Sir Peter Vardy, founder of Safe Families for Children UK, which works with councils in Greater Manchester, has urged David Cameron to concentrate on early intervention for children at risk of being taken into care after the Prime Minister vowed to show “zero tolerance” on state failure in children’s services.
New legislation was announced in the Queen’s Speech to encourage the adoption of children in care.
Mr Cameron says vulnerable children have been let down by society and has now proposed legislation to encourage the permanent adoption of children by foster carers, even if that means ignoring family connections.
The Prime Minister has also promised to provide a mentoring scheme for young people who have been in care.
But Sir Peter is urging the Prime Minister to concentrate on preventing children from going into the care system in the first place, rather than on what happens to them afterwards.
He said: “David Cameron is right to say that vulnerable children have been let down by society but we can’t rely on Governments to resolve the issues in society. We have to develop society-based solutions.
“There’s no doubt that there are some children who need to be adopted as soon as possible. But the vast majority of families need support to cope with crisis situations so their children can remain within the home environment, and they need this support early.
“Funding for early intervention services is all too often the first to be withdrawn and now we seem to be just accepting that the tragic crises we regularly see reported in the media are going to happen.
“It’s like anticipating a car crash is inevitable and then concentrating efforts on cleaning up the motorway. Instead, we need to concentrate our time and effort on preventing the crash from happening in the first place.”
Sir Peter launched Safe Families for Children in the UK after seeing the success of the organisation in Chicago, where the programme has been instrumental in reducing the number of children going into care by almost 50 percent.
Safe Families has now partnered with 23 local authorities and 418 churches across the country. It has a network of nearly 3,000 volunteers, which the charity is aiming to increase to 100,000. Its vision is to reduce the number of children going into care by 20% within three years and to be working with every local authority within ten years.
The charity recruits and trains three types of volunteers to help deliver support: 1) Host Families who look after a child overnight for a couple of days to a couple of weeks; 2) Family Friends who befriend, mentor and support parents through difficult times and; 3) Resource Friends who supply a wide range of goods and services the family needs.
Sir Peter stresses that the solution does not lie solely with central Government.
He said: “It is to be welcomed that the Government is highlighting the poor outcomes faced by children in care. There are 93,000 children in care and 43% will serve a prison sentence before they are 21. Young people who have been in care are less likely to do well in school, they’re more likely to end up as one of those not in education or employment (NEET)
“But the Government cannot be solely responsible to provide the type and scale of care which is needed.
“With Safe Families for Children we have found a community solution to community problems. This is a job for volunteers so that we can create the Big Society which David Cameron talked about. Early intervention is proven to work, and we can all help. No one can help everyone, but everyone can help someone. One life at a time can be turned around by volunteers who have a heart to care for their community. The great reality is that there is no shortage of volunteers for the work we are doing .Together we can provide support, strengthen families and create a better future for thousands of people.”
Photo: Sir Peter Vardy