Modern Social Policy for Young Children in United Kingdom

by Jason Shaw


Modern Social Policy for Young Children in United Kingdom Social programmes are essentially conceptualised for the general population’s benefit. These policies are designed to protect people’s health and public welfare. These policies are more often than not focused on laws and fundamental roles of government as designated by the state authorities. In terms of programmes such as affordable housing, school, health and social works, some of these initiatives are expressly tailored for communities in society: the elderly, teenagers, adults, the disabled, and similar other social and age groups (Alcock, Payne, and Sullivan, 2004).  Social initiatives have also been conceptualised regarding children who endure unsafe, violent, or abandoned environments. As a means to preserve and secure the health of these youngsters, most of these policies have been designed or set up.

This paper will now discuss and assess these strategies. Particular attention shall be given to policies which relate to child poverty, child violence, and looked after children.

In the hope of developing a consistent and thorough view of the status of children and the policies being established to protect and safeguard their welfare, this paper is being carried out.

Modern Social Policy for Young Children in United Kingdom


In general, as specified in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to take care of the health of minors, the UK has adopted the following international policies. Article 27 provides that it is the duty of the States to promote the right of each child to ‘a quality of living sufficient for the physical, emotional, spiritual, moral and social growth of the child’ (UNCRC, 1990).  Parents also have the duty to ensure that they are able to create the necessary environment for the growth of their child. The state is expected to support parents by whatever means are possible to ensure that children are properly cared for (UNCRC, 1990).  Article 26 also provides that the right of the child to benefit from social security and social insurance shall be ensured by the state, and should take the required steps to ensure that that right is completely realised (UNCRC, 1990).

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Child Poverty Policies

            In relation to child poverty, the policies have included out-of-work benefits for couples with atleast 2 children – a “31 percent poverty gap after housing costs and 20 percent poverty gap before housing costs.  The same benefits give a lone parent with a single child an 18 percent poverty gap after housing costs and a 4 percent gap after housing costs” (Evans and Scarborough, 2006).  Better employment incentives are also being made available by the government in order to “make work pay” and eventually improve parental employment and reduce poverty among children.  In-work benefits and tax credits are meant to provide benefits to families and their children (Waldfogel, 2010).  Minoff (2006) also discussed the current moves made in order to relieve poverty among children in the UK.  These policies have been passed in accordance with the UNCRC provisions on legal mandates to protect children from poverty.  Such policies include: government increase in financial support for children through tax credits, child benefits by about 10.4 billion pounds from 1997 to 2004; the passage of the New Deal for Lone Parents in 1998 with about 410,000 lone parents entering employment; and the implementation of the Sure Start Local Programmes. 

            The Labour government set forth through Tony Blair that it would cut child poverty by 25% by 2005, 50% by 2010, and eradicate it by 2020 (Pugh, 2005).  The Labour poverty was said to inherit one of the highest rates of poverty in Europe from the Conservative party with one in three children living in poverty.  They claimed that their mission was to secure social justice and to handle issues which affect children through the implementation of child tax credit, working tax credit, and child benefits (Powell, 1999).  For the Conservative Party, through David Cameron, they set forth that poverty must be seen in terms of the rest of society in which people do not have the things which the rest of society takes for granted.  Cameron also suggested that poverty is “an economic waste, a moral disgrace…we will only tackle the causes of poverty if we give a bigger role to society, tackling poverty is a social responsibility…Labour rely too heavily on redistributing money, and on the large clunking mechanisms of the state” (BBC News, 2011). 

            Every Child Matters is a government initiative set forth in 2003 which is part of the major effort to reduce poverty among children.  Specifically, it also aims for children to: be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic well-being (Barker, 2009).  In 2007, David Cameron expressed his major commitment in ending British poverty.  This was part of the previous commitment set by the previous Conservative Party in support of Tony Blair’s commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020 (Child Poverty Action Group, 2011).  This commitment towards the eradication of child poverty was also supported by the Liberal Democrat party in their paper Freedom from Poverty, Opportunity for All.  Both coalition partners supported the bill which later became Child Poverty Act 2010, setting forth specific goals to reduce child poverty by 2020 (Child Poverty Action Group, 2011).  In a report by the Child Poverty Action, they have presented a map of Britain which shows the implementation and coverage of the government efforts to end child poverty by 2020. 

Analysis and Evaluation

            The map and the figure presented by the Child Poverty Action Group indicate that the starting points in some areas of the nation are very challenging.  In three parliamentary constituencies, majority of children are poor (Child Poverty Action Group, 2011).  Strides in addressing child poverty were made when the new government came into power.  1998 to 1999 estimates established that there were about 4.4 million poor children in the UK; and based on 2009/2009 figures, poverty levels among children was reduced to 3.9 million children (Child Poverty Action Group, 2011).  Based on the Institute of Fiscal Studies, current figures will indicate that child poverty has been further reduced to 3.5 million children.  Based on the CPAG report, this progress can be mostly credited to investments made in tax credits, child benefits, jobs growth, lone parent employment, and support services (Child Poverty Action Group, 2011).

The above policies are however still insufficient in securing the welfare of children suffering from poverty.  Government authorities have already recognized the fact they need to exert more effort in order to reach their ultimate goals (Platt, 2005).  Issues in the implementation of the above policies have revealed different aspects of efficacy with some programs being more effective than others.  The Sure Start Local Programmes have been criticized for having little impact on families and children in their jurisdiction (Minoff, 2006).  There is a need therefore for the Sure Start Local Programmes to apply a firm approach and a focus on enhancing child outcomes.  Under the New Labour policies, there have been apparent attempts to “shift social priorities of the state to investing in children” (Fawcett, Featherstone, and Goddard, 2004, p. 6).  It has also been noted that there has been a reinvestment on children which has resulted in the redistribution of opportunities to ensure that men and women (parents) take up paid work and consequently, support their family.  The New Labour policies set forth by the government sought to modernise the methods for communitarianism in an attempt to “reactivate the institutions of civil society, particularly schools and families, into vibrant forms of social regulation and opportunity” (Parton and Frost, 2009, p. 24).  In effect, these policies were a major improvement from the policies set forth under the old government policies.  They helped implement the mandates of the UNCRC and the state mandates for the promotion of children’s welfare.  The current Conservative party has yet to set express major progress in its policies in eradicating poverty among children.

            The integration of services and efforts to address child poverty in the UK, as well as issues in relation to child abuse and looked after children is a difficult undertaking to carry out.  One of the issues brought forth in this regard is the fact that developing integrated services is time and resources consuming (Fitzgerald and Kay, 2008).  It is however important to also note that the strategies as conceptualized by the British government to address issues involving children represents a breakthrough in UK social policies.  “It represents the first time that government has accepted that childcare is a public as well as a private responsibility” (Hendrick, 2005, p. 454).  And such recognition is an essential first step towards ensuring better conditions for children in the UK.    

Child Abuse

            Article 19 of the UNCRC sets forth that the state shall implement appropriate laws and policies to protect children from physical and mental violence; from harm or assault; negligence or negligent treatment; and sexual abuse while in the custody of parents or legal guardians (UNCRC, 1990).    

            In accordance with the above policies, child protection laws and policies have been set forth by the government.  These laws and policies have been focused towards protecting minors (Parton, 2006).  And based on UK’s unwritten constitution and common law practices, these policies have also included case laws and similar juridical policies and standards (Fuller, 2010).  One of these laws is the Children Act of 1989 which was set forth in order to define the current child protection system in the UK.  This act mandates that local government authorities must investigate if a child in their jurisdiction is suspected of suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm (Fuller, 2010).  Such harm includes: physical and sexual abuse and damage to his health and normal development.  Another act is the Sex Offenders Act of 1997 (Fuller, 2010).  This act covers the creation of a sex offender’s database.  It prompts all sexual offenders to reveal their current address and to inform law enforcement officers for any changes in their location.  The Protection of Children Act of 1999 is meant to ensure that adults who work with them or are caring for them have been evaluated by adult employers against the government list of individuals not suitable to work with children (Fuller, 2010).  The Children Act of 2004 was conceptualized in order to coordinate services for children and to implement information sharing among the different databases of government authorities.  This law also amended the physical punishment laws making it punishable to hit children in ways which leave “discernible marks or cause mental trauma” (Fuller, 2010).  Parton and Frost (2006) also discussed that the Act set forth that children need to feel loved and to be supported through their personal and familial relationships.  Without support, they would likely face poverty, abuse, and neglect.  The Act has recognized these concerns involving children and the need for government authorities to implement necessary provisions to face these important concerns. In considering the perceptions of children in relation to domestic violence, government agencies are often not willing to “listen seriously to them and to enrol them into finding solutions” (Hallett and Prout, 2003, p. 5).  Through the act and through Every Child Matters, more consideration has been attributed to these children and their personal input in their care.

Like most systems, the above laws have apparent laws which manifest during the implementation process.  The Children Act of 1989 pointed out that children should not be taken away from their natural parents until all possible efforts have been made to keep the family intact (Wainright, 2010).  However, some tragic cases have been seen with more recent cases expressing that it would be better if children were taken away from their parents.  The Criminal database has also been implemented to protect children.  However, this database has proven to be fairly costly and time consuming and has also increased the burden for schools.  This database can also create a false sense of security because people who set out to harm children may have free reign in committing dangerous acts against these children, especially if their names are not on the database (Wainright, 2010).  The emphasis placed on children’s life chances must be based on the concern for children’s well-bring and for them to flourish as children. In this regard, children need to lead a good life through the principles laid out by the UN Convention; these principles include: material well-being, health and survival, education and personal development, and social inclusion/participation (Lister, 2006).  In the current context, these concerns have not completely been secured. 

Looked-After Children

            The UNCRC, through Articles 3 and 20 set forth international policies for looked after children.  In Article 3, the policy set forth that all actions in relation to children in public or private institutions must consider the best interests of the child; Article 20 set forth that children who are temporarily or permanently deprived of their families shall be entitled to special protection and assistance by the government (UNCRC, 1990).  The state must also provide alternative care for such child which may include foster placement, kafalah of Islamic Law, adoption, preferably in line with the child’s upbringing or religious and cultural background (UNCRC, 1990).   

The UK has implemented its looked-after children policies largely based on the above UNCRC mandates.  Prior to that, the basic elements of the current care system were set forth and its principles included the ideal of bringing up children in ways which resemble as normal lives as possible.  The Children Act of 1948 set forth children’s divisions in most jurisdictions to help secure children’s care (House of Commons, 2009).  Policies on children’s care have mostly gone back and forth between improving the system and keeping children out of it.  Keeping children out of the system was in fact part of the 1963 Children and Young Persons Act which ordered local officials to spend funds in order to prevent the need to enter children into care; the 1975 Children Act also made it easier for children to be adopted (House of Commons, 2009).  The Children Act of 1989 brought the emphasis back to the care of children.  This act focused on care as a service to parents, not a punishment for inadequacy; and it focused on parents’ rights and on minimizing the use of coercion (House of Commons, 2009).  The Care Standards Act of 2000 laid out the National Minimum Standards for child care provision extending responsibilities towards looked-after children.  The Choice Protects initiative was meant to improve policies for looked after children through “better placement stability, matching, and choice” (House of Commons, 2009).  Through the Children Act of 2004, a duty is imposed among local government authorities to support the education of children needing care (House of Commons, 2009).  Then through the 2003 Every Child Matters (green paper), greater focus was given to all children, emphasizing the need for multi-agency collaboration and early intervention.  Through Every Child Matters, the responsibility for the education and social services of children in the same government agency was conceptualized.  This policy is considered to be a major effort towards shifting the perspective of child welfare from an adult perspective to a child’s perspective (Goldson, Lavalette, and McKechnie, 2003).  In other words, the original advocacy for children has been based on ‘passive’ children, and this advocacy has focused more on having dependent children – not children who can make key decisions for themselves.  With the shift in the Every Child Matters policies, this dilemma has somehow been resolved.  The Care Matters White paper as set forth in 2007 by the government aimed to improve the experience of young individuals in care and reduce the difference in their care (compared with their peers) (Department for Education and Skills, 2007).  In relation to looked-after children, this white paper set forth that children in care deserve excellent parenting and support in order to provide stability and resilience in their lives.  In order to achieve such policies, the following must be followed: every local area to develop pledge for children in care; disseminate new corporate parenting training materials; identify and spread good practice in corporate parenting; issue revised National Minimum Standards for care (Department for Education and Skills, 2007).

Improvements on the status of looked after children have been seen since the 1990s.  An increase in the proportion of care leavers in education and employment has been manifest and more care leavers have also been in contact with local authorities (House of Commons, 2009).  However, even with the improved initiatives for looked after children, the general outcomes for children are still poor.  2007 statistics of looked after children revealed that those who took their GCSEs gained atleast 5 at grades A to C, as compared with 62% of all other children (House of Commons, 2009).  They are more going to be indefinitely omitted from school; 66% of children in care receive full time education as compared to 80% of all other children.  They are also more likely to be convicted in the future for some offence, mostly those involving drug use, theft, and violence (Parton and Frost, 2009).  A report under the Quality Protects programme revealed that life chances for looked after children have not improved at similar rates with all other children.  Poor outcomes for looked after children have been seen under the Care Matters programme and mostly based on challenging circumstances prior to receiving care.  Those implementing the programme acknowledge the fact that serious gaps in the system have been manifest and have yet to be addressed by the government authorities (House of Commons, 2009).  These looked-after children are still looked after and if they are, they receive inadequate assistance in terms of education, social services, and other essential services.  As their needs are not being delivered, positive outcomes remain a distant possibility.  In evaluating the Care Matters white paper, much needed improvements to the paper are still apparent.  For one, care leavers must extend beyond the age of 18 or even 21 and for another, the young people must be able to stay with their foster carers until they are in their mid-20s if they really want to.  This would help ensure that when the child joins the real world and faces real challenges, that he would be equipped to face such challenges.  

Theoretical Perspectives in Social Policies for Children

The Every Child Matters was written as a green paper which is in line with the representational theory in social policies.  The representational theory “seeks to reduce very complex social policy phenomena to more manageable categories, and in this way, to promote a better understanding of different social policy approaches” (Hall and Midgley, 2004, p. 25).  The Every Child Matters framework advocates for the cooperation and coordination of concerned authorities in the implementation of relevant policies for the child.  Every Child Matters is a policy which highlights multi-agency collaboration – in effect allowing the representation of all agencies in the administration of child’s care.  In considering the welfare of children, three main considerations have to be taken into account.  First, most health and welfare provisions given to children are mediated through parents; second, no health policy is limited to health concerns only because other factors such as nutrition, pollution, and housing conditions are included as part of the health concerns; and third there is a link between poverty and ill-health (Hendrick, 2003).  It is therefore important to apply more holistic and inclusive in the planning of health policies for children. 

In applying the normative perspective, there are normal standards and frameworks upon which the policies are measured against.  In the UK, these normal standards have been set through the laws passed by the parliament and by the implementing guidelines conceptualized by the government executive agencies (Hall and Midgely, 2004).  The standards have been enumerated through the laws indicated in the above discussion.  In the actual implementation of these policies, there are gaps in the implementation which are seen through the statistical data.  The figures often reveal that despite the current policies in place, the standard expected outcomes are still not being reached.  This is the case for the UK policies in relation to child abuse, looked after children, and children suffering from poverty. 

Based on the above theories, the policies currently in place for children in the UK have complied with the basic frameworks for theories.  However, in the actual implementation of these policies, more work and more vigilance is needed from the government authorities implementing the policies and standards of care.  These gaps are often revealed in the figures for child abuse, looked after children, and children suffering from poverty. 

In reviewing the cultural and historical context of social policies on child protection, Pragnell (n.d) notes how these policies lack a more consistent and complete implementation for children.  He noted how children in the UK have been traditionally exposed to punitive and oppressive punishment and such trends in punishment have also been apparent in the juvenile justice system where hundreds of children below the age of sixteen are being held in secure facilities for the commission of serious offences (Pragnell, n.d).  However, they never actually receive counselling or support during rehabilitation; they are also often separated from their families for many years.  Studies reveal that Britain has had a negative reputation in the treatment of its children.  At one point in its history, it imported small Black children from Africa as fashion accessories in Bristol and Liverpool; during the 1800s, the British exported children and this went on until the 1960s (Pragnell, n.d).  Those who were placed in Children’s homes were collected and taken off to Liverpool where they were placed in specially chartered ships and transported to Australia and Canada (Pragnell, n.d).  From 1970 onwards, Britain again started to import children, unwanted children decreased and became available for adoption.  Such measures were done with all the best intentions for the children.  Still, these intentions have not yielded acceptable results for the children of the UK.  

Since children were introduced to the UK in the 1970s, 40 cases of children dying under the care of child protection staff have occurred. These incidents have led to investigations, and these investigations have demonstrated that the lack of coordination between government personnel and child welfare authorities is a substantial cause of the deaths of these children (Pragnell, n.d).  The system has been criticized as too oppressive to children; moreover the attitudes and beliefs of workers are often oppressive to these children.                    


            An overview and review of child safety in the UK is presented in the discussion above. Poverty programmes have been developed with regard to the provision of tax credits and the provision of other benefits for parents to provide them with greater ways of raising their children.  Policies for child abuse and looked after children are those which provide strong protection for the welfare, safety, health, and care of these children.  So far, these policies have been properly set-up based on basic political and legal standards.  However, in the actual implementation of these policies, major gaps are apparent.  More so that these gaps surface with the incidents of increase in poverty levels among children; increase in child abuse incidents; and lack of improvements among looked-after children.  These gaps indicate the strong need to set forth improvements in the care of children in the UK – with particular focus on improving outcomes among these suffering children.  With adequate political will and strong implementation skills, the welfare of children can be protected and secured.

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