Firstly, I'm delighted to see a focus on improving the outcomes of children in care. The fact that we continually fail those young people whose lives must already, by definition, have been made more difficult is something that bewilders and saddens me. Despite the work of many local authorities, voluntary sector organisations like the brilliant Who Cares? Trust and many others in the field, the outcomes of looked after children are poorer in virtually every way you choose to measure and it is absolutely essential that we focus on their needs, rights and outcomes.
I confess, when I see that this bill includes a requirement for Local Authorities to advise young care leavers of the services they are entitled to, I am struck by just what a low base we must be working from in some places (it requires legislation to make sure that happens? Seriously?) though I recognise that it is positive that there is a statutory (and therefore funded) duty. Perhaps we all need to give more thought to the way we can meet the needs of children in care and caution against assuming the help, support and information is always coming from somewhere else.
Significant funding and ambitious targets were announced for the National Citizen's Service as well as giving it statutory status (though exactly what that will mean or what the impact of that statutory status is, I’m not fully sure and would welcome a tutorial!) Naturally, the aim to give 360,000 young people good quality experiences is brilliant and it’s great that the government is focusing on young people’s needs and is so committed to a programme of work that builds skills and resilience and encourages young people to take part in social action. I have to say, though, that I wish there was that same commitment to building these skills on a day-to-day basis in schools (*cough* statutory PSHE *cough*).
I hope this focus on NCS will mean opportunities for the huge numbers of youth workers and other professionals across the country who are working with young people day in, day out. They are building ongoing relationships delivering innovative, effective, important work and having a huge impact on young lives in really difficult circumstances. I do not fully understand the NCS model yet but I hope that the requirement to deliver the programme to many more young people comes with a commitment to support and build the sector’s workforce and engage with local youth and community groups in order that young people have the best experience it’s possible for them to have.
Some things from my old Brook world appeared ( I worked at Brook for almost 9 years), though these were not a great surprise. It seems that the government remains determined that all websites containing pornographic images should require age verification (ie proof you are over 18) before they can be accessed. I understand the desire to protect young people, but internet filtering is such a complex, expensive, often ineffective and difficult thing to do (as well as being something that young people can get round pretty straightforwardly) that I’m beginning to think it only gets mentioned because someone somewhere likes to snigger at making the Queen say pornography. I’d far sooner see legislation to help ensure all young people develop the confidence, critical thinking and self-esteem to build healthy happy relationships and recognise porn for what it is and, crucially, what it is not (ie real life).
Talking of education, I see we’re going to continue to tinker with the governance of schools whilst running a country mile from any genuine commitment to improving young people’s experience of school, which is a shame and an almost identical model to the obsessive, ideological fiddling with the health system at the expense of patients that Andrew Lansley was so delighted to preside over. I’m a school governor and I see first-hand the impact of these policies. I know how hard teachers and other school teams are working to make sure young people don’t miss out – it’s an inspiration, particularly given how much more difficult it is made by the policy environment.
What do I wish had been in the Queen’s Speech? Well, the most obvious is votes for 16 and 17 year olds. If our flagship youth programme is really a National Citizens Service, surely a central part of being a citizen is the right to take part in democratic processes (and not just if you happen to be Scottish). I have never heard an argument to restrict the vote to 18+ that makes any sense and I don’t like the implication (or perhaps it is just my inference) that young people can’t be trusted somehow. If you agree with me, you can join the Votes at 16 campaign chaired by the British Youth Council and if you’re young and want to make change, you should look at the Bite The Ballot campaign that Ambition supported when it launched last year.
So, an interesting speech and fascinating for me to look at it through fresh eyes. Like I said, I’m new here and if I have said something you disagree with, have misunderstood something or have got something totally wrong, feel free to get in touch and put me right – you can do that in the comments or email me at email@example.com where you can also tell me if you think I'm spot on! I’m on a journey in the youth sector and I’d love to hear from you.