Four key principles to help turn the new Labour government’s commitments into effective policy

Four key principles to help turn the new Labour government’s commitments into effective policy 

Last week’s change in government presents a huge opportunity to reset and refocus on the most pressing issues facing children, young people and families. Our Chief Executive Dr Jo Casebourne sets out four key principles that can help ensure the policy vision of the manifesto turns into reality.

Last week saw a change in government for the first time in many children’s lifetimes. While there is still a lot to emerge about how the new Government intends to deliver its mission to break down barriers to opportunity, the Labour Manifesto includes some welcome commitments, notably the ambition to tackle child poverty. The detrimental impact that poverty has on children’s long-term development is well established. On average, a child growing up in poverty experiences poorer outcomes in almost every aspect of their lives when compared with children from better off families, including mental and physical health, employment success, educational attainment, school non-attendance, and risky behaviours. There is also strong evidence of the connection between child poverty and children’s social care involvement. A new serious commitment to combatting child poverty is the start of something potentially transformational, where millions of children could be lifted out of poverty, and issues of abuse and neglect could be disentangled from poor circumstances, so children get the support and protection they need.

Beyond this foundational commitment, we welcome the manifesto focus on prevention and early intervention in relation to knife crime and youth violence, young people’s mental health, and violence against women and girls. These are all critical issues affecting the futures of too many of our children and young people.  

We want to see evidence-based policymaking placed at the heart of this mission-driven government. This is easy to say and whilst few would disagree, we know it’s hard to make it happen and to remain steadfast in the face of the inevitable desire for quick fixes.  

We are advocating for four principles which will drive evidence-based policymaking and help to make Labour’s manifesto pledges a reality:  

1. A focus on prevention and early intervention

Which should underpin the Opportunity mission and the Take Back our Streets mission, including the Young Futures programme.1 We know that family circumstances, parental behaviours, the home environment, and wider relationships shape children’s outcomes and life chances. These relationships can be improved by high quality support, which can also reduce gaps in children’s development between disadvantaged children and their better off peers. Ensuring families have access to the right support at the earliest opportunity is vital to prevent problems from occurring and stop them escalating and becoming more entrenched when they do.  

2. Increasing access to support that works.

We already know a lot about what works to support families, but there is often a gap between this and what is available for families locally. This is due to a range of tricky but not insurmountable challenges, including the financial position of local authorities. The new Government needs to use all its levers to ensure that evidence-based provision is scaled up and that families can access the support most likely to make a difference for them. This may include work to import effective approaches from overseas and adapt them so that they work for children and families here.  

3. Answering urgent questions about what works to tackle some of the biggest current problems.

There are still too many areas where we don’t yet know enough about how best to intervene or provide support for children and families. For example, while it is great to see important commitments such as tackling Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), on issues such as domestic abuse we do not yet know enough about what works to prevent it or to reduce the impact on child victims. This is a major gap in our knowledge. Some of these services can be very challenging to evaluate, however it is essential that we persevere in trying to overcome these challenges by investing in the most promising services and approaches so they can be evaluated for impact. Our REACH Plan sets out what’s needed.  

4. Continuation of evidence-based policy approaches.

Where things are working already, or appear promising, children and families deserve continuity. The direction of travel on children’s services reform has been promising and should not be scrapped by the new Government. The first ever National Kinship Care Strategy, for example, is an important acknowledgement of the crucial role of friends and relatives who step up to care for children and young people. It also emphasises the need to support kinship carers in this crucial role and provides an opportunity to generate new evidence about how best to deliver this support. This takes us a step closer to a world where all kinship families can access effective support, and more children can stay out of care and with the people who already know and love them.

A new cross-government commitment to prevention and early intervention, combined with a relentless focus on evidence in policymaking, would be an incredibly powerful one. As the What Works Centre for children and families, Foundations stands ready to provide support and challenge to the new Government, local government, and wider children’s sector, so that we take forward new directions in ways that stand the best chance of improving outcomes for children.  

  1. One of Labour’s five missions focuses on breaking down barriers to opportunity through reforms in: childcare; early years support; education and schools; training and higher education; and in areas “beyond education” such as housing and job security. 
    Labour’s Take Back our Streets mission, the new government’s plan for policing and criminal justice, features the Young Futures programme – a new youth programme which includes a focus on identifying and providing a package of integrated support to at-risk young people through a national network of hubs, in order to reduce risk of entry into the criminal justice system, as well as providing mental health support.  ↩︎

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