Speech – Children and Young People

SPEECHES

Children and Young People

To insert at the end of the words in Proposition 3: … “But subject to the addition to the eight bullet points under the part of Appendix 1 entitled ‘Inclusive and equal community’ on page 12 of the following two bullet points:

  • Recognise the value of the early years, partnering with families and communities to ensure every child has a nurturing and supportive start in life.
  • Deliver on our responsibilities as Corporate Parent for all children in statutory care, including young care leavers.”

Sir

The aim of this amendment is simple. No plan for the Future of Guernsey is complete without referring to our most important asset and investment for the future – our children.

The whole spirit of the Plan reflects a commitment to the children of this island, and a desire to build them a future worth aspiring to. This amendment simply puts it there in black and white – so that we never overlook our children in policy-making; so that we do not leave any of our children behind.

I am grateful for the support of the whole Committee for Health and Social Care in laying this amendment, and for the endorsement from Deputy Jane Stephens, who chairs our Children’s Executive: leading the States in, and holding us accountable for, the delivery of the Children and Young People’s Plan.
I won’t tire Members with a long discussion of this amendment. I just want to draw out a couple of points which I think are important.

The first bullet point talks about the early years of a child’s life. This is commonly understood as the period from before birth until about five years old. The stage is set, at this age, for the rest of a person’s life. That doesn’t mean it’s too late to reduce disadvantage, or to improve wellbeing or confidence, or to build a love of learning, after this time. And the “Healthy Communities” amendment laid by Deputy Soulsby underlines the importance of acting early to prevent or mitigate problems, whatever age they first appear.

But a good start is important. And if we work to give all our children a good start in life, we are laying the foundation for a community of competent, ambitious, resilient and generous citizens – the kind who will make Guernsey “great today and better tomorrow”.

But is this government’s responsibility?

Well, yes and no. The wording of this amendment is carefully chosen. It’s not about what the States will do for children and young people, but what the States will do in partnership with families and communities for the next generation.

“The family is the natural and fundamental unit of society, and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” It says so in every international convention we accept or aspire to. We don’t talk enough about the family, and its role, when we are making policy – we tend to focus more on individuals, or society as a whole. That, I think, is something we would benefit from changing. Families matter, and we build our future on the strength of them.

It is families who have the primary responsibility for raising children into phenomenal young adults – as so many of our young people are. The States can help to create the conditions to do it well – but families, and the whole non-formal, unofficial network of friends, neighbours, faith and community groups, voluntary and professional providers of activities and services and learning and care, are right at the heart of this, and the government is often, rightly, a distant second. We make it possible. We don’t get in the way.

However, there are times when families just cannot provide the nurturing, supportive environment that every child and teenager needs. Sometimes, the best possible option for a child is to be brought into statutory care.

When that happens, we as a government have a very specific responsibility to that child. We become what’s known as a “Corporate Parent”. We cannot escape that responsibility – it is legally ours under the 2008 Children Law. That Law enshrines the principle that any “child in the care of the States is entitled to … similar levels of care, protection, guidance and control as would be expected … [from any] reasonable parents.” The Children & Young People’s Plan briefly reminded us of our duty in this respect. At the same time, it outlined the difficulties many young people in our care have lived through – family backgrounds often marked by some combination of domestic abuse, mental ill-health and substance misuse; personal brushes with the youth justice system; a profound disengagement with education and a struggle to achieve the basic qualifications they will need to access opportunities later in life. It is our parental responsibility to try and turn the tide on all of that.

It is also our responsibility not to drop our children as soon as they turn 18, just as any parent would continue to be there for their children, as young adults who are still finding their way in the world.

That is why the second bullet-point highlights our special duty, not only to children in care, but also to care leavers.

This responsibility belongs to all States’ Committees, and especially affects the Committees for Health & Social Care, for Education, Sport & Culture, for Home Affairs – and, as our children become young adults and need the keys to decent housing, financial security and employment opportunities, the Committee for Employment & Social Security.

It is a responsibility which we all need to understand better and prioritise more. Deputy Tooley and I have both been pushing for an introduction to Corporate Parenting for States Members since we were first elected, and we understand that will soon be coming. The Children’s Executive set up by P&R, which brings together all the Committees with a major role in this area – except, I believe, ESS, which may need to change – will help to ensure more coordinated working between public services to the benefit of all children, and especially those in our care.

An unambiguous commitment to our next generation has already been made through the States’ endorsement of the Children and Young People’s Plan earlier this year. That Plan reminded us that “it takes an island to raise a child.” This amendment hard-wires that commitment to all our islands’ children into the heart of the Policy & Resource Plan. I ask all Members to support it.

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