With National Children’s Day approaching our guest blog features Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo Scotland. Martin talks of the important progress being made for children in Scotland and the work that is still required.
This Sunday (13 May) is National Children’s Day when we are all encouraged to celebrate the rights and freedoms of children. This year is also a significant one in my family as my oldest son Duncan is finishing High School. He is a bit unclear what to do next but he has the freedom to make choices and the option of staying at home until he is clearer on his priorities.
The contrast with many of the young people we work with at Barnardo’s is poignant. Care leavers in particular face difficult choices at age 16 or 17 which too frequently involve poor housing options, limited employment opportunities and inadequate support.
But this blog should not just focus on the negative – National Children’s Day is a celebration and there is much to celebrate. For many children across Scotland this is a great time to be young with entertainment and communication opportunities better than ever before. For specific groups of children and young people there are much greater freedoms – an obvious example is the progress we have made on LGBT rights.
However life is not good for all children. Real progress was made in the 2000s on child poverty but we are now seeing those gains go into reverse. Barnardo’s services tackle a huge range of issues that disadvantage children and families but poverty is an underlying theme in virtually all our work. And poverty is a complex issue. Darren McGarvey summed this up well in his book Poverty Safari: ‘Poverty is like a gravitational field comprising social, economic, emotional, physiological, political and cultural forces’.
When Barnardo’s starts working with a child or young person there is often one main reason for the engagement – substance misuse, vulnerability to exploitation, domestic violence, parental mental health and so on. But there is always complexity and inter-connectedness. This is why addressing single issues like childhood obesity in isolation is problematic. We all operate according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and a family facing serious adversity is unlikely to prioritise healthy eating.
In recent years there has been an increased focus on ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences. There is now strong scientific evidence that certain factors impact adversely during childhood including abuse, neglect and household features such as substance misuse, domestic violence and divorce. These early influences then have a profound effect on health and wellbeing for the rest of our lives. This is important because it means we must look at children’s behaviour as a response to what has happened to them and recognise the inter-connectedness of issues I referred to earlier. If we are to tackle inter-generational disadvantage then we need to treat adverse childhood experiences as a public health issues and embrace a whole systems approach.
I am determined to finish on a positive and I think we should be proud to live in a country with a publicly stated aim to be the best place in the world to grow up. Over the last 20+ years, through Labour and SNP governments, we have built up a legislative and policy framework that has progressively prioritised children’s rights, wellbeing, early intervention and the importance of play. We are all challenged to make these aspirations a reality but on National Children’s Day we should celebrate what progress has been made and confirm our commitment to the rights and freedoms of all Scotland’s children.
10 May 2018