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Welfare Reform on the Web (September 2011): Child welfare - UK

Childcare costs stopping mothers going to work, says study

H. Osborne

The Guardian, Aug. 31st 2011, p. 9

The high cost of childcare and commuting is forcing women to give up their jobs to avoid ending up out of pocket, according to new research. The study says the number of women opting to look after their children instead of remaining in paid employment has risen by 32,000 since Summer 2010, with rising childcare costs being a key factor in their decision. The figures are based on analysis of the latest ONS Labour Force Survey, and the number of women classing themselves as economically inactive because they are looking after their family and home. According to the insurer Aviva's latest Family Finances Report, the average cost of full-time childcare is £385 a month, but this rises to £729 for children under two. Part-time care comes in at £193 a month, or £364 for the under-twos.

A child-centred system: the government’s response to the Munro review of child protection

Department for Education

London: the Department, 2011

The government’s response to the Munro review of child protection accepts the recommendations relating to a reduction of central prescription and bureaucracy, and increased autonomy for social workers. The response also endorses Munro’s calls for improved social worker training and for the establishment of a principal child and family social worker role in each local authority. The government has also committed itself to strengthening the role of health in joint working and to the creation of a new inspection system that examines the experiences of the child and the role of all agencies involved. However, no extra funding will be available, and the new system will have to be created within available resources.

Children aged 5 in hospital with life-threatening eating disorders

A. Ralph

The Times, August 1st 2011, p. 7

Over 2,000 children have been admitted to NHS hospitals for being seriously underweight in the last 3 years. Doctors and nutritionists have warned that children are developing an ‘unhealthy relationship’ with food. The trend for size-zero models is partly to blame. The Department of Health is providing funding to expand psychological therapies, including a specific programme for children and young people.

The Government’s proposed child maintenance reforms

Work and Pensions Committee

London: TSO, 2011 (House of Commons papers, session 2010/12; HC1047) Ensuring that non-resident parents support their children financially is a challenge that the British Government has never successfully met. Successive governments have tried to reform the system without great success. The Coalition Government published its Green Paper proposals for consultation in January 2011 and is expected to publish its response to the consultation in summer 2011. In commenting on the proposals, the committee recognises that they may be adapted to take account of evidence received during the consultation. The most important aspect of any child maintenance system is to guarantee that maintenance is paid in full and on time. Evidence shows that this would best be achieved if all non-resident parents were required to pay child maintenance through direct deductions from salaries or bank accounts. The Green Paper proposed measures to encourage separating parents to reach private agreements between themselves (family-based arrangements) rather than using the statutory services for the arrangement and collection of payments. The proposals included the introduction of charges for parents applying to use the statutory system, and of a ‘gateway’ process which would require parents to access advice and support services before they can apply to the statutory system. The committee believes that the gateway process is a positive development, as mediation and collaboration could resolve a range of problems at the earliest stage. However, the gateway service needs to involve engagement with both parents equally, rather than focusing solely on parents with care. In 2009–10, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) cost £572 million to run but only £1,141 million in maintenance payments reached children. This equates to a cost of 50 pence for every £1 collected. The report urges the Government to find a more efficient way of administering the collection service, drawing on international experience and including exploring the possible use of the private sector. The Government needs to reconsider the two types of charges which it plans to introduce for using the statutory service: the application charge and the collection charges. The Committee believes that, in cases where the parent with care has taken all reasonable steps to reach a voluntary agreement, both the application and collection charge should be borne by the non-resident parent. We also believe that the current proposals for collection charges, which involve both a surcharge and a deduction, are excessive and unnecessarily complex. Instead, there should be a single, modest administrative charge for collecting the maintenance payment.

Government’s response to the consultation on Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility: the future of child maintenance

Department for Work and Pensions

London: TSO, 2011 (Cm 8130) This publication summarises the main points made by respondents and provides the Government’s response to the Green Paper consultation on reform of the child maintenance system. Amongst the organisations who responded, there was strong support for the Coalition Government’s vision outlined in the Green Paper for encouraging and supporting families to work together to reach child maintenance arrangements during and following separation. There was overwhelming agreement with the principle that support for child maintenance should be more joined up with other types of services that offer support for separating and separated families. While recognising the benefits of family-based arrangements, a number of respondents expressed the clear view that the statutory child maintenance service should not become inaccessible for those parents who are unable to work together to set up a family-based arrangement, and the government is fully committed to ensuring that the statutory scheme remains accessible and heavily subsidised for those who need it. Views on charging for use of the statutory system were polarised, which reflected the current adversarial nature of the child maintenance system.

Lack of safeguarding referrals sparks concern

N. Puffett

Children and Young People Now, June 28th-July 11th 2011, p.8-9

The Independent Safeguarding Authority has warned that incidents and suspicions of child abuse are going unrecorded as it emerged that referrals to the body have remained static, despite an extra five million employees and volunteers becoming subject to vetting and barring checks. There could be confusion among employers and charities about what they should report and to whom they should report it following reviews of vetting and barring procedures launched by successive governments, and parts of the scheme being shelved.

Obesity in looked after children: findings of a local audit and strategies for intervention

G. Croft and K. Frith

Adoption and Fostering, vol.35, no.2, 2011, p. 86-90

Obesity has become a major national and global public health challenge in recent years. An audit of the prevalence of obesity in looked after children in the London Borough of Camden was conducted to discover whether the condition was a health concern for this vulnerable group. Results showed a high prevalence of obesity in the borough’s population of looked after children, particularly among teenage girls. Looked-after children were as likely to become obese as children in the general population. The paper concludes with a series of proposed interventions to address the issue.

Operation of the family courts

Justice Committee

London: TSO, 2011 (House of Commons papers, session 2010/12; HC518) The Family Justice Panel’s Interim Report proposes a fundamental restructuring of the family court system through the creation of a Family Justice Service. The Committee broadly welcome the Panel’s approach, but disagrees with its proposal to introduce a statement into legislation to ‘reinforce’ the importance of a child having a meaningful relationship with both parents on the grounds that it could cause confusion. Throughout its inquiry the committee struggled to find objective, comparable data for the cost of the different parts of the family justice system. The Panel had a similar problem, which meant it was unable to cost its proposals. While the committee welcomes the likely savings from the creation of a Family Justice Service, they are concerned that there was insufficient data to cost the proposals. The committee notes that Cafcass has made some recent improvements, but remains unconvinced that the organisation is robust enough to deal with future challenges. It concludes, therefore, that subsuming Cafcass within the Family Justice Service must be the beginning of a series of reforms, not an end in itself. The committee recognises the need for transparency in the administration of family justice, and the equally important need to protect the interests of children and their privacy. However, having heard the proposed scheme relating to media access to the family courts contained in the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 condemned by all parties, it recommends that the Government scrap the provisions and begin again. In formulating its new proposals, it recommends that the views of children on media reporting of the family courts should take centre stage.

Parenting matters: early years and social mobility

C. Paterson

Centre Forum, 2011

Research has shown that the quality of parenting and early education have an overwhelming influence on children’s later progress at school and in their careers. Typically, children from the poorest homes are exposed to fewer words, are less likely to read books with their parents and eat poorer diets than their peers in richer families. As a result, children from deprived families fail to master essential skills and become physically unhealthy. This report calls for parenting advice to become as widespread as antenatal classes. It suggests that poorer parents could be rewarded for attending classes with higher child benefit payments or annual bonuses. Through an advertising campaign, parents would be given a checklist detailing how they should read to, play with, talk with, praise and feed their young children. Companies which make toys and baby food would be encouraged to brand their products with an official logo under the proposed scheme, which is modelled on the successful ‘five-a-day’ fruit and vegetables dietary campaign. URL:

Poverty and life chances: a conversation

F. Field

Crucible, July-Sept, 2011

In this article, Frank Field MP presents his views on the best way to eradicate child poverty in England. He proposes improving the life chances of poor children by investing heavily in family support services, high quality child care and parenting training. Disadvantaged young people say they want to be good parents, but lack knowledge to do so.

Services for young people

Education Committee London: TSO, 2011 (House of Commons papers, session 2010/12; HC744) Local authorities have a duty to provide sufficient educational and recreational leisure-time activities for young people aged 13–19, and those aged 20–24 with learning disabilities. The report disagrees with the Government that public spending of around £350 million a year on youth services in England equates to ‘large slugs of public money’, and congratulates the sector for its long-standing dexterity in making limited resources go a long way and for continuing to support young people despite reliance on a patchwork of different funds. The report acknowledges that there have already been very significant, disproportionate cuts to local authority youth services, ranging from 20% to 100%. In this context the committee comments that the Government’s lack of urgency in articulating a youth policy or strategic vision is regrettable. In the current financial climate, youth services cannot hope to be immune from public spending cuts. It is concluded that there is scope for greater utilisation of other sources of funding, including philanthropic and charitable funds and private sector investment, although these cannot replace entirely a shortfall in public funds. The committee supports the broad principle that local authorities should primarily become strategic commissioners rather than simply the default providers of youth services. However, local authorities will need to consider radical options if savings are to be made by commissioning, given that many services are already delivered by the voluntary sector.

What would you have done?

C. Mabbutt

Professional Social Work, July/Aug. 2011, p. 16-17

This article reflects on the lessons for child and family social workers from the tragic death of baby Peter Connolly and the serious case reviews that followed it. It points out the difficulties social workers face in carrying ou rigorous investigations into possible abuse while working in partnership with parents.

Will Sure Start services come to a full stop?


Labour Research, July 2011, p. 17-18

Sure Start children’s centres introduced by New Labour bring together early education, childcare and family support for the benefit of young children. In spite of Conservative pre-election promises to maintain the service, centres across the country are now being closed down due to public spending cuts and the withdrawal of the funding ring-fence around the Sure Start grant to local authorities. The article goes on to describe parent-led campaigns set up to fight the closures.

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