The trouble with children in need

I work with vulnerable and/or disabled children in an inner London borough. Every day I’m acutely aware of the inadequacy of support services for the brilliant, struggling families I work with. So you might think that tonight would be a champagne night for me. Tens of millions of pounds will be distributed to disadvantaged children across the UK as the annual BBC Children in Need fundraising night gets underway.
But I’m afraid I won’t be watching. I find the whole thing deeply problematic.
On the plus side some money is better than no money for vulnerable children, and the list of projects supported suggests a clear-eyed focus on children’s needs irrespective of the form that they take.
But two things are missing. One is any curiosity about why these children are in need? Why do children with disability need charity money to go to a suitable nursery? Why should children who are victims of sexual abuse have to rely on the response to a song and dance number in order to get counselling?
The question is never asked: why, after decades of well meaning comic parodies, are these children STILL in need?
It is never acknowledged that these services should be the basic provision that a civilised society makes for its vulnerable children. We have always neglected children’s rights, but the last 4 years have been catastrophic for these children.  Locally we have lost huge swathes of services, including children’s social care cuts, loss of vital support groups, and a 40% cut in CAMHS provision. At a deeper level, there is no acknowledgement of the fact that some if this vulnerability is preventable. A fairer society, with better early support for families and individuals, would have greatly decreased rates of mental health problems, abuse and malnutrition.
But none of this seems to cross the minds of the glamorous souls who gaze earnestly into the camera after another heart-rending campaign video and urge us to give, to help these children. But what can tens of millions do to plug the billions that have been cut from public services? It’s great that autistic kids in Reading get a youth club, but what about Barnsley, or Merthyr? I’m sorry to rain on people’s parade but Children in Need sells the comforting delusion that dialing in 20 quid will absolve you of your responsibility for the ongoing disaster that is so many children’s experience of support.
I’m not saying don’t give. Give, but while you do, think about why you need to, and promise yourself that you will never support a party committed to dismantling the very services that you are inadequately replacing. Anything less would, I’m afraid, be hypocrisy.


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