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Highs and Lows

Highs and lows are part of our professional reality and this week has been no exception, with the highs and the lows coming in quick succession and often surrounding the same issue. Take the meeting of the Children, Young People and Families Partnership this week which I have the privilege of chairing. This well established strong partnership meets every two months to deliver our collective vision, determined to deliver better outcomes for children and young people in Barnsley. We know that in order to improve outcomes for every child in the local area, tackling poverty and improving family life has to be a key priority.

So it was a definite low that we were considering an update from the Anti-Poverty Delivery Group on the impact of the roll-out of Universal Credit on families claiming benefits who live in the five towns and 22 villages that combine to form the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley. The wait for benefits (in many cases exceeding six weeks) means that families are struggling with their most basic needs and that some children are coming to school hungry and with that hunger they are far from ready to learn; a travesty of social justice in 21st century England.

The high however, was the increasing evidence of social agency across the borough with the development of proactive community responses to support those members of the community who need a helping hand. Holiday hunger schemes; the ever-growing network of food banks; community shops; information and advice points; and volunteer mentors are all examples of the community based assets that are now making such a difference to the lives of children and families. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the austerity climate - as the capacity of local government to fund services to support citizens who are struggling reduces, it is critical that the space it occupied is filled by stronger communities that are enabled and empowered to grow their resilience.

So it’s absolutely right that the borough’s work on poverty and early help is strategically driven by the council’s Communities Directorate, engaging a coalition of community leaders; voluntary sector organisations large and small; public sector organisations and local businesses in the local fight against the effects of poverty. It’s what a modern working environment looks like; each component part, in this case each partner, is essential to delivering our priorities and to making the biggest difference that we possibly can.

Our schools, in the knowledge that they are often the first port of call for families in difficulty, are keen to play their part in early help. They already do so much through the work of parent support advisors; breakfast clubs; healthy snacks; adhering to national guidelines on nutritional standards as well as maximizing take up for free schools meals. Through the agency that the Children, Young People and Families Partnership brings, schools were anxious to secure an up to date road map of support within their area of the borough so that they can effectively signpost families who need help.

And here’s another definite high – the Family Information Service. This service plays a crucial role and the importance of its work maintaining accurate information can’t be over-estimated. This comparatively small service is playing an invaluable role in supporting the growth of individual and community resilience by ensuring everyone can access up to date information about local community support online. It’s a contribution that could be overlooked yet for a comparatively small investment it makes a real difference in improving family lives. As it inevitably steps back, it would be perilous for local government to neglect investment in this area.

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