Margaret Thatcher’s mentor Sir Keith Joseph, ended any prospects that he may have had of leading the Conservative party with a speech in 1972 whilst he was Secretary of State for Social Services. The subject was what he called the ‘cycle of deprivation’. In it he observed that an increasing proportion of our children were born to those least fitted to bring them up. There was a great furore from the ‘great and good’ over what they willfully misconstrued as a proposal for eugenics.
The problem however, remains. From time to time foster parents visit my surgeries to discuss aspects of the difficulties that they face. I often reflect on the work that so many of these amazing people do in trying to repair much of the damage that the natural parents have inflicted. Some children are born already damaged by their parents’ lifestyle. Others, at the age of five still cannot walk, talk, or are not toilet trained because they have spent their lives strapped in a buggy placed in front of the TV.
The tragedy is that so much of a child’s future prospects are determined by the attention and affection received in the early weeks of life, a truth dwelt on by Andrea Leadsom at the hustings in her aborted bid for the Tory Leadership this summer.
Recently local campaigners for 70/30 came to my surgery: their aim is to demonstrate that we can reduce child maltreatment by 70% by the year 2030 through a proper prevention strategy.
The damage done to children by maltreatment costs the UK taxpayer £ billions in social services and other costs as these children go on to struggle with problems in later life. The 70/30 approach is to prevent maltreatment to children before it happens by investing resources to tackle the root causes. These might be maternal mental health problems, domestic violence, drug abuse or a whole host of other issues affecting parents. Early, effective support could help them deal with these problems before they get out of control. This might mean a mum-to-be who is struggling with her mental health – where the right support could make all the difference to her ability to cope. Or it might mean a couple who have unhealthy tension in their relationship – helping them to get things back on the right track prevents the severe stress a baby experiences in a tense or violent home.
The challenge is to get people thinking ahead to the point that we can really start seeing prevention as something urgent, not just something that would be nice to work on once we have finished intervening where things have already gone wrong. In fact, that is the whole point. We will never finish intervening until we have stopped things from going wrong in the first place. To use an analogy from WAVE Trust, the charity behind the 70/30 campaign, if your taps are on and your sink is overflowing, you will never finish mopping up unless you stop to turn the taps off.
I certainly support the campaign. If readers have experience of children’s services or would like to get involved with the campaign details can be had from firstname.lastname@example.org