Children’s Mental Health Week
This week marks Children’s Mental Health Week, which should be a celebration of everything positive in staying mentally fit. In the current lockdown however, many of us, most notably children and young people, are increasingly experiencing poor mental health. In a recent survey carried by the Museum of London and Partnership for Young London (November 2020), it was found that uncertainty around education and employment had the biggest impact on mental health on teenagers. Young people are not optimistic that the issues they face will be dealt with, and that those in power understand the issues they face. Young children fair no better. A report published by the Children’s Commissioner for England on 28th January found that a staggering one in six children now have a mental health condition with only four percent able to access mental health services. This is unacceptable.
Children and young people have a lot going on in their lives. They battle with identity, friendships and belonging. For Generation Z or ‘Generation Covid’, it’s even tougher. They’ve had to deal with school closures, not seeing friends, youth unemployment, climate crisis and uncertain futures. Is it a surprise that the mental health of young people is getting worse?
Since Covid-19 entrenched itself in the UK last year we have seen that 83% of children surveyed believe the pandemic has made their mental health worse (Young Minds, October 2020). More alarmingly, self-harm concerns from children and young people of BAME backgrounds are up by 30% on the previous year (Kooth, September 2020). And yet London boroughs such as Brent and Harrow with diverse ethnic populations, have the lowest performance on mental health service spending (less than 1% of budget) and waiting times for children (70 weeks and 51 weeks respectively).
Research from University College London and King’s College London (November 2020) shows that mental health services have faced significant challenges and changes over the last six months. Challenges included significant reductions in children and young people’s social networks and informal support systems. Changes have included a swift switch to using digital technology and redesigning crisis services. These have shown the ability of mental health services to adapt to new circumstances. But there may be long-term repercussions on children and young people with an even greater risk of stress and burnout due to the lack of social interaction.
It is important to remember that poor mental health has no barriers. Anyone, from any class, ethnicity or background can have poor mental health for a variety of reasons. However, despite this, Covid-19 has highlighted harsh inequalities across society. The impact of lockdown has not been felt equally amongst communities; the impact of the virus on BAME communities has been significant and the closure of schools for so many months has disproportionately affected children from already disadvantaged backgrounds e.g. families with limited financial resources, those with caring responsibilities, children with SEND. OFCOM estimates that between 1.4 million and 1.78 million children in the UK do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet in their homes. Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on this disparity and highlighted these differences; it is not likely to get better on its own.
The Coronavirus Act of 2020 changed the level of obligation on local authorities and health bodies requiring them to make only “reasonable endeavours” to deliver services to children with an education health and care plan (EHCP).
Headteachers believe that there will be a “long tail” effect that Covid-19 will have for many years to come on children and young people’s health. David Benson, Headteacher from one of the schools we fund (Kensington Aldridge Academy) said: “The majority of our students have a resilience that allows them to cope, but for some, the pandemic presents big issues. If you live in an overcrowded home or one that is chaotic, or where there is not enough food, or you have special educational needs it is major. We have to remember that children who see their parents and older siblings suffering badly from the adversity of this period will carry that weight with them, often in a hidden way that bursts out later.”
We have worked with a number of emotional well-being providers that deliver essential services in schools, in the community and at home and since 2010, we have awarded grants totalling over £8.75m for this purpose. Over the past 10 years, the Charity has seen a growth in the number of applications that fall under our Emotional Wellbeing Programme area and predict a significant increase in applications due to the impact of the pandemic. What Government fails to understand is that funding is this arena does not always mean spending a lot to benefit a few. Yes, we do award grants for one-to-one therapeutic interventions in schools, but this is usually accompanied by group work, and the promotion of a whole school approach to mental wellness that includes teachers and parents, which sees our investment spread far further. Coordinating services across multiple schools has seen very effective economies of scale and has the added benefits of shared learning and insights between schools. The use of trainees is also a cost-effective way of providing support to vulnerable children.
It is critical that Government should provide much more support for resilience training – supporting children to have the tools with which to help themselves – the earliest form of intervention. This can be delivered to whole classes at a time and demonstrates the importance of early intervention and prevention to save money in the longer term. We know there are other funders doing the same. However, the funding and support we give is not enough to change the system, therefore additional support is not only vital but necessary.
We believe that all of the above signals that the social covenant between schools and young people and central government is broken. John Lyon’s Charity is calling on the Government to put young people’s wellbeing at the heart of educational policy making and mental health recovery planning. We are very concerned there is a lack of focus on these issues which is why we would welcome engagement with Government. The effects of both austerity and Covid-19 will be felt for many years by the current generation of children and young people. The whole educational curriculum from birth to 18 needs to be reviewed inside and out to ensure that ‘time constraints’ of the academic school day are swept away. Covid-19 has reminded us of schools’ twin role as places of learning and as a crucial part of the social fabric. We believe a re-set is needed whereby schools can develop children’s capabilities, including but not limited to academic achievement; promoting schools as part of their community and encouraging creativity and innovation are all key to addressing the mental health imbalance in our children and young people.
How to Reimagine the Future for Children and Young People
It is just over 10 years ago that the then Chancellor George Osborne announced his austerity budget detailing £40 billion of cuts in different parts of the economy. The country had already been in a recession since 2008 and it was easy to see how those who would fare poorly would be those on the margins and most vulnerable in society.
Even before Covid 19 had hit the UK, one in 50 households were using foodbanks, according to the Trussel Trust ‘State of Hunger’ survey in 2018. With over 600,000 children living in poverty in the UK, the impact on children was already showing on their mental and physical and well-being. The Social Mobility Coalition, set up in 2013 by David Cameron, warned last month that the coronavirus was “already having a huge impact on those from all disadvantaged backgrounds, and this will only get worse as the recession bites harder”.
In 2019, the charity Shelter reported that a child loses their home every 8 minutes in Great Britain, which is the equivalent of 183 children per day. The total number of children who were homeless and in temporary accommodation increased to 126,020 in England in 2019, of whom 88,080 were in London. Homeless children aged 5 years and younger are not only at high risk of exposure and transmission of Covid 19 due to overcrowding in substandard housing, but also of immediate and long-term effects on growth, optimal health, and brain development. According to UNICEF, “The first 1000 days can shape a child’s future. We have one chance to get it right”. Many children already do not reach development potential or struggle to grow and develop because of barriers resulting from poverty or homelessness. However, COVID-19 has added a whole new layer of risk.
The crisis has so far impacted the earnings of the poorest households the most. Households in the poorest fifth – as measured by their pre-crisis income – have seen a fall in their median household earnings of around 15% (circa £160 per month). Isaac Delestre, a Research Economist at the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) said: “Earnings have been hit very hard for those who came into the crisis with the fewest resources. This provides plenty to worry about for the lowest-income households not least the fact that temporary increases to benefits made during the crisis are set to expire next spring. In addition, we see rises in non-payment of bills – especially among poorer households. These represent substantial additional debts being carried forward.”
Overall relative poverty (using incomes measured after housing costs are deducted) was 22% in 2018−19, and it has fluctuated little since the early 2000s. For some groups, though, the IFS has seen more change. Relative poverty among working-age adults without children has fallen since 2011−12, while relative child poverty has increased by 3 percentage points – the most sustained rise in relative child poverty since the early 1990s.
Pascale Bourquin, a Research Economist at IFS and an author of the research, said:
“The fate of household living standards over the coming years will hinge on how fast the economy can recover from the damage caused by COVID-19. The years following the Great Recession do not provide a good blueprint for a bounce-back: in the last decade, we have witnessed the slowest growth in household incomes since records began as earnings and productivity stalled and working-age benefits were cut sharply. We now have the dual challenge of trying to recover the ground people have lost in their careers and employment prospects and addressing the problems we already had.”
The age of austerity has seen a sustained decade of pain hitting those least able to cope. As I wrote in an earlier article/blog, Covid 19 is proving itself not to be a great leveller, rather the inequalities that exist are being exposed and widened. While many cheered the current Chancellor for his ambitious spending plans to counter the effects of lockdown, this spend is long over-due and a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to create a real levelling up – particularly for children and young people. Marcus Rashford’s free school meals voucher win is terrific, but it’s respite for one summer holiday only.
The Sutton Trust published a report on 1st July which shows that the ‘school readiness’ gap between five-year olds from richer and poorer backgrounds is widening. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed big challenges to the early years sector. The economic and public health consequences of the crisis are threatening to deepen existing patterns of vulnerability and under-achievement for young children and families, especially those living in poverty and disadvantage. We know that the early years are a crucial stage for social mobility, with the poorest children already 11 months behind their better-off peers before they start school and that attending high-quality early years provision provides a vital opportunity to narrow this gap before children start school. 68% of parents of two to four-year olds reported accessing formal early education or childcare (preschool/nursery, childminder or school) in the period before March. However, with the start of lockdown this changed radically. Of those who had formal arrangements, just 7% of children continued to attend throughout the lockdown period.
What Covid 19 has done is to reveal the problems which families in poverty have been struggling with for much longer. Finding a lasting solution has taken on a new urgency as the crisis has shown how close many of us are to being swept into poverty when circumstances change. We need to reimagine and re-think our economy – all parts of it including the voluntary sector so that it works for everyone.
The visible inequality of the crisis, those on the frontline risking their lives while others can work from home; those from ethnic and poor communities dying at far higher rates than white areas has created an uncomfortable feeling in the country to the extent that for the first time since the end of WW2 we can create a significant and positive change to society that focusses on what creates a particular moral context that may result in a shift in our collective mindset focusing on fairness.
As a place-based funder, we know the children and young people’s organisations and local authorities within our Beneficial Area well. Going forward it will be most local, networked and openly transparent organisations, that will be best placed to be useful in this crisis and best placed to survive it.
The government’s levelling-up agenda is now more important than ever, and it can’t be left to glide away. Redesigning our economy so that it works for everyone has the potential to deliver a stronger recovery and loosen poverty’s grip at the same time.
These are three calls to action for the Government we believe are fundamental to children and young people now more than ever before:
- A support package for the Early Years Sector in line with support offered to schools. It needs to recognise the importance of early years on child development and long-term life chances. The £1 billion recently announced for primary and secondary schools neglects the early years sector completely.
- A programme of free-to-access summer activities for all 5 to 18-year olds, but with a focus on those from underprivileged areas. We know from our own funding that ‘activity hunger’ is also a real and complex problem whereby stimulating activities are out of reach for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is not about funding worthy educational projects; it is all about supporting emotional and physical well-being.
- Every school should have access to an educational psychologist and a counsellor to address not just anxieties and mental health issues exacerbated by Covid 19, but also for learning and behavioural difficulties that often lead to higher pupil exclusion rates. Schools in disadvantaged areas should be prioritised.
Along with other funders, we will continue to provide support in all the above areas. However, we need strong and decisive Government intervention and funding NOW to ensure a whole generation is not left behind.
‘Covid 19 Impacts: Early Years’, Sutton Trust, 1 July 2020
Various Research Papers, Institute of Fiscal Studies, March to June 2020
‘Impact of Covid-19 on the experiences of parents and family carers of autistic children and young people in the UK’ Pavlopoulou G, Wood R and Papadopoulos C, UCL 2020
‘Impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable children in temporary accommodation in the UK’ Diana Margot Rosenthal, The Lancet, 31st March 2020
‘This is England: A Picture of Homelessness in 2019’ Shelter, December 2019
‘The State of Hunger’ The Trussell Trust, 2018
One Month In
It is exactly one month ago today that the lockdown in the UK began. The novelty has worn off and reality has set in. ‘Dig deep’ we are told. ‘Be strong’. It’s as if by displaying strength of character that we can ‘fight’ the virus; otherwise you may be considered at best a naysayer and at worst weak.
Language and the sentiment behind it matter, and no greater than at this time. For the rich and the poor this disease knows no boundaries – we are all equal now. Look! Even the PM had the virus, so we are all in this together. Let’s evoke the Blitz spirit of Second World War; that will get us through! Really? There needs to be a wake-up call and fast.
We have been dropped into isolation, turbulence and uncertainty with none of us knowing when this will end. We are not all suffering in the same way, and we are not all united: rich and poor; able bodied and disabled; weak and strong. Covid 19 is not making everyone feel equal; rather it is magnifying the inequalities in our society.
First, let’s look at the immediate situation we find ourselves in. Lockdown as a renter with a young (and sometimes extended) family in an overcrowded flat with no garden is quite a different experience to those who own their homes and have ample outside space to exercise in. Such overcrowded accommodation means people are much less likely to self-isolate. In addition, the well-off (a disproportionately large part of the service sector) are also more likely to be able to work from home. In contrast, manual workers, including bus drivers, shelf stackers and hospital staff – cannot work from home and are still trying to work with increased risk of infection.
For families with children, the lockdown represents a huge change and challenge. Since 23rd March, schools and nurseries have been shut for most children across the UK, and social distancing rules preclude most activities outside the home. Informal childcare by grandparents and other friends and family has been ruled out, and even contact between parents who do not live together is falling. Parents are facing greater responsibility for supervising and educating their children at the same time as many are trying to adapt to working from home or, in the case of poorer households, still trying to work outside of the home.
Many households are experiencing falls in their income as a result of the coronavirus crisis. What they normally spend their money on will matter for how well they can weather this storm, says the Institute of Fiscal Studies. If a household typically spends much of its budget on essential items, it has less scope to adjust to a lower income by reducing spending without incurring hardship. Indeed, the share of spending accounted for by essentials is much higher for poorer households than richer households. The poorest fifth of households direct 55% of their budgets on average to essentials, compared with just 39% for the richest fifth.
At the other extreme, if a large fraction of a household’s budget goes on the kind of social and recreational activities that are now prohibited, or on commuting, which is now unnecessary for many workers, it may require little – or even no – further adjustment to cope with a fall in income. Ironically, because the rich are not spending on dining out, travel, theatre etc, their savings (and wealth) will increase during this period, thereby widening the social and economic divide.
Turning to look at a post Covid 19 future, the pandemic and the measures put in place to combat it, have changed almost everything about how people live their day-to-day lives. In the aftermath of the most severe economic downturn in our history – where there is less likely to be a V-shaped or even U-shaped recovery but a bathtub-shaped recovery – it will be the young and the most disadvantaged in society that will bear the brunt. The blow of 10 hard years of austerity is now being compounded with the economic impact of Covid 19.
Rather than tightening and squeezing budgets we need to rebuild our economy – all of it. That means investing to reverse the inequalities in our society. As a funder focusing grant making to children and young people, we are already stepping up our efforts to increase funding to those most in need, as are many of our peer funders. The unprecedented demand for grants – as demonstrated through requests made to the London Community Response Fund – shows us that if ever there were a time to step up and use the money put away for a rainy day, it is now.
How to Be Resilient in a Crisis
A month ago, like many of you, I had just returned refreshed from a half term holiday to warmer climes. As I adjusted back to my routine reviewing grant applications, checking the performance of our endowment to ensure our grantees are properly supported, Covid-19 went from a distant threat to a very real one.
Now, we are faced with an unprecedented crisis that few of us ever expected to witness. As we all learn to practice social distancing and isolation, communication – in so many ways – becomes ever more important in terms of what is being said and the tone behind it. Over many years, whether facing a personal crisis close to home, or dealing with a public disaster such as Grenfell, the following key points are ones that I reach for in times like this.
In the past two weeks I have been deluged with emails concerning action being taken on Covid-19. Driving this onslaught of messages is the interchange between the need to communicate something and doing the right thing. In times of crisis, however, it is important not to fill a vacuum just for the sake of it. As a charity leader I know people are looking to me for advice, leadership or guidance. While there may be an urgency to do something, it is important to create your own ‘calm’ to address what is necessary. Being responsive may be about reacting to a crisis, but it is also about digging deep and being proactive in offering tangible support to your team and your grantees that you can follow through on. And it’s not just the here and now you need to respond to; it’s about forward planning as well. We are already getting ourselves ready to respond to the needs of our grantees once lockdown is lifted.
It is essential that decisions taken during a crisis are accountable and recorded. Support from your Board and the Trustees is imperative to ensuring transparency and clarity are adhered to, not just at the beginning but throughout a crisis or period of upheaval. You need that support and buy in to validate what you are doing.
Think about who the audience is you want to communicate with. If you are offering to help by making pledges of support, don’t forget about your own staff. Supportive external messaging to beneficiaries, suppliers etc should echo communications to your own staff. This is about thinking what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes and help them from their perspective and not your own. Your employees are central to how quickly your organisation can respond to or recover from a crisis. It is imperative to make your staff a priority audience for any communications at times of stress. Think very carefully before you do or say anything: what impact will it have? Are we best placed to offer this help? Are there others we should engage with in this?
Don’t say something just to fill a space; if you have nothing useful say, then don’t say it! We are all flooded with Covid-19 communications so make sure it’s practical and has value to it. If you decide to reach out to your audiences and offer to support them, make sure you are able to provide the support you have promised. If you know you want to act, engage other organisations to collaborate with them or endorse and promote what they are doing rather than compete with them. This is why John Lyon’s Charity signed up to the joint London Funders statement; we are stronger and more effective in partnership. This is particularly relevant right now as different funding proposals and programmes appear. Don’t re-invent the wheel! Flag-up the ones that have impetus, buy-in and infrastructure in place rather than creating your own scheme.
When the crisis you are facing changes, make sure you adapt your communication and approach. While consistency of messaging is important, so is relevance, particularly when events move at a pace. Look at the messages you are putting out; if they need to be changed or updated explain why. Being relevant is also an opportunity to re-imagine how you operate. Organisations which reinvent themselves to make the most of insight gained through a crisis will succeed, because a crisis doesn’t just reveal vulnerabilities, it also gives opportunities to improve performance and be more productive/supportive. A case in point is that within the last week, John Lyon’s Charity has written to all its grantees about the flexible approach it will take to grant making in this unparalleled crisis.
Before you start to help others, first and foremost, remember to be kind to yourself. This means not worrying about juggling childcare / grocery shopping or anything else. You cannot be a superhero, so remember: one task, one step, one day at a time. If you need to take time out in the working day or week to allow your mind/body to breathe, then do it. Whether its Pilates, yoga, mindfulness, walking the dog, making a cake…. whatever is a distraction or a treat for you, then do it and learn to be kind to yourself.
There is only one of you!
Cross-Sector Collaboration To Build Better Futures
On Tuesday 10th March, John Lyon’s Charity will host an event to celebrate the success of our Young People’s Foundations (YPFs) and the launch of a YPF Trust. Little did we think five years ago that we would be looking at a YPF in each of our London boroughs, a YPF in Manchester and on the brink of the model rolling out further.
Why did we set up and fund Young People’s Foundations?
Since 2010, we had observed the Children and Young People’s (CYP) Sector in the Charity’s Beneficial Area operating in a challenging economic environment, with young people displaying a range of needs which were becoming more extreme and widespread.
- From 2013 we saw a fall in applications from smaller voluntary groups; specifically, the youth sector, which led us to investigate why this was happening.
- We found that the severe funding cuts faced by Local Authorities led to a crisis in the CYP Sector and, specifically, Third Sector infrastructure organisations.
- Voluntary sector organisations and local authority youth services were closing altogether or having their funding severely curtailed. Furthermore, council buildings where many youth services were delivered were closed or sold off.
- We also found that several longstanding organisations in the CYP sector closed or merged, in a desperate attempt to pool resources.
- Finally, the old funding model of the local authority awarding grants shifted towards commissioning, with few grass roots charities able to adapt to this, and those that could adapt, took on contracts that were not core to their mission.
John Lyon’s Charity, in collaboration with the local authorities and voluntary sector in our Beneficial Area responded to these issues and created a model – the Young People’s Foundation – to ensure there is a sustainable and vibrant Children and Youth sector for the future. The goal from the start has been to ensure that the organisations and groups that serve children and young people are strong, viable and fit for purpose. It was important to us that small local organisations were involved from the outset, giving them ownership of their YPF; demonstrating the benefits they could gain from being a member.
What is a Young People’s Foundation?
A YPF is a place-specific member-led charity comprising organisations working with children and young people including public, private and voluntary sectors. YPFs fundraise, build networks, provide space and access for CYP grass roots groups. YPFs are non-delivery so don’t compete with their members for contracts or funding. Crucially, the YPFs in the Beneficial Area secured core funding from John Lyon’s Charity and other funders, particularly City Bridge Trust, so they have never had to compete with their members for funds raised. Core costs of Young People’s Foundations are c.£100-150K a year. John Lyon’s Charity has also invested significant time to developing, supporting and training its YPFs, the respective trustee boards and executives to help ensure success, so our total commitment to date to the YPFs is circa £4.7 million.
How do they work?
As independent charities, the YPFs are uniquely placed to lead a coordinated response to local need. Because they do not directly deliver youth services and because they are independent of public services, the YPFs’ impartial position enables them to challenge stakeholders to work together on solutions for young people.
While voluntary sector collaboration and infrastructure support is not new, the combination of the Public, Private and Voluntary sectors working closely together in a local foundation to address the needs of children and young people is. The simple yet impactful values of collaboration, grassroots involvement and non-delivery resonate.
Between the current YPFs there are over 1,300 members including local authorities, charities, schools, businesses and funders all working together for the CYP sector in their respective communities. Between them they have been able to raise over £7M of funding in consortium bids from local authority contracts or large grant giving foundations, that grass roots charities would not normally be able to access as individually they are too small. The YPFs have also pioneered links with businesses who provide space, funding and mentoring to CYP groups.
What has this meant for us?
Having the YPFs has better informed our grant making; they enable us to get even closer to grass roots charities helping us understand our boroughs on a micro-level as well as identify key trends across the Beneficial Area. The model has become an intrinsic way of how we operate and has enhanced our ability to work with grantees as partners developing the best possible opportunities for children and young people; we are as much a stakeholder in the boroughs within the Beneficial Area as anyone else operating within it.
The cuts to children and youth services over the past decade has a direct correlation with an increase in pupil exclusions and youth violence. John Lyon’s Charity is working closely with the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sports (DCMS) who are interested in replicating the YPF model in areas throughout the country.
There is now huge appetite for the YPF model from outside our Beneficial Area – in other London boroughs as well as outside of London. The momentum that has been created by the initial success of the YPFs means there is a need for a central YPF Trust to support this growth and to protect, nurture and grow the core values of the YPF model outside our area. The role of the YPF Trust is, therefore, to add a formal structure to an expanding network, to support discussions for replication of the model elsewhere, to own the ‘quality mark’ for what constitutes a YPF, to share the impact of the YPF model and to act as a central body enabling shared back office functions to ensure YPFs are efficient in their operation and infrastructure.
We have listened and understood that funding needs to be for the long term and focussed on place, which is why we are committed to developing the model further. The funding from John Lyon’s Charity for our eight YPFs and a YPF Trust will continue for as long as is necessary. We are committed, as are our trustees, to making a sustainable difference for the CYP sector, and this can only be done by putting children and young people at the centre of our grant making.
The Excluded Initiative
Back in September 2019 I wrote a blog about pupil exclusions from mainstream schools. Since then, we have seen ever more concerning news on this topic. A recent report by the Education Policy Institute found that 10.1 per cent of children who finished their GCSEs in 2017 experienced exits at some point during their time at secondary school that “cannot be accounted for”. This totals more than 69,000 unexplained exits by over 61,000 pupils. Even more shocking is the fact the report found that in fewer than half of all cases of unexplained exits, pupils move into a school (which has an Ofsted grade) in the term following the exit (45.2 per cent); 51.9 per cent of all unexplained exits are to an unknown destination in the term following the exit.
Jo Hutchinson, report author and Director of Social Mobility and Vulnerable Learners at the Education Policy Institute, said: “This research shows that there are thousands of pupils in England routinely removed from schools with no apparent explanation. It is also clear that this phenomenon pervades the entire school system. The overwhelming majority of exits from school rolls are experienced by more vulnerable pupils, such as those with special educational needs and disabilities.”
In light of such disturbing findings, I am very pleased to write that The Evening Standard, John Lyon’s Charity, tech investor and philanthropist Martin Moshal and the London Community Foundation have joined together to support inclusion in London secondary schools.
The Excluded Initiative offers special support to secondary schools in London that have exclusion rates higher than the national average and are seeking to tackle these issues in an inclusive, nurturing way by building their inclusion capacity and expertise to drive down exclusions to a minimum. We are seeking schools that have made a commitment to tackle exclusion rates and are looking to implement a plan to do so. This plan must have the support of the school’s management, staff and Governors, in addition to consulting with, parents and the local community to ensure there are tangible benefits for the whole school. The Initiative will provide project funding over a three-year period. John Lyon’s Charity will provide up to £500,000 in total over three years, with matched funding from Martin Moshal via the London Community Foundation.
Over the past eight years there has been a trend towards zero-tolerance resulting in more pupils being excluded. This is happening for several reasons including lack of funding and because schools are under pressure to remove children who bring down their exam results. In our experience of grant-making, unruly child behaviour is always a symptom of an underlying problem, be it bereavement of a parent, abuse by a family member, mental health issues of parents, being a ‘looked after’ child or inadequate housing. By partnering with the Evening Standard’s new campaign, we hope to empower visionary headteachers to pioneer new ways of bolstering inclusion.
Championing, Supporting, Providing
John Lyon’s Charity is the largest independent funder in North and West London supporting children’s and young people’s charities. Our aim continues to be to transform the lives of children and young people by creating opportunities to learn, grow and develop which would not otherwise exist without our contribution. We have been awarding grants for over 25 years. Starting with a grant expenditure of less than £200K in 1991, we now award in the region of £12 million each year and have granted over £130 million in total. At any one time we have over 600 live grants in operation. As a funder with a specific geographic area, we have been in a privileged position to really understand the boroughs in our Beneficial Area; in particular the specific needs, who the major stakeholders are and how we can best help. We work with the organisations based within those boroughs to learn from them and respond to the needs of the communities living in those areas. We really do ‘grant-making by walking around’, which is why those 600 live grants are with us all the time.
It is easy to assume that in awarding grants to organisations working with children and young people, we will be having a positive impact on their lives and indeed on the organisations that work with them. But how do we know? How do we know if what we are doing is making a difference? In early 2019, John Lyon’s Charity commissioned the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) to look at the grants we have made over the past 25 years. Using the last ten years as a focused study, we asked IVAR to use this information to consider what impact the Charity has had in the Beneficial Area over that period. Using five of the Charity’s key funding areas (Children & Families, Youth Clubs and Youth Activities, Emotional Wellbeing, Special Needs and Disabilities and Education & Learning) the report sets out the impact of the Charity’s funding throughout the Beneficial Area. It looks at the context within which the Charity and its beneficiaries have been operating, and using interviews with grant recipients, staff members and case studies, examines the impact of the Charity in each area to look forward to what this means for the Charity’s strategy over the next 5-10 years.
The headline message is that John Lyon’s Charity is highly-regarded, valued and trusted by the organisations it funds. It is seen as a supportive, engaged funder with a solid understanding on the context and needs of the voluntary sector. The Report shows that hallmarks of the Charity’s approach are three-fold:
- We are a relational funder: The Charity has a persistent presence in the Beneficial Area and builds relationships of trust. Staff are present, well-networked locally and are valued for developing face-to-face relationships.
- We are a responsive funder: At a strategic/geographic programme level, for example the response to the Grenfell Tower fire and commitment to support youth clubs in the face of large cuts. We also enable grantees to be responsive: the provision of core funding rather than specific programme funding allows them to respond to the changing needs of children and young people in their communities.
- We are a responsible funder: JLC does not expect grantees to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and provides stability through core and long-term funding. The Charity is seen to be proactive in challenging or championing changes to structures and systems – for example the YPFs and the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto.
Additionally, the report observes that John Lyon’s Charity is seen to champion three things: preventative and early intervention work, promoting genuine inclusion, and continuously learning and building expertise. Our long and sustained presence in these boroughs has allowed the Charity to build a solid reputation for consistency, reliability and flexibility, offering funding for high quality initiatives where they are most needed, as well as supporting organisations with capacity building. We are known for funding initiatives that need help to ‘keep the lights on’ as well as being open to innovation and funding new pieces of work that push boundaries. We are not afraid to take informed risks, and we are grateful to our Trustee for being so supportive and open-minded about the work we do.
Across the five Programme Areas which were examined, four recommendations have been made to us based on the key messages of ‘championing, supporting and providing’:
- Articulate the John Lyon’s Charity approach of grant making to other funders.
- Continue to provide core and long-term funding.
- Provide a platform for grantees to have a voice.
- Champion the needs of small charities and protect their space.
We are known for recognising the importance of offering core funding for organisations; we are known for offering flexibility with funding and listening to the needs of grantee organisations; we are known for providing support to grant applicants to help them along their journey; we are known to be fair on organisations without impacting on quality. We have helped many organisations survive over the years and sadly seen others disappear as they succumb to the many challenges facing the voluntary sector, not least the severe funding cuts from local and central government since 2010. What this has shown us is that longevity of funding is key.
Our work on building the capacity of the voluntary sector is key to helping those organisations to survive and thrive. We will use the findings of this report to develop key areas of strategy around our giving, particularly in relation to special needs and disability, emotional wellbeing and the launch of an exciting new Internship Programme. From 2020, the Internship Programme will allow for the creation of paid internship positions in organisations known to and supported by John Lyon’s Charity, with a particular focus on SEND, Youth Clubs and Arts organisations.
We are proud of our achievements over the past three decades, but we are only as good or effective as the organisations who trust us to get things right. We are sincere in the value we place in the voluntary sector in our boroughs and endeavour to do all we can to continue getting it right, continue to be a reliable source of funding and continue to be a trusted source of advice and guidance wherever we can.
Excluded Children: Where Do They Go?
Over the past eight years there has been a trend towards a zero tolerance policy from mainstream schools. Put bluntly, regardless of previous behaviour, schools are increasingly adopting a ‘one strike and you’re out approach’, resulting in many pupils being excluded from school either temporarily or permanently. This is happening for a number of reasons: firstly, schools have less funding to employ staff, which has led to larger pupil to teacher ratios in classes; secondly, that lack of funding has permeated through to availability of specialist support teachers for counselling and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND); finally, schools are under increasing pressure to remove those children who bring down the exam result attainment.
In our experience of grant-making, unruly child behaviour is always a symptom of an underlying problem. Children are not born bad. Childhood trauma can often remain hidden but includes a multitude of origins: bereavement of a parent(s); physical or sexual abuse by a family member; mental health issues of parents; being a Looked After Child (LAC) with no permanent home; refugee status with inadequate social housing provision…to name just a few, which can affect children from all social backgrounds. Equally, those with SEND may display behaviour or traits (think autism or ADHD) that have never been diagnosed, with the behaviour labelled disruptive or naughty.
What we do know is that these are children who have been let down time and time again, with no consistency in their lives. Bad behaviour and violence is a way of lashing out; a last resort to try to communicate anxiety, fear, rejection. Through our work with schools and children’s charities we are persevering to address these issues. Last week I visited two different organisations who are on the ‘same side of the coin’ in bravely trying to tackle this very thorny subject: Feltham Young Offenders Institution and Kensington Aldridge Academy, a secondary school in North Kensington.
Firstly, to Feltham to meet with Governor Emily Martin. Having met earlier in the year, I am convinced there is a way of supporting the work of Feltham as a number of the young men from our Beneficial Area are held there. In her position for just over a year, the Governor is determined to change the culture, approach and reputation of Feltham. Essentially Feltham is two prisons on one site: Feltham A holds up to 110 (vastly reduced from a year ago) boys aged 15-18. Feltham B is a prison for young adults aged 18-21 who are on the verge of being equipped with skills to be released back into society.
What is striking from our visit are the statistics: over 60% are BAME; in Feltham A 33% are ’lifers’ or serving very long sentences for the most violent crimes, while the remaining 66% are on remand or there for short sentences – a complex mix that needs different approaches. Without exception, the Governor tells me that every boy in Feltham A has serious SEND or childhood trauma and needs rehabilitative counselling and support. The majority of these boys have been in and out of school and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) since they were very young. And yet, each of the boys has shown a talent, a passion for sport or music or art or nature that when tapped into reveals an energy and commitment to learn and to achieve. No child actively wants to be excluded from school or society. Behind the bravado and aggression lies a child that needs a multitude of support. Feltham is not in our Beneficial Area, so this is not straightforward for us to fund. What we do know is that a significant number of boys and young men from our Boroughs are in Feltham. We are in the early stages of building a relationship with the Governor and her team to tease out what support from us could like look like.
The second organisation I visited last week is in the middle of our patch and shows how we are funding a very practical solution to the problem of pupil exclusions – Kensington Aldridge Academy. A secondary school at the foot of Grenfell Tower, it opened in 2014 in Kensington and Chelsea as part of a regeneration scheme. In 2017, Ofsted graded the school not only “outstanding” in all areas but “exceptional” and in 2018 it was awarded the Times Education Supplement Secondary School of the Year. It has had to cope with serious pupil trauma as a consequence of the Grenfell Tower fire, which has led to a rise in pupil exclusions.
The school has a very dynamic Head – David Benson – with a vision, a mission and a strong ethos that permeates throughout the school. His approach to tackling exclusions is innovative and is starting to yield positive results. While recognising that some extreme behaviour has to be tackled by excluding a pupil from school for a defined period, they have also established a School Within a School (SWS), that seeks to be inclusive, providing intervention before the ‘last resort’ is required. Since March 2018 just over 50 pupils (eight per cohort) have been placed within the SWS for a six week period. The combination of being able to provide core academics alongside behaviour management to a small group has enabled these pupils to talk openly about what has been affecting their behaviour and ensure that their school work is kept on track. After six weeks, each cohort is re-introduced to mainstream lessons with the teachers commenting on the stark positive difference in pupil’s attitude to study and to other pupils.
John Lyon’s Charity has recently agreed to provide three years of funding to KAA for a Family Connections Support Manager. This position is a member of the school’s pastoral team, and at the core of the School Within a School programme. It will allow them to build trust with pupils and they will organise personal plans for each student, including high level behaviour meetings and identifying positive, proactive steps to support students. Crucially, the Manager will also work with students’ families to ensure that parents and carers are part of the solution. This is just one small step, but one we feel will continue to build momentum for a school on the brink a breakthrough.
Pupil exclusions always have an underlying cause. Above is an example of how we can address these within a school, and at the far end of the trajectory the possibility to correct and heal the consequences of pupil exclusions in a young offenders institution. As our vision articulates: We will not shy away from taking informed risks to support projects and organisations that pioneer new initiatives and ideas.
Holiday ‘hunger’ is not the only story..
For the past few years, over summer it has become the norm to see news stories on ‘holiday hunger’. Approximately 750,000 children in the UK receive free school meals during term time, but when the long summer holiday arrives, they are in danger of going hungry without that support. This is undoubtedly an extremely poignant story and one that is becoming more prevalent each year.
When the school summer break begins, many of us look forward to holidays in the UK and overseas. However, for a lot of families, the long school break is not filled with day trips or fun activities and the financial strain of feeding and keeping children entertained kicks in. The absence of free school meals for children on low incomes can cost a family £30-£40 a week. In addition, the Family and Childcare Trust, has found that in the UK, parents will also spend an average of £133 per child, each week on child care this summer.
To provide some context, the number of pupils in London known to be eligible and claiming free meals is just over 20% of the total school population (Department for Education, 2019). Within four of the boroughs in our Beneficial Area (Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster) it is closer to 25% of the total school population; that is one in five children.
The Trussell Trust (a charity that aims to end hunger in the UK), has stated that it has real evidence of spikes in the use of food banks during the school summer holidays. Last year, 593 organisations running holiday clubs across the UK provided more than 190,000 meals to over 22,000 school-aged children.
We started thinking about the impact of holiday hunger several years ago. What it led us to conclude was that holiday hunger is not the only issue that many children and young people face during school holidays. ‘Activity hunger’ is also a real and complex problem whereby stimulating, exciting activities – be that a day trip to Brighton, an overnight trip to a forest school or a week of arts and crafts activities – are out of reach for those children from very disadvantaged backgrounds. On the first day of term in September, when a teacher says, ‘write about what you did in the school holiday’, many children are left bereft of ideas as their holiday experience has been void of anything uplifting.
Furthermore, research shows that that the long break can set back children’s learning, and that children from poorer backgrounds are disproportionately affected with summer being the most unequal time of year. Hence, those in the lowest socio-economic groups face a triple whammy of a) holiday hunger, b) a lack of activity and exercise and c) learning setbacks where knowledge is not retained.
In 2017 Northumbria University undertook the largest ever study of school holiday clubs in England during the 2017 summer break. What they found was that while it was already known that holiday clubs help to combat childhood hunger through their provision of healthy meals, researchers found they also helped parents by alleviating their stress and improving their all-round health and wellbeing.
Parents said that the clubs provided their children with safe places to play; gave them opportunities to learn new skills and engage in a range of new experiences. Many of the children transferred these new skills and experiences into their homes, for example, through offering to cook meals or wanting to grow their own vegetables. Professor Greta Defeyter, Director of Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab, said: “Our findings suggest that holiday club provision offers the potential to have a far wider impact than previously evidenced on children’s health, wellbeing and education.”
As a charity focussed on promoting the life-chances of children and young people, we started a School Holiday Activity Fund (SHAF) four years ago. We now give circa £500,000 per year under the SHAF grants programme. The SHAF is designed to enable organisations to deliver fun and accessible activities for children and young people during the school holidays. This includes all half-term breaks, Easter, Christmas and the summer holiday. The Fund will pay for the running costs of holiday programmes that provide young people with activities in supportive and accessible environments, with a maximum grant allowance of £4,000. Importantly, many of these activities include lunch as well so it has the double effect of satiating hunger while providing a worthwhile experience.
We are not embarrassed to say that within the Charity we call this our ‘FUN’ fund. This is not about funding worthy educational projects, it is all about allowing children and young people the opportunity to do something exciting, entertaining but also to relax and learn through play. We fund activities such as drop-in clubs, arts activities, sports projects, day trips out of London and camping trips. For many children the day trips and overnight trips will be their first experience of travelling outside of London.
Here are four very different examples of what we fund:
Phoenix Rising is well-known for its steel pan band. Based in Harlesden and Stonebridge, we gave a SHAF for Monday-Friday provision across the full six-week summer holiday in 2019. Between 50-70 young people aged 8-19 will take part across the summer and days will be broken into two halves; music and art activities in the morning and sport and personal development in the afternoon.
Future Stars delivers bespoke educational and sports programmes from grassroots to elite level for young people. Their current SHAF will enable12-15 young people onto their multi-sports programme, having been referred by Ealing Youth Justice Department. The young people are Not in Employment, Education or Training, and at risk of offending and entering the youth justice system. The programme will deliver two weeks of multi sports activities and enrichment workshops such as CV writing, interview Skills, lifestyle management and personal nutrition.
NOMAD is a community of young people who are migrants or have experience of being a refugee of asylum seeker and provides one-to-one support, peer mentoring and a safe space for people to be themselves. We provided a SHAF for a five-day camping trip to Wales for 18 young people. Participants explored, connected with nature, learnt wilderness skills and took part in drama, art and dance workshops to learn about each other’s cultures.
Somali Family Learning & Regeneration Project (SFLRP) has been providing supplementary education and family learning programmes for the Somali community in Ealing since 2002. We provided a SHAF to run a day trip to the seaside at Southend-on-Sea, with a theme-park and sea-life visit over the Easter holiday. SFLRP also ran a girls’ football tournament over one week at Featherstone High School to encourage them to be more physically active and maintain a healthy lifestyle. 55 young people aged 5-16 benefited from these exciting Easter holiday experiences.
Having access to safe, exciting, stimulating activities should not be a luxury but essential for all children and young people for their development. By offering this funding in our Beneficial Area we know are making a real difference to young lives. When children leave these activities to go back to school, they do so having been well-fed with both food and stories to tell and share. It is empowering and uplifting, but most of all fun.
Change the Narrative for Policy and Young People
In early March John Lyon’s Charity hosted a roundtable discussion titled ‘The UK’s Children: Is it Time for a New Deal?’. Participants included heads of charities, policymakers, journalists and think tanks amongst others. As the largest independent funder for children and young people in North and West London, John Lyon’s Charity has become increasingly concerned over the past five to eight years, that what used to be considered core for state provision seems to have shrunk. Consequently, the Charity has seen increasing demands for its grants, as it knows others also have.
Aside from Brexit, a glance at the headlines on any news site or newspaper shows that the lives of children and young people in Britain are under considerable stress. The social and psychological pressures on the UK’s children cause the whole nation concern; from the impact of knife crime to the pressures of social media; from the anguish of increasing numbers of those excluded at school to the burden to perform at school or you are considered a failure. For those children and young people who need help along the way, that assistance is not always there. At a time when government resource continues to be stretched, demand for children and youth services has risen dramatically.
Austerity has not helped. By 2020, local government in England will have lost 75 pence out of every £1 of the Government revenue support grant that it had to spend in 2015. Overall, councils are facing a £3.1 billion funding gap for Children and Young People’s (CYP) services by 2025. The impact has seen the loss of 4,500 jobs, more than 760 youth centres and 130,000 youth club places for young people. We know that in many areas universal youth work has all but disappeared, with funding being diverted to short-term and targeted provision. Increasingly high thresholds for support are also leaving young people behind. The result of this is that we have reached the position where grant-making by independent foundations for children now exceeds that of grants made by government. This is unlikely to change. The social contract we had all assumed was in place is changing.
Before the discussion commenced, the CEO of John Lyon’s Charity (Dr Lynne Guyton) made it clear that we needed to have balance“…it is worth remembering that there are over nine-and-a-half million children and young people in the UK aged between 10-24 and, despite what the media would have us think, they are not all gun-toting, knife-wielding criminals. So, for us, we do not see children as a problem, or even the problem, and we feel that young people’s views should matter more and more.
“As a charity with a very defined Beneficial Area, we will continue to challenge government around cuts, and we will try to resolve these issues, but we know we can’t achieve this alone and that is why I wanted an open discussion in terms of how we can work together to set a new agenda for the future.”
So, what is to be done? Is it time to reconsider how we regard the young? Which interventions work and which are less successful? Why have there been seven ministers for young people since 2010? And, is it time for a dedicated, full-time minister for young people? Many themes came out of the discussion that followed, including the perception of children, the lack of government representation for the CYP sector and children’s and young people’s voices remaining unheard and unsought.
The first guest speaker was Sir Al Aynsley-Green who was the first independent statutory children’s commissioner for England.
“We’re the fifth richest country in the world. We have amazing children, families and staff, but the hard reality is that we have some of the worst outcomes in the developed world for children’s health, education, social care, youth justice and poverty”.
Sir Al asked two stark questions about the sector:
- Why should we care about children?
- Why do we have such dismal outcomes?
On the first question of why we should care, Sir Al offered that “we have more and more older people living for much longer than previously, so it means there will be fewer working-age adults to support their needs, and the statistics are startling. So, there is an economic argument for why children should be taken seriously.”
On the second question of why we have such poor outcomes in the UK, Sir Al suggested there were four underlying reasons: “The first is our public and political attitude to the importance of children. The second is that national government focus for children has been short-term, inconsistent, ephemeral and untrustworthy. ‘Every Child Matters’ was the world’s most powerful and respected overall policy for children, under New Labour. However, it was systematically unpicked by the coalition government of 2010. The third reason is that we have failed to be effective political advocates for the best interests of children. Finally, it is the bunkers and silos that are everywhere; exemplified best by Westminster, but right the way down to localities within and between sectors. We can do better, and we have got to find the examples, share the tool-kits, and bring the willing together to work together to improve the outcomes for our children.”
The second provocation came from Ravi Chandiramani, editor in chief of Children and Young People now. He began with three points. “First: the treatment of youth policy in England over the past decade is a national scandal. We not only have had seven ministers for young people since 2010, but the brief itself has been cast adrift from the rest of children’s services and shunted around Whitehall. We need a dedicated minister to set the policy framework for improving outcomes for all young people outside the arena of formal education. National treatment of youth issues continues to see adolescence as a problem. It is reactive, negative and highly politicised around high-profile issues such as child sexual exploitation, harmful social media content or knife crime.
“Second, children and young people need ‘continuity of care’. The churn in ministers for young people is mirrored elsewhere in hugely important roles. The turnover rate of local authority directors of children’s services – those with ultimate oversight of children’s and youth services within their council boundaries – is 40% a year. Moreover, 20% of children’s social workers are interim agency staff. So, there is a fundamental problem in the continuity of care at all levels afforded to vulnerable young people and families.
“Third, we need to stop (focussing on) innovation and intervention programmes. Innovation is a good thing. But the increased weight of emphasis on discrete programmes of intervention risks losing sight of the importance of everyday good social work or everyday good youth work in building relationships – where professionals gain the trust and respect of young people who may otherwise lack such a figure in their lives.”
A discussion then ensued on attitudes towards children and young people. Kathy Evans the CEO of Children England said that while members of the organisations she represents do “some extraordinary work” she was dismayed at some prevalent attitudes towards children and the young. “I think in recent times there have been two phenomena that underscore societal problems we have in our attitude to children. The first is the growing phenomenon of schools having isolation and confinement booths for punishment of often very minor things like uniform breaches. Zero tolerance of misbehaviour is zero tolerance of childhood, and they are…sending those children away in silent, motionless confinement, rather than deal with the reality that children behave in all sorts of ways.
“The second phenomenon is the welfare and benefits system that has decided to implement a two-child limit. As a society, we have really to grasp what we are saying about the value of any child, however they came to be here. Fundamentally we must change our idea of who children are, because children are just new people. If we can’t connect with childhood, then we have disowned our true selves.” This was a powerful sentiment and one that echoed around the room.
At this point it was becoming clear that themes were emerging of children and young people being marginalised. There was a general feeling that unlike, for example, in the Netherlands, Scandinavia or Canada, children are frequently under-valued or supported. Consequently, the contribution of those that work with children – whether as childcare providers, teachers or social workers is not appreciated. This problem magnifies further when we consider children and young people with special needs.
The youngest person in the room was Hamza Taouzzale, aged 19, who is the youngest councillor ever to sit on Westminster City Council (when elected he was too young to vote himself). Hamza’s views were stark and to the point: “We don’t have a cabinet member for young people. We don’t have anyone who…wants the burden, because that’s how they see it – as a burden. If they have young people on their portfolio and they’re responsible for it, then anything that goes wrong they think is going to be tied to them…and then they will get blamed for it.”
Hamza continued “… for some young people, it (the loss of funding) is (the end of the world). Two days in a row now, next to the ward in which I live and which I represent, three young people have been stabbed. What we’ve realised is that we’ve gone into a dangerous system where young people’s lives don’t really count anymore.
Hamza put forward two actions points for consideration: “I think the voting age needs to be lowered. I think the main reason why politicians don’t care about young people is that we can’t vote. We can’t turn around and say to them ‘We don’t want you in (power) anymore.’ We don’t have a say. The second thing I would say is that we’ve strayed away from looking at young people as normal people. We look at young people as ‘these criminals’ or ‘these knife-wielding menaces,’ as these angry people who don’t want to go to school, who don’t want to go to university, who don’t want to do anything in life, they just want to go out there and stab someone. That’s not true.”
There was much support for Hamza’s comments and a sense that the media focusses on the negative stories only. There was discussion about the role the media plays in providing sensationalist news headlines. However, it was also conceded that charities should be aware of only releasing negative, headline-grabbing case-studies and stories in a desperate search for coverage. They also had a responsibility to share the good news stories and successes as well.
The discussion moved on to the mental health of the young where it was felt that in some regards there was a real mixed picture. The current generation of young people are the most peaceful and the least aggressive for decades; they drink, and smoke less than their parents and grandparents and yet public perception is clearly different. However, pressures on children and young people, appear to be far higher than previous generations. The issue about thresholds for mental health intervention being very high, was raised by numerous panel members. Things had to have got very bad for a child or young person before professional help was made available. Quite simply, thresholds are now high because funding for services has been cut. This is affecting an increasing number of children and young people, and particularly those with Special Educational Needs (SEND). It was recognised by many participants that there was a direct link between a cut in funding for schools, a lack of funding for Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and the increase in pupils excluded from schools.
Many participants also had deep concerns about the issue of the social contract – the progressive withdrawal of both central and local government money from children and youth services. The boundaries of statutory provisions are being redefined. In John Lyon’s Charity there is a recognition that while it may disagree with funding cuts, it must work with what is in front of them and be flexible, by funding activities such as youth clubs or children’s services. There is acknowledgment in the Charity that while there are funding cuts, if it can work with local authorities and central government to affect policy change, that is better than the alternative of constant frustration and conflict.
John Lyon’s Charity stressed how it put a lot of its success down to the longevity of funding and its presence as a steady constant in its Beneficial Area for the past 25 years. It saw one of the biggest problems being large grants (from any source) being given for a short period of time, only to then withdraw funding and support. That is as damaging to CYP groups as not having the funding in the first place.
Pamela Dow (Chief Reform Officer at Catch 22) was a mildly dissenting voice from other panel members. She drew to attention to the book Obliquity by John Kay, “that is all about the concept of unintended consequences. The first unintended consequence is the idea that a Children’s Minister is going to change anything. But if you want to stop a sort of a neophiliac love for innovation, I guarantee the best way you can do it is getting a load of Children’s Ministers who want eye-catching initiatives to be personally associated with.”
Finally, the need for the young themselves to find a voice and ensure they are heard was expressed by many. “Young people generally are a particularly disenfranchised group,” said Lisa Hackett of Frontline. “They lack the agency of adults and we don’t give them a voice.” Hamza Taouzzale urged, “Put young people at the front of things. Have a young person there to speak about it and don’t assume that we know what young people want.”
Emma Ackermann from The National Lottery among others, talked about the necessity to listen to and heed young people despite there often being a lack of trust to get over. Bharat Mehta added, “Politics is alive with young people. In Scotland [where they can vote at 16] they voted in droves…young people are alive to what’s going on.” Ciaran Rafferty, the Funding Director of City Bridge Trust even advocated “a trade union for young people – with a block vote…then they might get listened to.”
In conclusion, the key themes that emerged from the discussion were:
- Pressure on children and young people from different sources
- The impact of funding cuts (particularly on SEND)
- The perception and value of children and young people
- A silo mentality amongst organisations and government working on CYP policy
- No government representation of children and young people
- Innovation in grant making in the CYP sector is not what is always required
- Children’s and young people’s voices are unheard and unsought.
If we are going to change the narrative, it was felt that a refocus on children and young people as a government priority was imperative. It was also strongly felt that as a society – and for us as a group of key influencers – we should bring attention back to children and young people. Children and young people should be listened to and given respect. As a start, we should be including their opinions and views into our organisations. As a community of CYP bodies we will look to forge opportunities to work collaboratively together – whether that’s through co-funding or sharing ideas, as there was a recognition that our voice is stronger together to enact some real change in a sector that sorely requires it. A re-think is required that will require joined up thinking across the participants at the roundtable and across national and local government to ensure that policy places children’s and young people’s lives at the centre of its focus.
The UK’s Children: Is it time for a New Deal – An Interview and Podcast
Ahead of a Roundtable that John Lyon’s Charity will host on 7 March 2019, The UK’s Children: Is it time for a New Deal? I have held an interview and podcast to discuss the crisis facing the Children and Young People’s sector and John Lyon Charity’s experience of the impact cuts are having on so many of our grantees.
The podcast also features interviews with three of our grantees, showcasing some of the fantastic work that young people’s charities are doing in North and West London: Primary Shakespeare Company, Redthread and Mama Youth.
Click for the full article and podcast.
A New Attitude to Young People is Needed
2018 was a year which saw a focus in the media on urban youth crime, with many authors and publications giving their view on what are the underlying issues causing violence amongst young people. Other themes tackled included the increase in homelessness and the increased need for mental health provision amongst the young. In many articles, the young themselves are being blamed for causing their own problems.
There are over 9.5 million young people in the UK, aged 10-24 (ONS: Population Projections, 2018), and they are not all carrying knives or guns. There is a huge problem with the media giving into sensationalism to achieve headlines in the era of Buzzfeed and social media clickbait. Not only are young people vilified, but stereotypes are often used around race or class to disparage young people. We never hear about the ‘middle ground’ – those young people who keep their heads down, work hard and make a positive contribution to society. Even on The Guardian’s website, if you search ‘young people’, a list of stories either on crime, homelessness or mental health appears alongside articles on how young people are ‘snowflakes’ and with little drive or ambition.
What all of these topics have in common, is that none of them are new. John Lyon’s Charity has been responding to these issues for the past 25 years. However, the depth of knowledge we have in our nine London boroughs shows us that, despite what the media would have us think, young people are not ‘a’ problem or ‘the’ problem. Government funding in the children and youth sector has been cut and demands on our time and our funds are increasing. We need to take a step back and celebrate the work of the charities and young people we support.
Too often it is easy to be negative and assume there is little hope for young people. Our driving aim to provide aspiration for all children and young people remains, and much of what we see when we visit our grantees fills us with hope and optimism. We may not be able to change every child’s life, but we know we are reaching a significant number; and where we are, we are making a real difference. For example, we fund opportunities through our School Holiday Activity Fund (SHAF) that aren’t headline grabbing or tackling big causes, rather they quietly ensure young people can just have fun by going on trips or trying new activities in the school holidays. The appreciation and excitement we see in these grantees is wonderful, and reminds us of the positive rather than negative images of young people.
We see innovation, creativity and determination every day in our grantees. I was lucky enough to be at a graduation event for Mama Youth Project’s latest graduates just before Christmas. The sheer joy and enthusiasm from the graduates from a range of backgrounds was inspirational. The MAMA Youth Project recruits, trains and nurtures young people between 18-25 from under-represented groups or with limited educational or employment opportunities. Through training projects they equip people with the skills and experience to secure long-term employment in the TV and media industry. 90 % of graduates are in sustained employment a year after training completion.
Another of our grantees – Adam Matan, the incredibly talented CEO of the Anti-Tribalism Movement was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s honours list for services to the Somali community. The organisation is working towards a cohesive and dynamic society where every person’s rights are protected regardless of tribe, clan, gender or political belief. We see the hope this Charity brings to the Somali community.
Keith Morgan, the new CEO of the Young Camden Foundation (YCF) has a dynamism and drive to push through the anger and frustration with funding cuts. He refuses to believe that a whole generation is lost, and is actively building more capacity and attracting investment into the youth sector.
We have many more stories to tell and share like this, as I’m sure many of you do. And we need to tell them because the misrepresentation of young people from under-represented groups in the media negatively affects society as a whole. We are into a New Year. The impact of cuts to youth services and to schools is a big issue to tackle. We cannot, nor should we try, to resolve these issues alone, and we will reach out to funders, business and local authorities to drive a better future for our young people. Nor should we stop talking about these issues, but we should remember to celebrate the achievements of young people and not just the problems associated with them. They are our future and need to be nurtured.
The Link Between Emotional Wellbeing and Behaviour in Schools
No child should have to face the social isolation so often caused by a lack of provision for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), or by pupil exclusion from schools. There have been many stories in the media in recent weeks about the number of children with SEND needs rising, an increase in pupil exclusions and the importance of focusing more on children’s mental health. The three are directly related and more time should be devoted to looking at the whole picture, rather than compartmentalising the issues.
Growing up is rarely a smooth journey and often becomes more difficult when children are faced with the challenges of an unstable home life, bullying and the weight of expectation in the face of learning difficulties.
All these can hinder a child’s ability to access and engage with educational opportunities to help them reach their potential. A stable home life contributes significantly to a child’s successful emotional and psychological development. Disruptive and negative behaviours at school can often be rooted in challenges experienced at home, or not be recognised as developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD.
Pressure on schools and other organisations to find creative ways to cost-effectively compensate for the lack of SEND or mental health services is increasingly prevalent. John Lyon’s Charity supports a variety of organisations and projects that provide parenting skills training, practical advice and support services to families both in and outside the home before they reach crisis point. These used to be ‘value added’ services within our Beneficial Area comprising nine boroughs in North and West London, but the last eight years have seen an increase in grant requests, as government spending has reduced. Rising thresholds for statutory services have seen John Lyon’s Charity’s Emotional Wellbeing expenditure alone increase almost nine times in as many years (£900,000 in 2017/18).
A rise in the number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities is putting pressure on schools, prompting concerns that children are missing out on classroom support and leaving mainstream settings. The most recent school census data shows the number of children with special educational needs and disabilities rose by 15,470 in the year to January 2017 to a total of 1.24m.
What is not just worrying, but terrifying is that every day in our work we see the effects of this rise; if you have a child with a SEND or a behavioural problem, they are more likely to require some type of emotional support, or counselling, but are less likely to receive it than ever before due to increased demands on local government funds. They are far more likely to be excluded from school, causing more distress to the child, putting them in a vicious circle that becomes hard to break.
The National Children’s Bureau (NCB), the National Education Union (NEU), Coram and the Child Poverty Action Group, among others, have urged Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond in an open letter to “put children and young people at the heart of government spending”. The letter quotes NHS figures that suggest less than a third of children and young people with a diagnosable mental health problem will get access to NHS-funded treatment this year. It also points to problems within schools, citing government data that shows the number of children with SEND who are waiting for provision has more than doubled since 2010.
Added to the anxiety around special educational needs and disabilities, a report published last week by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that permanent exclusions in England have gone up by 40 percent in the last three years. There were 6,685 last year, but the report said this was “just the tip of the iceberg”, as children are increasingly being removed informally from schools so they do not feature in official statistics. I must pause at this point, to consider how unbelievable this is: children are being excluded from schools off the record, so they don’t ruin a school’s statistics. How have we got to this point?
A total of 48,000 children were educated outside mainstream last year in what is known as alternative provision (AP). It is worth pointing out, that while at results time each August, the media focus on those getting the top grades and ‘result inflation’, only 1 percent of excluded children, get the five good GCSEs needed to access post-16 training and apprenticeships.
A BBC Report just published says more than 200 pupils spent at least five straight days in isolation booths in schools in England last year and claims more than 5,000 children with special educational needs also attended isolation rooms at some stage. The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, says school isolation can be “distressing and degrading” and she is concerned it is being used “as a gateway to excluding and off-rolling”, where pupils are removed from a school’s register. Once children are off the register and in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), the regulation, reporting and accountability falls away. Our own experience as a leading grant giver to children and young people in North and West London is that, once pupils are in a PRU, they can become an easy target for gangs wanting to exploit vulnerable children. The vicious circle and spiral of decline is then much harder to end.
There are many charities like us across the UK that will continue to support children and young people’s mental health and support children with SEND. However, the ‘thread’ of connection between SEND, school exclusion and the need for support and counselling is missing at a policy-making level. Government needs to make the link and understand that the cuts in services during austerity has led to a host of problems that schools are now expected to solve. Additional funds are required to deal with issues highlighted here, but – more importantly – a comprehensive review of and a clear policy on how intervention and support in the early years of a child’s life make a remarkable difference to their ability to achieve and also be a much more cost-effective approach to mental health and good behaviour for the long term.
Why we need a Minister for Young People
Last week Amber Rudd condemned the UN inquiry into poverty in the UK. While the language of the report is indeed both political and critical of the Government’s approach to austerity there is no denying that around 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7 percentage points between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%. It feels like Groundhog Day: another day, another report on child poverty and the alarming decline of funding in children and youth services in the UK. More news stories about another stabbing of a young person in London, the 119th this year. These stories are related. As the leading North and West London Charity funding this sector for the past 30 years, our first-hand experience shows us that the need for a Minister for Young People; a voice for this group, has never been greater.
The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on youth affairs recently reported that as a result of major financial cuts to services over the past decade, universal youth work has disappeared in some areas, with funding being diverted to short-term and targeted provision. Increasingly high thresholds for support were also leaving young people behind, it said. Fully, between 2009/10 and 2016/17 spending on youth services fell by 62.3 per cent (without accounting for inflation) – from £1.028bn to £0.388bn. The impact has seen the loss of 3,500 jobs, more than 600 youth centres and 130,000 places for young people.
Just think about that: a 62.3% reduction in spending on youth services over the past 8 years. If you go onto the Department of Education’s ‘Youth Service’ page, the last time anything was published on Youth Priorities was in 2013. It feels as though it has been left behind as a sector and no Minister is solely responsible for this.
Just three months ago, we were hopeful as the DCMS launched its Civil Society Statement: ‘The Government recognises that despite the pressures on public sector finances, new thinking has emerged supporting innovation, new partnerships and collaboration, spanning public, private and civil society partners. One model is local Young People’s Foundations, where imaginative local trusts, such as John Lyon’s Charity, local government, business and the independent youth sector, have come together to develop new partnerships and services for young people.’ Civil Society Strategy: building a future that works for everyone, DCMS 2018.
The DCMS set out their proposals for how they should interact with the wider charitable sector though a tried and tested model used in seven London boroughs by John Lyon’s Charity. However, roll forward three months and the one DCMS Minister – Tracey Crouch – who showed real interest in young people and youth services resigned last week, over the delay in the reduction in fixed one-time bets; something which has an enormous impact on the lives of young people and their families.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (and Loneliness, Charities, and the National Lottery) is already a hotchpotch of bits of other departments that don’t fit in anywhere. Its brief is to “drive growth, enrich lives and promote Britain abroad. It is also to protect and promote our cultural and artistic heritage and help businesses and communities to grow by investing in innovation and highlighting Britain as a fantastic place to visit. We help to give the UK a unique advantage on the global stage, striving for economic success.” Mmm, this is all very well, but what does this have to do with youth services or promoting early intervention work on knife-crime or supporting youth clubs? Apparently the DCMS is also supposed to cover Youth Policy, but given its vast brief, it is doubtful that the new Minister, Mims Davies, will have the necessary time to devote to the youth sector. This will be the seventh minister with responsibility for youth policy since 2010.
Young people’s views matter more than ever and need to be heard across government. Currently, no one in government is championing their cause or need. As a part of the Civil Society Statement, the Government was committed to undertake a review of statutory guidance that requires local authorities to provide youth services. However, this is now called into question given the change of Minister with an ever growing brief.
Our long experience of working with young people in London means we understand what good youth work looks like and the beneficial impact this can have on young people’s lives. Our current 500+ live grants show that what previously used to be considered ‘core’ in state provision has shrunk rapidly and our funds are in demand for far more than just value-added services. We fund a range of activities from youth clubs to supplementary schools, from in-school counselling to apprenticeships – all charities that work with and for children and young people in North and West London.
We grant by focussing on the positive through directing our efforts on providing opportunities for young people. It is the potential to learn, grow and become that drives our grant giving. We see the benefits of investing in a youth club as a safe space to hang out with supervised youth workers; we see the results of supporting boxing clubs that channel aggression into something positive; we see the impact of participating in front line counselling in London’s major trauma centres. It is not circumstantial evidence or coincidence that we see a reduction in crime in certain estates where we have invested in youth charities.
What we and other young people’s charities have is the ability to show what works effectively and where resources are needed. But we cannot do it alone and need a Minister for Young People to work with us to ensure that the young people of today have a future for tomorrow.