Help us design a #ChildFairState

This guest blog from Children England invites ideas and examples of a #ChildFairState - putting children and their welfare at the heart of society.

Children too hungry to concentrate at school; families housed in b&bs; job centres that damage young people's mental health: too often welfare systems don't see the whole person.

Do you know policy or practice that does? Help us design a #ChildFairState.

We’re big fans of the welfare state here at Children England. We were conceived at the same time, in order to connect children’s residential care – long provided independently by charities such as Barnardo’s and Action for Children (then the National Children’s Home) – with the new responsibilities being conferred on the state as corporate parent to those children in care. Established in the spirit of collaboration and unconditional positive regard for children, we’ve championed cross-sector progress for a society that puts children at heart ever since, and believe that the statutory and voluntary sectors both have crucial roles to play – and working relationships to maintain – if we’re to give children the childhoods they deserve, no matter what situation they’re born or fall into.

Since those radical post-war developments, which brought nutritious diets, secure housing and universal healthcare to families who had never before had these securities, both the charities and the welfare systems that support children have changed a lot, shaped by 75 years of piecemeal policy-making that lacked Beveridge’s bold, uncompromising vision for state provision. The legislation and institutions of the 1940s were not perfect, we would argue, and they certainly didn’t put an understanding and appreciation of children at their heart the way the best of our sector does now. But trends in funding, commissioning, management and inspection have dragged us further and further away from being able to deliver holistic, person-centred public services. Charities must now compete to provide the cheapest, rather than the best, support for families; teachers must push pupils through rafts of academic exams in spite of their emotional wellbeing (or exclude the pupils whose grades might threaten the school’s ranking); and the benefits system actively assumes that people will cheat and skive – and demands proof of rape before it will pay benefits to the mother of a third child. This is clearly not a welfare state that is fair to children.

I’m sure you’ll know examples of how these variously austere, commercialised and downright inhumane policies are affecting families in the North East. The voluntary sector is intrinsically skilful at seeing and supporting people’s real and basic needs, rather than seeing them as a problem to be processed according to the dictates of a system. So I’m writing this blog not as a wistful history lesson but as a hopeful invitation to the children’s sector to get involved in creating a vision for “ChildFair State” – one in which all welfare systems and services support children’s basic need for a home; safety; love; health; and purpose.

Children England is conducting the ChildFair State Inquiry because we believe it’s time to re-design the welfare state – to reverse the cynical assumptions and processes that stop practitioners and organisations from doing their best work and that reduce children and families to costs and outputs. To re-build it so that Maslow’s five pillars of a caring society flow through every branch and enable all services and systems to see the whole child and each family.

For us, based on conversations with our colleagues around the children’s sector and beyond, this means stripping out targets and conditions that are not in a child’s best interests; connecting up the people and places that affect a child in their daily life; and putting back together the fragments of support that can only see a disruptive pupil rather than a hungry child, a disabled teenager rather than a young person with aspirations, or a negligent parent rather than a struggling single mum.

What would it mean to you? Mentally healthy schools, perhaps, or affordable housing with great spaces to play. Childcare in all workplaces, or pollution-free neighbourhoods. We know it’s ambitious to ask people to imagine all this when even one of these seems beyond the reach of our beleaguered welfare state – but we also know that for the children who’ve contributed to the Inquiry already, it’s nothing less than their right. For the state as a whole, it’s make or break, and in such a darkly critical moment the bravest and brightest ideas and people tend to emerge.  Our experience so far in the Inquiry is that genuinely holistic, people-centred and optimistic work is already blossoming -especially in the local voluntary sector. Our aim is to help learning from it converge to inform a new blueprint for the welfare state.

Do you know of good practice we should consider? Whether it’s in health, social care, education, housing, public space, benefits… or has no need of such statutory definitions! – we’d love to hear your examples of projects or initiatives in the North East whose way of working supports the whole person.

The revolutionary and comprehensive system imagined by Beveridge, which drew heavily on the spirit of the voluntary sector, was met with almost universal approval. The more inspiring people I talk to as part of our Inquiry, the more I think we could be on the brink of another such moment – if we can all work together, honestly and optimistically, to put children at heart.

Read our full case for re-designing the welfare state here, and email us with your ideas and examples for a ChildFair State.


Chloë Darlington
Policy and Communications Manager
Children England