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My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, on her excellent maiden speech.
I shall focus on children and vulnerable women; I draw noble Lords’ attention to my entry on the register of interests. My headlines are that we need policy that supports and enables early intervention and effective partnerships. Experiences that we have at an early age shape who we are. The Children’s Society has been measuring children’s well-being for more than a decade, and during much of that time children’s well-being has been in decline. This is not simply about children; it is about how we shape the sort of communities we want to see.
How is government looking at every policy and all legislation in the light of what they mean for children? This is about present well-being and its future impact. Some 690,000 children under five live in a home where a parent has experienced poor mental health, substance misuse or domestic abuse. These and other issues are listed as ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, which other noble Lords have referred to. Their consequences echo through a child’s life and across generations.
We know, for example, that the majority of women in prison report having experienced some form of abuse as a child. The Nelson Trust, of which I am president, estimates that 78% of women who access their women’s centres present with four or more ACEs. Two-thirds of the women supported by the Nelson Trust are mothers of children, so this is about the future as well as the present.
Even if we look at children with no ACEs, standard support for parents is given by HMRC, the DWP, NHS, Public Health England and possibly a children’s centre. This system is not easy to navigate, and those agencies do not share a common framework. The challenge increases for families in more complex situations, with even more agencies involved.
Children who underachieve in all early-years measures at five are three times more likely to have social care involvement at the age of nine. Thus, there is an ever-growing demand for statutory services, and the national cost of intervention that comes too late is huge. In my diocese, Gloucestershire County Council is expected to overspend on children’s services this year, yet between 2010 and 2018 spending on non-statutory children’s services, such as children’s centres and youth provision, fell by 60%.
How will the Government attend to early intervention and the strategic deployment of resources to reduce and prevent problems further down the line? Of course, improving children’s life chances will not happen overnight, nor simply through important legislation such as tax reform. It is vital that government action supports and enables the work of professionals in education, health and care as well as the vital provision by charities, including local churches and other faith organisations. There also needs to be an increased emphasis on inter-agency work.
As lead bishop for women’s prisons, I have a particular interest in how we can reduce the possibility of children growing up to be those at risk of offending. I also have an interest in what services are being provided for those who have offended or are at risk of offending. In both areas, early intervention and effective partnership should be a goal for government across public services. I shall give two examples from my diocese. First, the Nelson Trust partners with 18 agencies to provide outreach to women in sex work, resulting in very positive outcomes. Research by Lancaster University found that 95% of those outcomes could not have been achieved without access to a women’s centre—the only non-statutory service involved. Secondly, the Action on ACEs Gloucestershire initiative has attracted interest from around the UK. It is enabling a trauma-informed approach across services ranging from fire and rescue through to maternity provision and voluntary groups. The toolkit to enable conversations with children, adults and families has been piloted by more than 30 organisations.
I must close, but I hope that the Government will take time to listen to people affected by these issues—not least children and young people—learn from best practice and provide funding to replicate successful interventions which are about effective partnership and early intervention. As the Chancellor prepares for the Budget in March, I hope that he will consider how wise investment, made at an early stage and managed effectively, will pay dividends.