Family at the heart of social policy
It takes a family to raise a child. While the short-hand term “child poverty” is much easier to express than “families with insufficient resources to meet the basic needs of their children,” it does tend to obscure the obvious fact that kids have parents. Together, in varied and often imperfect ways, they make a family. Together, they suffer the scarring effects of deprivation and missing out on what the rest of society takes for granted. Together, however, they can escape the intergenerational cycles of disadvantage. But they need to be in it together.
If we’re to truly help these kids we need to help promote relationships within families that are safe, stable and nurturing. We need a holistic model of problems our families face and the solutions that will make a difference that includes help from wh?nau, community, and government.
While our political parties unveiled their social policies before the last election, the British general election is in May so policy announcements are flowing freely there. One idea that’s gained surprising support across the political spectrum is the ramping up of what they call “Children’s Centres,” local one-stop-shops for child and family assistance.
The Centre for Social Justice—a UK think tank—has been researching family breakdown for a decade now, and, recommended that the existing Sure Start Children’s Centres should become Family Hubs. This isn’t just a rebrand. Currently, the publicly funded Children’s Centres help parents with child health issues, parenting skills, and training and employment. The CSJ says that these hubs should be developed into “nerve centres” that coordinate all family support, including “antenatal and postnatal services, information on childcare, employment and debt advice and relationship support.” Parents who are separating from each other will be supported before, during and after separation at these hubs. Fathers would also be encouraged to engage more in their children’s lives. Services would be co-located and tailored to the local community.
UK Labour politician, Baroness Jones, committed her party to this renewal of the Children’s Centres in a recent speech to the House of Lords, arguing that a shift from crisis intervention to early intervention will “reduce inequality, boost social mobility and narrow the gap between the most vulnerable and the rest.” Lord Farmer, her Conservative party counterpart and key proponent of the reforms, concluded in the same debate that “this is a classic area in which the welfare society has to stand four-square alongside the welfare state.” It’s encouraging to see support across the aisles for this initiative. Hopefully this remains as the election draws nearer.
Back in New Zealand, similar centres called Early-years Service Hubs already do great work. Over 2,500 families each year receive help from these hubs which have been assessed to be effective at improving outcomes. This is an excellent start, but we would do well to learn a thing or two from the UK by seeking to harness and develop these centres better. This would put families at the heart of social policy, where they belong.