- Posted:Thursday 12 May 2016
A Newcastle-upon-Tyne-based charity aimed at transforming the lives of disadvantaged children in the North East.
Child poverty in Newcastle is worse than the England average, affecting 29.9 per cent of children under the age of 16. Children North East operates out of seven sites on Tyneside and runs a range of health, social care and educational services. Its project ‘Poverty proofing the school day’ has helped schools remove barriers to learning for children in poverty.
What the judges said:
At Children North East we focus on child poverty but the reason that we focus on that is because of their very detrimental long term outcomes in terms of health, in terms of academic achievement, in terms of life chances generally.
We reckon there are 132,000 children living in poverty in the North East as a whole. There are pockets in Newcastle and Middlesbrough that are as high as 29% and even higher than that.
Children North East has been around for well over a century but it’s been working with the communities that I worked with for all my working life as well and that kind of consistency is absolutely critical.
We’re also concerned about the mental health of children and of adults as well which is caused by the feeling of inadequacy that you have from not being able to do the same sorts of things that everybody else in society seems to be able to do.
‘Poverty proofing the school day’ came about because children and young people told us that if people do anything about child poverty that would make a difference to their lives then we should do something about the school day. And what we found was that a lot of what the children were experiencing was indirect discrimination, was unintentional by the schools but it was the policy and the practices of the school day that was making life difficult.
In schools we have packed lunches for pre-school mean children going on trips, but it’s so obvious that all the children know the little white paper bag, all children know well if you’re on free school means you’re going to get that bag and that’s feeding into the self-esteem of the students which has impact on either their behaviours or their attendance. Things like non-uniform days are really stressful for some children in disadvantage because it’s that whole idea I’ve got to wear something quite grand for that day. We never thought about it but it was something that we could change quickly.
Poverty Proofing educated us and it reminded us about our moral purpose and how we should be supporting the students.
I think the work that Children North East do in highlighting the effect of poverty on children’s lives is quite unique not just in the North East, I think throughout the country.
It’s generated a lot of interest nationally, so we’ve already trained up staff and taken Poverty Proofing into Glasgow, into North Lincolnshire, so other organisations are looking at how can we train them up to deliver it in other parts of the country?
We’ve developed a number of different parenting programmes for fathers.
Dads and family men tell us that they don’t feel able to go into children’s’ centres or schools even, that it’s not a comfortable environment for men to be in, so we do a lot of work with Fathers Plus to engage men in children’s lives.
Gateshead Council are contractors to provide a crisis intervention service and these will be families where the parents have mental health problems or substance misuse problems, there’s usually domestic violence and there’s also neglectful parenting and that gives us the opportunity to be able to work very very intensively with those families.
We were having a very bad time as a family. You know we were there with people who were trying to do their best by their children, by their partners, and they were just like we were, completely out of our depth.
We then re-invented the idea of training actually young people as peer mentors.
It’s all about us having that family facing, someone around your own age who understands but someone who they’re able to look up to and basically just talk to and get a bit of help.
One of the great things that they’ve been able to show is that some of their volunteers and the support that they give do go on to find paid employment and that has massive impacts for the children.
The expertise that they have is not something you can buy, and we’ll always be very grateful.
That kind of commitment and support in the community is like gold-dust for people like me.