Forty years ago, the National Children’s Bureau’s report, ‘Born to Fail’ highlighted the huge inequalities in society and the sad truth that one’s future economic success was largely decided at birth.
However their most recent report shows just how little progress has been made in closing the gap between children from poor and affluent backgrounds over the past 40 years. Many sociologists point to the failure or absence of policies to help address the most vulnerable parents and children.
The report finds that:
■ A child from a disadvantaged background is still far less likely to achieve a good level of development at four than a child from a more privileged home.
■ Children living in deprived areas are much more likely to be the victim of an unintentional injury or accident in the home.
■ Children from the poorest areas are nine times less likely than those living in affluent areas to have access to green space, places to play and to live in environments with better air quality.
■ Boys living in deprived areas are three times more likely to be obese than boys growing up in affluent areas, and girls are twice as likely.
“Our analysis shows that, despite some improvements, the inequality and disadvantage suffered by poorer children 50 years ago still persists today,” said Dr Hilary Emery, the bureau’s chief executive.
“There is a real risk that our society is sleepwalking into a world where children grow up in a state of social apartheid, with poor children destined to experience hardship and disadvantage just by accident of birth, and their more affluent peers unaware of their existence.”
Some policies such as ‘The Family Nurse Partnership’ have been applauded. Currently around 11,000 families are benefitting from personalised support from a nurse. This policy is to be rolled out to 16,000 more families. Research indicates that schemes such as these are successful in helping vulnerable mothers become more stable parents: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/family-nurse-partnership-programme-to-be-extended
Sure Start was introduced by New Labour in 1998 to try improve “childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development. n the 2004 Comprehensive Spending Review, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that the Government would provide funding for 2,500 Children’s Centres by 2008”.
Children’s Centres are expected to provide:
- In centres in the 30% most disadvantaged areas: integrated early learning and childcare (early years provision) for a minimum of 10 hours a day, five days a week, 48 weeks a year; and support for a childminder network
- In centres in the 70% least disadvantaged areas, which do not elect to offer early years provision: drop-in activity sessions for children, such as stay and play sessions
- Family Support, including support and advice on parenting, information about services available in the area and access to specialist, targeted services; and Parental Outreach
- Child and Family Health Services, such as antenatal and postnatal support, information and guidance on breastfeeding, health and nutrition, smoking cessation support, and speech and language therapy and other specialist support
- Links with Jobcentre Plus to encourage and support parents and carers who wish to consider training and employment
- Quick and easy access to wider services
Many centres have been cut by the Conservative government though.
Also it has not been considered an outright success. In 2007 a report by the Universities of Oxford and Wales “examined 153 parents from socially deprived areas and showed that a course teaching improved parenting skills had great benefits in reducing problem behaviour in young children. Parents were taught to:
- Increase positive child behaviour through praise and incentives
- Improve parent-child interaction: relationship building
- Set clear expectations: limit setting and non-aversive management strategies for non-compliance
- Apply consistent gentle consequences for problem behaviour
However, a University of Durham study has suggested hat Sure Start was ineffective at improving results in early schooling.
In 2010, research conducted by NESS demonstrated significant effects of SSLPs on eight of 21 outcomes: two positive outcomes for children (lower BMIs and better physical health), four positive outcomes for mothers and families (more stimulating and less chaotic home environments, less harsh discipline, and greater life satisfaction), and two negative outcomes (more depressive symptoms reported by mothers, and parents less likely to visit schools for planned meetings)