broadcast this evening (see iplayer: http://bbc.in/twtiBU - third item about 20 minutes in). He told the story of the organisation's origins working with street children through to setting up the first children's TB sanatorium in the country at Stannington near Morpeth, Northumberland. He interviewed people who movingly recalled having been treated there as children. Then right up to date with brief insights into our work today with children, families and young people. Thank you Chris, you have made a great programme. Thank you too to the staff and service users who took part.

Children's experiences of poverty - Open Spaces

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.

Children and young people spent a lot of time out of the house, where they could walk to them, they enjoyed open spaces like the beach and countryside.



The children and young people could not afford public transport so could only get to the beach or countryside if they were within walking distance of home. A great many children and young people had nowhere to go other than their neighbourhood.
 
The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Playgrounds

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.

Children and young people spent a lot of time out of the house, play grounds were mentioned very often.


Young people hung out in children’s playgrounds because there was nowhere else to go; children did not use playgrounds because they were afraid of the young people or the equipment was unpleasant or damaged.
 
The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Environment

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes.

The second most often mentioned theme was the local environment.




Children and young people did not like living in places where no one wanted to live, places that were dirty, untidy, run down. They said graffiti and rubbish made a place untidy. Many played in derelict places because adults left them alone when they were there.

The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Children's experiences of poverty - Housing

Last summer Children North East invited 1,200 children and young people, 100 in each North East Local Authority, to photograph their lives and what poverty looked like where they live. They took over 11,000 photographs on disposable cameras.

We asked each group to tell us about their pictures and what they meant to them and group them into themes. 

There were more photographs about housing than any other theme.


The children and young people said their homes had thin walls so you could hear what was going on next door. Their homes were small and many had to share a bedroom with siblings or parents. Most of them felt too embarrassed to invite friends back home, so they spent much of their time outdoors.

The photographs from the project will be the central focus of a national conference about child poverty at the Sage, Gateshead on 23rd November hosted by Children North East and the Webb Memorial Trust. The pictures will then tour the region.

The project was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and managed by Children North East. The purpose of the project is to bring children and young people’s experiences to the regional debate about what should be done for the 144,000 children (1 in 4) living in families below the official poverty line in the North East.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Innocent until proven guilty?

The Unversal Declaration of Human Rights article 11 says: 'Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.' This story is about a family with 6 children who are not able to claim any welfare benefits because they are being investigated for possible benefit fraud. Does it make it worse that they have not been charged with an offence; is that outside the provision of article 11?

The family were part of a whole community under investigation for benefit fraud in another UK city. This left the family without income so they moved to Newcastle where they had connections. They rented from a private landlord, the father got a job in a car wash, the mother a job cleaning hotel rooms. The 6 children started in local schools.

All seemed fine until the the landlord evicted them (illegally) and the father lost his job (his employer was friends with the landlord). At that point the council admitted them into temporary accommodation for homeless people which is where Children North East met them.

We run a creche for pre-school children and an out of school club for older children who are living in temporary accommodation. We also work with the parents to help them move on into new tenancies - temporary accommodation is not a great place for children.

Then the mother also lost her job after 3 months - one might guess so that the employer could avoid responsibility for the mother's statutory employment rights like entitlement to paid leave. Now the family have no income at all.

The younger children's school is 3 miles from the temporary accommodation. They walk to and from school, the youngest (who is just 5 and in reception year) is pushed in a buggy.

The eldest boy's school is also some distance. He has an under 16 bus pass which entitles him to reduced fares but still needs £1 a journey, so now he doesn't get there very often.

The family cannot pay rent for their temporary accommodation. They have no food unless our staff give them unused food from the creche.

Children North East does not judge, our view is no matter whatever is going on with the parents, it is never the children's fault. I think most people would agree the children do not deserve to suffer. But what are parents and we supposed to do in circumstances which are simply unjust?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

'Feral' children?

Today Barnardos published a survey of 2,000 adults about their opinions of children and young people. 44% agreed with a statement that some young people are 'becoming feral'; 47% think young people are angry, violent and abusive; and 1 in 4 people believe children are beyond help by the age of 10. The survey echoes  findings of a similar one conducted a few years ago, also by Barnardos. Sir Al Aynesley-Green, the former Children's Commissioner for England said on BBC Radio 4 that as a country we don't like children much.

This word 'feral' is interesting. Historically it has meant abandoned children, for example growing up in the forest, sometimes brought up by animals. People have been fascinated by them to try to discover which human abilities are 'innate' and which are learned from human contact. More recently feral children are street children like those Children North East was founded to work with 120 years ago. Jamal Malik, the hero of 'Slumdog Millionaire' is a 'feral' child. In literature two famous 'feral' children are Peter Pan and Mowgli, the appeal of both is their 'natural' state - innocence and daring, unimpeded by the demands of ordinary life, especially adult life.

The English have a complicated relationship with childhood. On the one hand we love the innocence of it and the hanker for the beauty and energy of youth (as exemplified by fashion models and footballers); but on the other hand we are terrified that unless 'controlled' they will become lawless and violent. We tend to regard them as 'other', nothing to do with us, society or possibly even the human race.

In reality children and young people are 'junior citizens' as much as elderly people are senior citizens. We don't expect either to be economically productive, so why treat them differently? Senior Citizens are still entitled to vote, children and young people have no political or spending power of their own; therefore they actually deserve more care by society not less. Think about it - a big part of the economy (adult's jobs) depends on children and young people  - their health and education; how much families spend on their clothing, food, toys and activities. And over half of all young people do some form of voluntary work, a far bigger proportion than any other age group - they are the backbone of the so-called 'Big Society'

So let's get over this peculiar English obsession with the so called 'savagery' of children and start valuing them for who they are and the contribution they make, after all they are our future.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

What we know about the rioters now

Back in August when there were riots in some of our major cities I wrote it was too soon to debate what the causes might be, we needed a period of time to pass before taking a long, calm look at the causes. This week the Ministry of Justice published comprehensive statistics about the background of the rioters:

  • More than 2,500 businesses and 230 homes were damaged or burgled during the riots
  • 90% of those brought to court were male and one half were under 21
  • 42% were white; and only 13% of all those brought to court were gang members
  • 35% of the adults (age 18 or over) were claiming out of work benefits (the national average is 12%)
  • 80% of the adults and 62% of the juveniles had a previous conviction
  • 42% of the young people (i.e. under 18) were in receipt of free school meals (the commonly used indicator of coming from a poor background) compared to the national average of 16%
  • Two thirds of the young people had some form of special educational need compared to the national average of 21%
  • Over one third of the young people had been temporarily excluded from school compared to a national average of 6% and more than one in ten had been expelled from school, compared to a national average of 0.1%
It is well known that dyslexia (difficulty reading) is very over-represented in the prison population - some estimates say as many as two thirds of all prisoners cannot read. This may well be one of the 'special educational needs' that young people brought to court have.

Imagine going to school each day and not being able to read. In primary school you may find plenty of other things to motivate you but the ability to read becomes crucial in secondary school. Most Year 7 (the first year of secondary school when children are 11) text books require a reading age of about 13 years. Even 11 year olds who are good readers will be challenged a little, imagine what it is like if your reading age is much lower. 

So you find yourself increasingly unable to engage in secondary school education, its not surprising you might ask yourself about the point of school and decide it's not for you. But you have no choice - you have to be there day after day in an environment where you cannot succeed. You might kick against it, you might give up - either way you will end up in trouble. It's not hard to see how that might end up in the school excluding you. Then what do you do with your time? The state has a duty to provide a minimum education to you usually through an individual tutor, but the rest of the time is your own. Chances are you will be hanging around on the streets where, who knows, you might fall into bad company.

Of course there is no inevitability between difficulty reading and eventual criminality. Primary school children who are struggling to learn to read require extra help as soon as possible to overcome the difficulty. That is why Children North East encourages parents to introduce their children to books and read to them well before they start school. It is also why we are setting up a scheme for secondary school students to help primary school children to read.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Cutting off children

This week the National Children's Bureau (NCB), a well respected independent research, policy and lobby group, published a report which concludes that children are bearing the brunt of the recession and austerity measures. Local Authorities have cut services for children and young people such as play, youth work and support for disabled children disproportionately compared to services for adults. And the recession, rising prices and cuts in tax breaks for families mean that children are becoming poorer.

NCB’s chief executive Dr Hilary Emery said, ‘Not only are their services being cut, but their home-life is becoming increasingly more stressful as parents worry about employment and the cost of food and fuel. We know families under stress can lead to an increase in domestic violence, child abuse, mental health problems, drug abuse and alcoholism - all of which have a greater long-term cost to the UK taxpayer.’

Last Saturday Caitlin Moran wrote a powerful piece in The Times magazine describing exactly what it feels like to be poor, to be broke for months and years on end. Only ever having enough to just scrape by day by day; hoping no unexpected expense crops up; then going without and never feeling you can make a change for the better. It makes you feel like you don't exist.

Our photography project is nearing completion. The biggest issues for the children and young people are poor housing and derelict neighbourhoods, they have taken thousands of pictures of boarded up houses, rubble and rubbish. Poor children don't go anywhere unless it is free and within walking distance. Most spent the whole summer on their estate. If there is nowhere for them, the young people hang out in children's playgrounds where adults don't bother them. So the younger ones stay clear of the playgrounds and play on derelict land out of the way.

It is simply not fair to invest less in play and activities for young people at this moment. They need safe places to go to socialise and play outside their home. They deserve to be treated as citizens, valued members of the community not simply ignored.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Gloom

This week on Tuesday the Institute of Fiscal Studies published its latest report. The BBC picked up their forecast that 600,000 more children are likely to fall into poverty in the next 2 years. The IFS published a similar report in October last year in which the forecast was 300,000 more children were likely to fall into poverty. The forecast has doubled in a year.

Yesterday the unemployment figures were published. Unemployment is now higher than any time since 1994. In the last 3 months the sharpest rise has been in the North East to 11.7%. More part time jobs have been lost than full time ones. There are now 991,000 16 to 24 year olds without jobs, a national disgrace.

Last night I went to a Newcastle City Council public meeting to discuss the impact the Welfare Reform Bill will have on people in the city. The Bill sets out a simplified benefits system, which is welcomed by campaigners, but at the same time reduces many present entitlements. For example restrictions and 'caps' on Housing Benefit is likely to mean families needing to move to smaller or cheaper properties with lower rents, but the stock of properties is limited in Newcastle; so we could see more people falling behind on paying rent, more hardship and possible homelessness. This is on top of changes to Tax Credits which makes child care relatively more expensive, increased food and fuel prices for working families.

From December this year lone parents will no longer be entitled to Income Support once their youngest child reaches their 5th birthday. They will be forced into work - but where are the jobs, especially part-time ones so that lone parents can fit work around school times?

This morning Shelter published research that private rented houses are now 'unaffordable' for families on average incomes in 55% of local authorities. Shelter found rents had risen at one-and-a-half times the rate of incomes in the 10 years up to 2007.

On a positive note, this week Children North East has a new member of staff whose job is to help us create opportunities for young people in the organisation as volunteers, apprentices and work experience. A small contribution to give young people a sense of purpose, and to feel less excluded.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Children and Young People Now Awards shortlist

I am delighted that Children North East has been shortlisted in two categories of the prestigious Children and Young People Now magazine awards.

The Children and Young People Now awards are in their 6th year. They share and celebrate the best practice in the UK of all those working to improve the lives of children, young people and families. Out of hundreds of entries, the judges have shortlisted the ones that represent the best work with children, young people and families from all over the country.

Our West End Youth Enquiry Service (WEYES) is one of 5 projects shortlisted in the Youth Work category; and our Families Plus Hidden Harm service is one of 5 projects shortlisted for the Parenting award.

I am particularly pleased that Children North East has been shortlisted for two awards. This places us on a par with the big national children's charities - only Barnardos and Action for Children have, like us, been shortlisted more than once this year.

The winners will be announced at an award ceremony in London on 17th November. It would be wonderful to win but even if we don't it is a huge achievement and enormous credit to our staff who work at WEYES and in our Hidden Harm service - it proves they are as good as anyone else in the country!

 
The full list of the projects shortlisted are on the Children and Young People Now website: www.cypnow.co.uk

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Is parenting really about control?

The day before the new school year started I spent a day with one of our Families Plus workers visiting families in their homes.

Our first stop was to go with a Mam and her 6 year old son to buy a new sweat shirt for school. We walked from their flat across several busy streets and up the hill to school. The lad, let's call him John, was full of energy, excited to be out, he wanted to run and his Mam had to keep warning him to watch out for traffic and be careful crossing the roads. When we got to school he rushed into reception heading for the toilet, the receptionist called out, you can't go through "because of insurance" as if a 6 year odl would know what that meant. He was busting so she let him into school explaining she had to accompany him because if he hurt himself the school would be to blame.

It took a little time to buy and pay for the sweat shirt (from a grant Children North East had obtained), in the meantime John wanted to run into the playground and play on the climbing frame. The receptionist told him he was not allowed "because of health and safety". She explained he might fall, hurt himself and then the school would be to blame. She said it was OK during term time when there were lots of people about but she could not take the risk in the school holiday. John's Mam meekly complied with the school rules too.

We visited two other families that day. In each home I was struck by how anxious the parents were to ensure their children and young people were 'under control' - that they were well behaved and not causing any trouble to anyone. Of course setting and maintaining boundaries is part of good parenting, children need to know right from wrong, but my colleague told me it was quite usual for parents to be constantly fussing as if the mark of a good parent was how well you controlled your children.

John told us the highlight of the whole 6 week holiday was going to a football match (again organised by Children North East) with his Dad - he had never been to a match before and it was really exciting. Apart from a couple of trips swimming with his Mam and one to the cinema he had spent most of the 6 week holiday indoors, safe from the streets and the traffic.

After so long indoors would it really have been so bad for John to run about and climb in an empty school playground? Wouldn't we have enjoyed watching him exploring the world and yes, maybe he might fall over? And even if he did isn't it more likely his Mam would have picked him up and comforted him than sue the school? And wouldn't she have felt better to allow him to do all that too?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Homelessness and the Great North Run

The Cyrenians is a North East charity working with homeless people. This week they published research commissioned from Northumbria University about how adults become homeless. They trained homeless people to interview 82 other homeless people about their experiences.

It seems there are two distinct routes into homelessness, 'lifelong' and a 'life events' pathways. The former pathway is about disadvantage all through life - 24% had difficulties reading and writing at school; 24% were bullied at school; 25% had been in care as children or adolescents. Parental addictions, domestic violence and traumatic experiences in childhood, especially ones involving violence all figure heavily in the recollections of these homeless adults.

The 'life events' pathway is more about adults who have good childhood experiences but run into crises as adults. For example 80% had had their own home at some point; 70% had experienced financial problems such as being unable to pay bills; 65% had been in a long term relationship and 50% had children. However the majority had a problem with drugs and half a problem with alcohol. The common story was of alcohol or drug misuse triggered by financial difficulties ending with loss of job, relationship and home.

Most of us have several social networks for example family, friends, work colleagues, social contacts e.g. sports club or team, former friends (e.g. people we knew at school and keep in touch with) who would help us if we needed help. Typically homeless adults have lost all their social networks, they are entirely alone. Perhaps none more so than young people leaving care who frequently have no network at all.

So more reaons why Children North East support for children, young people and families is necessary to improve childhood experiences, prevent family breakdown and contrbute to preventing homelessness.

Great North Run

Huge thanks to the 40 runners who raised money for Children North East by running the Great North Run last Sunday. We welcomed finishers with cups of tea, chocolate bars and heartfelt congratulations. Every year I am overwhelmed by anyone's ability to run 13 miles - some looked as though they had just had a brisk walk to post a letter, though others were clearly suffering. I am personally grateful to every single one of you.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Dad's are biologically programmed to care

There was news this week of a study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences who followed 624 young men before and after they became fathers. The study found that as soon as a man bcame a father, his testosterone levels dropped substantially. Men with newborn babies less than a month old had especially reduced levels of testosterone. Larger falls were also seen in men who were more involved in childcare.

Christopher Kuzawa, lead investigator of the work, which was carried out in the Philippines said: "Raising human offspring is such an effort that it is co-operative by necessity, and our study shows that human fathers are biologically wired to help with the job."

"Fatherhood and the demands of having a newborn baby require many emotional, psychological and physical adjustments. Our study indicates that a man's biology can change substantially to help meet those demands."

The researchers think that lower testosterone levels might also protect against certain chronic diseases, which might help explain why married men and fathers often enjoy better health than single men of the same age.

Testosterone is the hormone which makes men go out and find a mate, often competing to do so.Professor Ashley Grossman, spokesman for the Society for Endocrinology, said: "this shows the hormonal and behavioural trade-off between mating and parenting, one requiring a high and the other a low testosterone level."

Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, said: "The observations could make some evolutionary sense if we accept the idea that men with lower testosterone levels are more likely to be monogamous with their partner and care for children. However, it would be important to check that link between testosterone levels and behaviour before we could be certain."

Children North East publishes a series of guides for Dads for sale from our Father's Plus website, look out for the latest one about Dads and Midwives.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

To work or not to work?

This week the Daycare Trust and Save the Children reported the high cost of childcare especially for poorer families. We can all agree that the route out of poverty is jobs but poorer families are finding it is no longer worth their while staying in work because the cost of childcare can swallow up between a quarter to one half of all their income. And things will get even worse in 2013 when government reimbursement for childcare costs falls from 80% to 70%.

Also National Energy Action published data on fuel poverty this week. A household is deemed to be in fuel poverty if they spend more than 10% of their income on gas and electricity. In 2007 13.2% of all English households were in fuel poverty, that has now risen to 23%. But things are far worse in the North East. Here 18.6% of households were in fuel poverty in 2007, now the figure is 33% - that's one in three households.

According to Save the Children 1.6 million children in the UK are living in severe poverty, that is families whose income is less than £12,000 a year. The reality of life for those families is they may not be able to afford a hot meal every evening, or to heat their home adequately all the time and children may have to go without a warm coat in the winter. 40% of parents in this group are thinking about giving up work. Faced with rising childcare as well as rising food prices and energy costs, they reckon they would be better off living on benefits.

That is not what the Coalition Government wants to hear. Their welfare policy is to put pressure on everyone to be in work and they still have a target inherited from New Labour to end child poverty by 2020. People could find themselves compelled to work but for less and less return. Is that really what we want?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Why services provided by volunteers are not free

Recently I spent a couple of days out and about with our Youth Link Coordinators. I wanted to know first hand about their day to day work with volunteers and young people. I accompanied them to 'Team Around the Child' meetings of professionals involved with a young person and their parents; visits to young people with their parents to set up work with one of our volunteers and a meeting with a young person and their parents to review the time the volunteer had spent with them.

Children North East has three 'Youth Link' projects in Sedgefield, Tynedale and Blyth. The projects recruit and train young people as volunteers to mentor and befriend other young people in need who are generally referred by statutory services (schools, mental health, children's services etc.).

The Youth Link Coordinator visits young people who have been referred to explain what Youth Link is and discuss the things they would like help with from a volunteer. This meeting will usually be with the parents who must give consent to having a volunteer working with their daughter or son. Then the Coordinator 'matches' the young person to a volunteer taking account of interests, abilities and availability. Matching also means explaining the young person's needs to the volunteer and getting their agreement to the 'match'.

Next the Youth Link Coordinator, volunteer, young person and their parent(s) meet to introduce each other and agree how the work will take place - goals, meeting times and places, transport etc. Only then does the volunteer start to work with the young person.

Volunteers give a few hours a week so can only realistically work with one young person at a time. They also have a meeting with the Youth Link Coordinator about once a month to discuss how the work is going and draw on the Coordinator's knowledge, experience and insight to help the process along.

Sometimes other people are also involved with the young person or their family at the same time as the volunteer. When that happens those people will usually meet regularly in 'Team Around the Child' or 'Team Around the Family' meetings to coodinate what each is doing. The Youth Link Coordinators attend these meetings (which happen during normal office hours) on behalf of the volunteer (who usually is at work or college).

Youth Link Coordinators review the work between the young person and volunteer every few months and also at the end of the work. This is done to make sure progress is being made towards the goals the young person wants to achieve and that all involved are satisfied with the arrangements. The volunteer can learn from these reviews to discuss in private later with the Youth Link Coordinator, for example what sorts of young people they enjoy working with and what extra training would help them.

Currently there are 96 young people who are volunteers in our Youth Link projects. This is just a flavour of what the Youth Link Coordinator's do to ensure that the service the volunteers provide is effective and a beneficial experience for the young people, parents and volunteers. The Coordinators also recruit and train volunteers to an accredited standard and promote the service to potential referers. Each is a qualified youth worker and all are employed full-time.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Looters

Fortunately we have not seen lawlessness and looting in North East cities and towns this last few days. The TV pictures from London, Manchester and the West Midlands are appalling. Adults and children who commit crime should be brought to justice and held responsible for their actions.

There is a danger that seeking to understand why these events have happened can be misunderstood as condoning them. It may be too soon to clearly and calmly investigate the causes - a well conducted public enquiry is certainly called for.

David Cameron is suggesting that responsibility rests with the individuals involved and their parents. Personal responsibility is certainly crucial however the government cannot shirk its responsibility. Just as it is morally right for individuals to be responsible for their own behaviour there is also a moral responsibility for government to look after the interests of everyone in the country.

The previous government was concerned about a growing 'underclass' of individuals and families who had little stake in the norms held by the rest of society. They called it 'social exclusion' and introduced a raft of initiatives to try to address it. By contrast the Coalition Government has chosen to emphasise what is 'fair' for the majority, its policies seek to coerce the 'undeserving' into conformity.

Social exclusion and David Cameron's 'broken society' both point to the same phenomenon which is the huge and growing gap between the richest and the poorest people in the country. More equal western societies tend to be more at ease with themselves and to experience fewer social problems. The UK is far from at ease with itself. We value consumerism but the poorest people cannot afford to be part of that and the richest are rewarded far in excess of their actual needs.

Once again today the Chancellor Mr Osbourne has reiterated that the Coalition Government's plans to cut public expenditure are the correct course but I fear they will only increase the disconnection between worse and better off people. A recent blog by Will Straw on the ippr website shows that the UK government's plans for cuts are massively deeper and faster than anything that has been proposed in the US even by the Tea Party. Perhaps Mr Osbourne is right, maybe this is the only way to deal with the deficit but is the human price worth paying?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Funding the sector

Last Tuesday The Journal reported on TUC research about the impact of public sector funding cuts on voluntary organisations. The article featured a photograph of me looking particularly grumpy!
Jeremy Cripps, Chief Executive of Children North East
Yes Children North East did lose some local authority funding last year but the impact of cuts is not as bad as we feared largely because Newcastle City Council decided to protect many grants to voluntary organisations by creating the Newcastle Fund. We worked hard to secure grants from other sources to maintain some services and have set about offering others for local authorities and schools to purchase from us in different ways.

Fortunately Children North East has projects spread across 5 local authorities offering a wide range of different services funded in several different ways. The voluntary organisations that are most at risk are those smaller than us serving a neighbourhood well but wholly dependent upon a single grant. The 'Big Society' needs neighbourhood organisations like that to succeed.

Government seems to think voluntary organisations are like small businesses, its plans for funding us is to offer loans at market rates of interest rather than grants. But voluntary organisations and charities do not sell their services or generate income so it is hard to see how loans can be repaid even by organisations of the size of Children North East. We think sustainability lies in a diversity of income sources - grants from charitable foundations and philanthropists as well as the public sector, contracts, fund raising events and selling some services and activities - that is our plan this year. 

Monday, 11 July 2011

120 years old today

120 years ago on 11th July 1891, 120 ‘street vendors’ - children living on the streets set out from Newcastle on a day trip to the seaside. The outing was paid for by the generosity of Mr. John Lunn, a Gosforth shipping merchant and organised by his neighbour Mr. John Watson, who had been concerned about the plight of street children for some years. It is hard for us to imagine that in those days the centre of Newcastle was like today’s slums in Mumbai or a Brazilian shanty town.

Children were living on the streets because they were orphaned; rejected by a step-parent after the death of a parent; or because their families could not afford to keep them. They made a meagre living by selling matches, bootlaces and newspapers or sweeping street crossings and running errands. Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts recorded being mobbed by the mass of ragged adults and children trying to sell him things as he got off the train in Newcastle. If they could afford to they ate and slept in unsanitary lodging houses maybe 15 to 20 in a room. If they were unlucky they slept where they could – in coal cellars. A child froze to death in the station portico.

The seaside trip was to get the children out of the smoke and dirt and into the fresh air and sunshine for the benefit of their health. Fresh air was considered to be very important to health, for example all the parks in Newcastle were created between 1870 and 1900. The population of Newcastle grew sixfold during the 19th century and poor people lived in very cramped conditions – whole families of 10 or more in one or two rooms. Fresh air and clean water were vital public health concerns.

That was the start of the Poor Children’s Holiday Association (PCHA) which quickly set up a club for street children in Prudhoe Street, Newcastle and a night refuge on Bottle Bank, Gateshead where the Hilton hotel now stands. For a nominal fee the children could get shelter, good food, clothing, boots, an activity club and health checks by volunteer doctors and nurses.

Unlike some other children's charities, the PCHA was open to children of all faiths; its mission was to end street vending by training children to earn a good living. The organisation soon set up a ‘farm colony’ at Stannington, near Morpeth where boys were trained to be farm labourers and a home in Shotley Bridge that trained girls to be domestic servants.

In 1907 the PCHA set up the first children's TB Sanatorium in the country next to the farm colony which supplied it with fresh farm produce. TB known as 'consumption' was the cancer of the times and popularly thought to be a shameful disease caused by dirt and poverty. We think of it as a disease of the lungs but many of the children at Stannington had TB in their bones and the cure was traction which meant being strapped into metal supports in bed for weeks or months.

In 1988 the PCHA changed its name to Children North East. Today we no longer see children in rags with no shoes but poverty and disadvantage are still with us. Children still go without meals and live in overcrowded houses. In some parts of the North East three quarters of all children live in poor families – mostly parents in poorly paid work. Every year we remember the origins of the charity with a huge Sandcastle competition for primary school children on South Shields beach. Like the street children of 1891 many of today’s children have never been to the sea before.

Children North East believes it is just not fair some children do not get the same chances and breaks. Our mission is ‘to promote the rights of children and young people; and counter the effects of inequality on them, their families and communities' or 'better lives for poorer children' and everything we do is to make up for missed opportunitie.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Going to bed crying with hunger

On Tuesday morning the Radio 4 Today programme broadcast Emma Simpson talking to a family in Bournemouth. Both parents work - Dad cleaning at night and Mum a school dinner lady; they have a mortgage and need to run a car but do not have enough money for food. Often the parents go without meals to make sure the children don't go to bed crying with hunger. The report noted the rise in demand by families for food from Trussell Trust Food Banks which are organised by churches.

Later on in the same programme Paul Johnson, Director of the Financial Services Agency explained why the poorest people currently experience higher inflation than the rest of us. It's because they spend a greater proportion of income on food and fuel both of which have risen rapidly due to world commodity prices since the recession began in 2008. Better off people spend a greater proportion of their income on mortgage interest which has been low since 2008. He said the bottom fifth of the population are currently experiencing inflation of 4.5% while for the top fifth it is 2.5%.

Wages are static so inflation eats into household income, but at a higher rate for poorer people. Government used to link welfare benefit rates to the Retail Price Index but in April 2011 the Coalition Government changed it so that now rates are linked to the Comsumer Price Index which tends to rise more slowly than RPI. Over time this means the value of benefits will decrease.

Children North East has always been concerned about the impact that poverty has on children. Our mission is to ensure no child's potential is diminished due to poverty. There are going to be more children living in poverty and their lives are going to become harder.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Roger Olley MBE

Congratulations to Roger Olley who has been awarded the MBE in the Queen's birthday honours for ‘services to families’. From 2000 until his retirement in 2010 Roger led the Father's Plus Service for Children North East.

In the 1990s we recognised that many services for 'families' actually only engage with mothers yet research shows children do best when both parents are actively involved in looking after their children and their education. So we set up the Father's Plus Service to prepare men for fatherhood and ensure that fathers are included as equal and valued parents in services such as childbirth and maternity, early years and primary schools.

Under Roger’s leadership the Fathers Plus service has become the leading UK experts on how to involve fathers and male carers in ‘family’ services. Roger managed a team of Fathers Workers who built up expertise in involving Dads then spread this knowledge to Sure Start Children's Centres, Primary Schools and Community Health Services all over the UK.

Roger contributed significantly to the development of national policies and strategies about including fathers, he co-authored the ‘Developing Men Friendly Organisations’ accredited training course which has been taken up by managers, policy makers and practitioners in organisations all over the UK. Since his 'retirement' he is still in great demand to advise public sector organisations and speak at conferences. He also continues to write about fatherhood.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Blagdon Hall

Blagdon Hall near Stannington, Northumberland is the home of the Ridley family. It is set in stunning gardens which were landscaped by Capability Brown who was born not far away. The Hall is not open to the public but occassionally the family allow access in order to support a particular charity. We are very grateful that they allowed Children North East to use the grounds for the first time last Saturday. We invited families from far and wide to come and enjoy the grounds and celebrate our 120th birthday.

It was a cracking day, everyone who came enjoyed themselves and there was plenty for the children to do too including refreshments organised by Jaspers catering company and entertainment from a dance school. There was a birthday cake to cut and share and we all sang Happy Birthday. Our Families Plus staff organised everything with their customary attention to detail and care of children uppermost in everyone's minds.

It was a shame the sunny hot weather of the previous day did not last into Saturday when it was windy and cold which I suspect put people off coming. Never mind though it was a good day. Everyone was happy including the Ridley family who thought it very well organised. So we hope we might be invited back again next year. Perhaps a Sunday might be better, may be even Father's Day and ask all the children in the region to bring their Dads? Now that would be an occassion!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

‘Poor Child’

BBC 1 TV showed this documentary late on Tuesday 7th June, it can still be viewed on iplayer. This moving programme followed four children living in poor families in Glasgow, Bradford and Leicester. The programme showed the child’s view of growing up in poverty as they spoke eloquently about their lives. A blog by the progamme’s producer has sparked the largest number of comments ever about a BBC programme, which can be read here: www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2011/06/poor-kids.shtml

What moved me was how large the shortage of money figured in the children's view of the world. They understood household finances in detail, how precarious it was and how every purchase had to be finely balanced against every other expense. My own children's knowledge of family finances would be minimal by comparison.

It also struck me how slowly and carefully the children ate. Poor families frequently skip meals, the children said they only got dinner at school (free school meals) but not in the school holidays. It is no surpirse then that they appreciated what little food they had and made it last.

On a similar note Save the Children have recently published a 10 page report about children’s (mainly teenagers) views of poverty which is available online at: http://offlinehbpl.hbpl.co.uk/NewsAttachments/PYC/Childrens%20Views%20briefing%203rd%20pp.pdf

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Jubilee People's Millions

Our proposal for a Young People’s Community Cafe at WEYES has been shotlisted for the Jubilee People’s Millions. Young People, staff and young people at WEYES have worked with Tyne Tees TV to produce a short appeal which will be televised on Monday 27th June. It will appear 'head to head' alongside an appeal for a scheme in Knaresborough to help elderly people with their shopping. Then the public get to vote by phone and the project with the most votes gets the money. You can read about both projects and how it works on the Jubilee Peoples Millions website: www.peoplesmillions.org.uk/2011-finalists/tyne-tees
 Our appeal is for £60,000 to set up a cafe in the existing large kitchen area at WEYES. The cafe will provide work experience for young people in food preparation, food hygiene and service skills. During the week it will be open for young people. But at weekends we will open it to the whole community so building bridges between the generations.

We need as many people as possible to vote for us on Monday 27th June (we think we need at least 60,000 votes!). Please show your support by sharing it on Facebook: www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=123950607687586 You can also email jubilee.millions@children-ne.org.uk and we will send you the phone number to vote for us when it is published on 27th June.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Bigger Picture

For some years Children North East has held an annual conference for staff, volunteers and Trustees which we call 'The Bigger Picture'. It is the only opportunity to get the whole organisation together once a year to celebrate the previous year and think about the coming one. It is a major chance for us all to work on common issues and for me to set out what I think we need to focus on in the coming 12 months. I put a lot of work into each Bigger Picture to set just the right tone.

This year's Bigger Picture took place last Thursday and judging by the evaluation forms that were completed at the end many people thought it was the best ever. I was particularly pleased that 9 of our 12 Trustees came for part of the day.

Of course it has been a very difficult year so I wanted to showcase and acknowledge every project's achievements. We could not ignore the 120th anniversary either with a fascinating and absorbing account of life for street children in Newcastle in 1891 by one of our newer Trustees who has taken an interest in researching this. But more important I wanted to show how the whole organisation contributes has a common identity and contributes to a common purpose. We did this by redefining the values of the organisation and in my address when I showed how each project contibutes to improving the lives of poorer children in our region.

More about this in future blogs - it will be a major theme for the coming months.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Newcastle Youth Council

Last Friday I attended the official launch of Newcastle Youth Council. It is a little over a year since Children North East organised the first ever election to the Youth Council when 8,500 young people voted for over 50 candidates. Since then the ones who were successfully elected have been working hard to create what it thought to be the first independent Youth Council in England. There has been a lot to be done - working out the terms of reference for the Council - what it wants to do and how to do it, how often it will meet, what it will discuss and its relationship with Newcastle City Council. Also setting up the brand and marketing. The launch also marks the launch of their website: www.newcastleyouthcouncil.co.uk

Children North East has been helping the Youth Council in all these tasks. Not telling them what to do or how to do it but facilitating, advising and carrying out tasks they requested. The launch last week was the culmination of all that work. The Youth Council depends on a grant from the City Council but in all other ways is now able to manage its own affairs. This is the goal of our work with them.

The recent political change to the City Council from Liberal Democrat to Labour may mean many changes however I hope they will continue the grant to the Youth Council so that it can run its affairs for the coming year, its first year of full independent operation.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A regional voice

It's in the name - Children North East  is a regional charity. True almost all our services are in the north of the region but our photography project (see 5th May) funded by the Beatrice Webb Memorial Trust will engage with 100 children and young people in each of the 12 local authority areas in the region, including the southern Teesside ones.

The Coalition government is abolishing regional bodies which probably makes sense in other parts of the country that don't have a sense of regional identity, but the North East is an exception. People outside think the North East has a regional identity and even though Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside have their differences we do share a common legacy of the decline of coal mining, ship building and heavy industry. Greater London is the only other identifiable English region, there the regional development budget has been given over to the Mayor. In the North East the RDA's money disappears with it. Government Office North East has already closed and other regional bodies are set to go too. At the same time the North East, largely Labour, has lost practically all its political influence. A vacuum is developing and there is much discussion in the region how to fill it.

Earlier this week VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) launched their 'Thrive' initiative at an event in the Great North Museum. There were organisations from the whole of the region. 'Thrive' is about informing us about loans from Charity Bank, European Union funding, loans and business support for social enterprises etc. - the so called 'new funding environment' for the voluntary sector.

Last Friday I took part in a discussion at Durham University about what structures can we collectively put in place to do the things we think need organising regionally such as attracting tourists, transport and economic development. This week we had a useful meeting with the Institute for Local Governance at Durham University which is interested in collaboration between academics in the 5 universities in the region and people working here. They call it 'co-production' - a combination of academic and 'tacit' knowledge.

Today I have been to a conference organised by NEPACS, a Durham based prison visitor charity which is even older than Children North East. The conference was to disseminate recommendations from research they commissioned into the needs of prisoners families and their children. NEPACS works with all the prisons in the North East. The conference was addressed by the Prison's Minister who questioned why NEPACS  should not be ambitious to work in other parts of the country. But charities evolve to fit their local circumstances, ways of working here do not necessarily transplant elsewhere. And we are not businesses, our ambition is to do good, not to grow for growth's sake.

Our photography project is opening doors for us with the regional child poverty strategy group which is lead by the Association of North East Councils. I am hopeful Children North East will indeed become known as knowledgeable about child poverty for the whole region and for ensuring that children and young people's voices are heard.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

A Big Lottery visit

We hosted a two day visit this week from a member of staff from the Big Lottery. He was on a 'fact finding' mission to find out what life is like in a voluntary sector organisation, I gather some of his colleagues were on similar visits in other organisations. He visited some of our projects - the ones that are easiest to 'see' because they are in buildings - WEYES, the creche and after school club in the homeless families accommodation; and also one of our Youth Link projects. Then he had discussions with senior members of staff.

I spent the end of his second day with him. I was delighted to be told how impressed he was with the quality of work he had seen, the care taken by Children North East staff in their work and their commitment to the children and young people they work with. I welcomed the Big Lottery wanting to find out more about what actually happens 'on the ground'. For some time I have felt the Big Lottery's idea of grant making has been too 'traditional'. They seem to assume that grants pay for a particular project based in a particular building, a model which just does not work for an application by a consortium of organisations. In the latter it seems to me although one organisation administers the grant, the others get paid for the work they do (a spot purchasing model) I think that encourages and supports the direction in which we all have to go, but Big Lottery seem reluctant to support it.

We got to talking about ideas we have for projects. Last year Gateshead shared some research with us which showed that children we struggled in school almost always shared 4 features - poor literacy, poor numeracy, poverty (free school meals) and born late in the school year. We would like to train secondary school students to be reading buddies to primary school children. This would improve the primary school children's reading; give the secondary school students new skills that could make them more employable; and would smooth the transition to secondary school. We could do it in Gateshead by building on the relationships we have with schools through our frindships groups and by adapting our Youth Link scheme that trains and support young people as volunteers to mentor other young people. I am pleased to say he thought this was a brilliant, simple idea and encouraged us to apply for a grant.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Child poverty photography project

I have mentioned before that we are being supported by the Beatrice Webb Memorial Trust to conduct a photography project across the whole North East asking 100 children and young people in each local authority to take photographs that illustrate what poverty means where they live. We have been piloting the concept in some of our own projects this month ahead of rolling it out across all 12 local authorities in June and July.

The two images below are from a series taken by one young woman. A recent survey of residents in this area of Newcastle found that they were generally happy with the neighbourhood, they found it friendly and safe. The photographs show how the physical area makes the photographer feel.
Cheap food Junk and Disorderly
The pictures are about junk, disorder, cheapness, secondhand and second rate, poor quality, scrap, trash. Hard to maintain aspirations among all that. WEYES is in this area, it's very appearance says 'quality', an investment in young people's futures.

If other children and young people produce such eloquent images they will provide a moving insight into what poverty does to young minds.