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Issue Date:-22 September 2008

Generations of vulnerable children drowned out to headlines and endless policy churn

A generation of children and young people from the North West and across the UK has suffered from policy-making that reacts to headlines and short-term political pressures, ignoring their basic needs, according to a major new report that has been published.  “As long as it takes: a new politics for children”, has uniquely examined the UK’s record of policy development affecting vulnerable children and young people over the last 21 years - finding that politicians of all parties have put children’s need for stability and continuity second to political gain.

The comprehensive overview, commissioned by children’s charity Action for Children, which runs over 100 services across the North West region, reveals a catalogue of short-term, headline-driven policy churn, changing priorities and funding uncertainties.  During the life time of a 21 year old there have been over 400 major government announcements relating to children and young people, 98 separate Acts of Parliament across the UK; 82 different strategies; 77 initiatives; and over 50 new funding streams relating to the services they use – over 69% of which no longer exist.

The report features 11 stories from 21 years olds from throughout the UK, who have grown up in the most vulnerable circumstances under successive governments and political agendas over the last 2 decades.  Each young person tells their story, what they felt could have gone better and their path for the future.

Talking about the help she received from an Action for Children centre, Katie Carr says:- “My mother died of a heroin overdose when I was 11 and I ended up in care.  By the time I was 15, I was missing school, smoking and drinking.  I got pregnant when I was 18.  Action for Children supported me through out my pregnancy and helped me sort out my child care so I could go to college.  Being there has made me think about things like college and qualifications, and now I’m working as a volunteer, as well as training to be a social worker”.

The report is also supported by public figures and celebrities who wanted to share their own experiences of being a vulnerable child.  These include award winning writer, broadcaster and poet Lemn Sissay, who spent his childhood in Lancashire with a white foster family and in various children’s homes.

Discussing his childhood experience in the report, Lemn says:- "On leaving care at 18 years old, after being fostered for 11 years and in children’s homes for 7, a benevolent social worker gave me letters from my mother.  The social worker also gave me my birth certificate.  It had the name on it “Lemn Sissay”.  Up until then, I thought my name was Norman.  I left the children’s homes without a surrogate family, without a birth family and without the knowledge of how to cook a tin of beans.  Nobody that I knew had known me for longer than 3 years.  When a child is in care, the government is the legal parent.  How the government treats its children is the most significant indicator as to the state of government.  The worst effect of my time in care was not while in it, but while out of it.  Like shock, the devastation happens after the catastrophic event.  My childhood becomes more apparent to me as I grow older."

Reflecting on the findings of the report, Paul Moore, Strategic Director of Children’s Services of Action for Children North says:- "Action for Children pledges to be there for children for as long as it takes.  But this vital pledge must be shared by all those involved in decisions that have a profound impact on children’s lives.  We simply must put children’s fundamental need for stability, security and continuity at the centre of our political process.  Enough is enough.  The last 21 years have seen a massive volume of policy.  Not only that, the average life span of each initiative is a little over 2 years.  Many developments have been laudable and Action for Children has supported them.  Yet few would suggest that an environment of such uncertainty is a healthy way of maintaining support for some of the most vulnerable and marginalised children and families in our society.  And don’t forget, once a childhood has gone, it has gone forever."

In launching the report, Action for Children is calling for a fundamental change in behaviour, not just from the politicians and policy makers but also throughout wider society.  The report highlights the ways of, and approach to, working with children needs to change so there is deliverable action and sustainable improvements.  Action for Children has 5 specific policy calls that, if adhered to by those who make and influence policy, for as long as it takes, will improve the lives of those most in need. 

We call for:-

· In all 4 nations of the UK, the Children’s Minister must be a permanent Cabinet/Executive level position to represent and speak on behalf of children and hold all parts of government to account.

· Before the next general election, a cross-party group must establish a 21-year vision for children and young people that all the main parties must sign up to.  Then, at the beginning of every new government, the cross-party group must set out or reaffirm its vision, which is binding on all parties.

· Any new initiative for children and young people must be funded for at least 6 years, with exceptions to be granted only by agreement with the Children’s Minister.

· Every government department and agency across the UK must examine how its policies impact on children and young people, and report annually on this to Parliaments and Assemblies.

· All UK media bodies and organisations with governance of media, including Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Press Complaints Commission, must establish a consultation committee made up of children and young people.

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£1.9 million to keep older people safe at home

LIVERPOOL is to massively increase the use of technology which assists older people to live at home safely.  Telecare uses special wireless heat and movement sensors and a pendant which can detect if a person falls, doesn’t get up by a certain time or if the house gets too cold.  If the system notices something is wrong, it triggers a phone call to check the person is okay.  If it can’t get an answer it alerts a relative or carer.

Over the next 3 years, the state of the art monitoring equipment is set to be installed in more than 900 homes across the city using £1.9 million of funding from the city council and Liverpool PCT.

Councillor Ron Gould, Executive Member for health and social care, said:- “One of the biggest fears elderly people have about getting old is being uprooted and moved into a care home.  The aim is to give people help and support to live in their own homes for as long as possible.  But what we don’t want to do is make them feel as if they’re under attack from technology, and the sensors and equipment are hardly detectable.  This scheme allows them to stay safe in their home for as long as possible, in an environment in which they feel comfortable.  It also provides extra support and peace of mind for relatives and carers.”

It is hoped the scheme will reduce the number of people admitted to residential and nursing care, support the early discharge of patients from hospital and also provide an early warning of people who are experiencing difficulties living at home.

Gideon Ben-Tovim, Chair of Liverpool PCT said:- “We know from experience that older people want to stay in their homes for as long as possible and the telecare system enables them to do this safely and removes a lot of the worry for family members.  Hundreds of older people in Liverpool are admitted to hospital or die each year because they become too cold or have a trip or fall.  Many of these incidents are avoidable or their severity could be reduced if the person was reached more swiftly and this system will ensure that any person, who has the system installed in their home, will be responded to quickly.  This initiative will make a difference to the lives of hundreds of older people and their families across Liverpool.”

Currently, similar equipment is fitted in around 100 properties across the city, including the home of Lillian Grace, who lives in Anfield.  She had heat, movement, gas, smoke, carbon monoxide and hypothermia sensors fitted in March.  The 79 year old has sight problems and suffers from osteoarthritis and a history of falls, but didn’t want to move into sheltered accommodation.  She likes the space she has in her home, which she has lived in for the past 70 years. 

Lillian said:- “I’ve got the pendant and that’s for emergencies if I fall or if anything untoward happens, I just press the button and speak to somebody at the call centre from wherever I am in the house.  The movement sensor is timed so it goes off by half past nine every morning if I’m not downstairs, and they call to check that I am ok.  It is like having another person in the house who you can’t see, and I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Examples where Telecare has helped provide assistance to people include:

A 78 year old man with dementia and a history of leaving the gas turned on.  The gas sensor was triggered and alerted the call centre who rang Transco.  They found a leak from the cooker pipe and made it safe.

A 76 year old man with a history of falls brought about by bouts of unconsciousness.  He fell and his wife managed to catch him but could not get to the phone.  She pressed the button on his falls pendant and was able to alert the calls centre who sent an ambulance.

A report recommending the funding be approved will be considered by the city council’s Executive Board on Friday 26 September. 

New doctor's uniforms to help in the fight against infection

PATIENTS and visitors to Ormskirk or Southport Hospitals may well have seen a new uniform on the wards since August.  For the latest intake of junior doctors we have issued new purple coloured short-sleeved tunics which are starting to be worn when on duty.

Over the coming months, all our junior doctors will be issued with these tunics and they will be available to our consultants in a bottle green colour to distinguish them from other doctors.  These are part of our drive to maintain our record on cleanliness by ensuring doctors do not wear anything below the elbow to make it easier for them to wash their hands regularly.

The latest figures for bloodstream infections caused by MRSA released by the Health Protection Agency, show that for the second quarter running (April to June 2008) we have reported no cases of bloodstream infections.

Martin Kiernan, Nurse Consultant for the Infection Prevention and Control Team, commented:- "Because we have such low numbers of bloodstream infections, it is inevitable that we will have the occasional period that is low and others that seem to be higher.  Unfortunately after 2/4 during which no cases were recorded the 3rd quarter will be not as low, as 4 cases will be reported.  After rigorous analysis of these cases we have determined that 1 of these was acquired within the hospital.  Even with these 4 cases we remain below our target for the year but this target however is not an endpoint as we strive to achieve a state of 'No avoidable infections'.  We will continue to investigate each case thoroughly so that lessons can be learned to help us further reduce the number of occasions when patients who may carry MRSA from becoming infected."

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