What do we believe our children need?

In last week’s blog, I encouraged debate about the needs of babies and young children. I said we needed to give ourselves permission – and responsibility – for thinking more expansively about this issue. Three events occurred this week that led me to think that the time is absolutely NOW! for intensifying that debate.

The first event was responses to last week’s blog.

Linda Lauchlan said:

“I read your post whilst on holiday in Malta…The streets are full of families together….I am craving our culture to move back towards a family centred one like this….Are these happy scenes so important to us in Scotland?….I am enjoying considering that question.”

Fiona Bissett wrote:

“I suspect that the biggest problem for the early years agenda faces is not money or resources. Instead, it is huge guilt and anger from current adults.”

I love the self-reflection contained in these comments. Self-reflection is scary. It opens up the possibility that we might discover something in ourselves that is wanting, that is less than perfect, that is uncertain. But it is only by standing in such an open, questioning space that we are going to be able to tackle the Early Years agenda we have set ourselves.

The second event was the publication of Martin Narey’s report on adoption. www.thetimes.co.uk

The report was commissioned by The Times newspaper as part of their campaign for rethinking the UK’s struggling care system. His report is striking in its tone—brave, personal, and pointed.

Narey says:

“What damaged so many of the young adults I see in prison was being left at home, living in neglect and intervention by the State which – if it came at all – often came too late….We need to stop simply talking about putting the interests of the child first and start ruthlessly doing so.”

Like me, Narey is calling for greater awareness, greater debate, about what the needs of young children actually are. When we don’t possess that, we all pay a terrible price – both the kids and the rest of society.

The third event was the publication of Graham Allen’s latest report on the funding of early intervention. http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk

Allen, MP for Nottingham, has spent the past year leading a cross-party review of the importance and value of early intervention programmes. He states unequivocally:

“All parties should commit to the central objective of Early Intervention to provide a social and emotional bedrock for the current and future generations of babies, children, and young people.”

Allen is saying that children’s most fundamental needs are emotional ones, and that unless adults can reliably meet those, we all pay heavy prices.

Allen is going further than just making such an observation. He is saying we should put money directly towards meeting those needs. He argues there should be a steady migration of funding, with the Treasury spending 1% more of its budget every year on meeting children’s emotional needs. He has devised financial incentives that tempt businesses, investors and retailers to direct their funds in the same way.

What used to be considered ‘soft’ now has hard numbers attached to it.

In short:

All of these commentators are speaking to the issue that I was posing last week: what kind of life do we wish to lead with our children, and what do they wish for with us? Where financial investment is required to achieve this (and often it isn’t), it turns out that happiness is cheaper than unhappiness.

What puzzles me most is why we seem to have trouble believing this. Why have Allen and Narey’s reports been described as ‘brave’ and ‘radical’ and ‘far-reaching’? Why don’t they just seem obvious? Why are we still willing to organise our societal spending in a way that wastes both money and human potential? Why does Allen feel worried that he won’t achieve even a tiny 1% shift, and why does Narey fear that doubts still linger about whether the best interests of children actually are paramount within our care services.

It seems we can use the emerging scientific information to tell us about more than just our children’s needs. We can use it to tell us about ourselves as adults. We can use it to achieve self-reflection, thus bringing into focus a key launch pad for this debate: what it is that we believe about our children’s needs? This is as important a starting point for the Early Years Movement as is the scientific evidence itself.

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