Major new plan to help give Devon’s children the best start in life

More than 22,000 children in Devon are living in poverty – that’s one in seven. There are 19,200 children with a special educational needs and more than 740 vulnerable children in council care.

The numbers of children and young people, girls especially, presenting with degrees of mental ill health, including anxiety and depression, is rising as is the numbers of young children with obesity.

But, for the first time, organisations in Devon have come together to spell out a common vision and detail how they can use their expertise to make the best use of scarce public resources to help and support children.

Launched this week, the Devon Children and Young People’s Plan brings together all the local agencies responsible for helping children, young people and their families.

It includes schools, councils, health services, the police, and community organisations in a clear shared vision of how they will work together to tackle the real challenges and big issues facing families, children and young people in the county today.

The new plan details how each agency will work together with families and communities to give every child the best start in life, ensure they are supported to be safe and well, and can fulfil their potential. It has been developed after extensive consultation with local families and children about what support they feel they need.

Launching the new plan, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for Children’s Services, Councillor James McInnes, said: “I welcome and support this ambitious plan that brings everyone together to focus on giving our children the best possible start in life.

“I’m proud Devon is one of the first places in the country to bring agencies together in this way to tackle the big issues we face.

“We all want our children to thrive with the opportunities to realise their full potential. Everyone should have access to a good education with extra support if they need it, and with good local opportunities when they leave school.

“But we face some real issues in Devon such as how to support a growing number of children with complex additional needs or with problems such as autism and we face a tough challenge in getting the right support to families when they most need it.

“By coming together to focus on the things that matter most to families we have been able to identify where we can do things better and target our resources to deliver a real difference.

“Clearly, the proof of the pudding will be in what we do to deliver on the plan but I have every confidence this will help drive real improvement in the way we help and support children and families across Devon.”

At its heart, the plan recognises that many issues facing children and families are complex and inter-related and that problems in early life can have a huge impact on public services later in life.

The key priorities for action include:

  • Improving the way local agencies work together to protect children at risk despite growing pressure on the care system
  • Improving the way families and schools are supported to deal with the growing numbers of children with special educational needs and autism
  • Helping young people stay out of trouble and be safe from gangs, drugs and exploitation
  • Dealing with the big rise in mental health issues, self-harm and suicide among young people

Making a difference to the lives of children

Chief Superintendent Keith Perkin, of Devon and Cornwall Police, is the Chair of the Devon Children and Families Partnership, and helping to launch the joint plan, he said: “As a Partnership we want to make the biggest possible difference to the lives of children and families across Devon and that means coming together to look out for children and to support struggling families.

“We all know that some children do not grow up in a good, supportive and loving environment and a key part of our vision is for every child and young person to be kept safe, away from potential harm and out of trouble. That means understanding more about an individual families’ situation, getting to the root of any problems and acting early to prevent issues getting worse.

The new Children and Young People’s Plan is important because it brings all the main agencies together with agreed priorities for action but we know that our services and professionals are only a part of the story.

“We all live as part of our community with a network of family, friends and other support and that is why we want everyone from local employers to sports clubs to voluntary groups to join with us and to consider themselves a part of the plan.

“As police officers, we are often called on to help deal with children, young people and families in crisis. This includes incidents of domestic violence and abuse, of child neglect, and of vulnerable young people being actively exploited. There are also new and emerging issues such as on-line bullying, gang and knife crime and radicalisation.

“These are often only symptoms of bigger issues such as trauma, mental health issues, drugs and alcohol abuse, or relationship problems, and no single agency can deal with all these on its own.

“We already work closely together with social workers, teachers and others as a multi-agency partnership on a daily basis to try to protect children from physical harm and sexual abuse.

“This plan not only recognises and supports this but goes further to show how we must work better together to identify potential trouble earlier and ensure the right help and support is given to those families, children and young people at greatest risk.”

The plan, when it went before the council’s cabinet earlier this year, received unanimous approval, and outlines the impact of poverty on children in Devon.

It showed that there is a 15 year difference in life expectancy between the best and worst areas, with people living for an average of 90 years in parts of Exmouth compared to 75 in central Ilfracombe.

In total, 71.5 per cent of children achieve a good level of pre-school development, but only 49.5 per cent of those who get free school meals do.

The vision and priorities identified in the Children and Young People’s Plan included all children / young people having the right to:

  1. Life Chances – including a good education for all, better support for children in care and care leavers and improving the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) offer.
  2. Be Healthy and Happy – including emotional wellbeing, mental health and self-harm, early support for autism and improving speech and language services.
  3. Feel Safe – including better identification and prevention of neglect, support for vulnerable young people at risk and helping more people stay out of care.
  4. Be Protected from Harm – including protecting and supporting children where there was domestic or sexual violence and abuse, helping children in crisis and reducing the impact of self-harm and preventing exploitation.

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