A cross-government strategy is needed to ensure children and young people can thrive, no matter where they are from.
Over the past 17 months of the pandemic, children and young people have made huge sacrifices – experiencing major disruption to their education and missing out on time with their friends and wider family.
Birthday parties, proms and sports days have all been cancelled, while many teenagers have missed out on their exams, jobs and traditional rites of passage.
As a result, not only are young people having to cope with significant social and educational challenges, but they are also struggling with their mental health in increasing numbers – and some have had to live in homes where domestic abuse is taking place.
Those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have been particularly affected by repeated lockdowns and school disruption during the pandemic.
Councils have worked hard with schools on education recovery during COVID-19, to ensure that no child is left behind. They have also helped government distribute millions of pounds of funding to support young people and families in need, from food parcels and vouchers to IT equipment to help vulnerable children learn online.
“Councils have worked hard to ensure no child is left behind”
The Government has prioritised the needs of children and young people throughout this turbulent period, by ensuring that children can access education where it has been safe to do so and by supporting the most vulnerable. However, the LGA has raised instances where Whitehall departments have not joined up their objectives and campaigns, and is calling for a cross-government strategy to improve outcomes for families and ensure children and young people are at the heart of the national recovery.
Better data sharing would also help councils ensure that more disadvantaged and disabled children are accessing their full early education entitlements, and that children are growing up in high-quality homes close to good schools, their family and friends.
In Parliament, we were able to make the case for a cross-government strategy directly to Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford, via a Westminster Hall debate secured by David Simmonds MP, an LGA Vice-President.
Mr Simmonds called for a “clear, cross-government strategy for children that sets out what we want to achieve for the health, education and wellbeing of our youngest constituents”.
He added: “On the whole, we have a system that supports children well, but it remains inconsistent in some respects.
“From early years health and nutrition to entry to university, we still have some distance to travel before we can say that our youngest constituents are able to make the best of the opportunities that our country seeks to offer.”
In reply, Ms Ford said the Government had been “clear that providing the right support for children and families is a priority across policy and decision-making, particularly for those with vulnerabilities”.
“We all share an ambition to ensure the system works and delivers the best outcomes,” she added.
“We know the pandemic has thrown up additional challenges, and families and children rely on policies and programmes owned across government.
“Departments must keep families front and centre of all they do, and I am proud of the progress the Government has made in joining up services for children and families.”
The minister reiterated her personal commitment to working across government programmes and initiatives to “place the needs of children and families at the heart of everything the Government is striving to achieve, and to ensure that we work with our partners in local government to make sure they also can help to achieve this”.