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What does it cost to care for children and young people?

When I was growing up next to the power station in Widnes my Nan, who left us in May 2007 used to say, ‘kindness costs nothing and a smile is free’. If, after reading the title of this blog you thought I would be talking about placement costs, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed!

Last week in Northamptonshire, we had our 3rd annual awards for children and young people in our care. There were 1126 nominations all written by the amazing people I am lucky enough to work with. The awards were not for a particular ‘category’, every single one was a statement of nomination written to each child and young person about something to be proud of. I was incredibly moved as I read and signed each nomination.

Many colleagues across the country are dealing with pressure to find savings. And that is why awards were stopped here several years ago…because they were ‘too expensive’. Thankfully, lots of partners and local organisations now support the awards which is great because they mean so much to so many people. Being responsible and accountable for public money is an important element of our role that we must take seriously but if we only view the world through that lens it can sometimes lead to questionable decisions, in my view.

I keep a reflective log of my practice, as I am sure many do, so I wanted to share some reflections with you.

Caring for children and young people is often perceived as ‘expensive’ because it can be in monetary terms. However, it is essential to recognise that caring for children transcends money. Compassion, empathy, attention and love matter, and these are resources that are abundant and free.

Children and young people thrive on encouragement and support. Celebrating their successes, no matter how small instils confidence and empowers growth. What matters most is the intentional effort to create a space to feel safe, loved, free to explore and simply be.

I feel lucky to have had so many powerful conversations at the event and to have witnessed such strong child centred relationships between children and their carers, social workers and support workers. The level of empathy, trust and support was palpable. I reflected that one of the most profound ways to care for children and young people is through the gift of presence. Simply being there can make a world of difference. Active listening, engaging in meaningful conversations and participating in their daily lives provides emotional security and fosters a sense of belonging. The importance of kindness and compassion are lessons that last a lifetime. These moments of connection do not require any financial outlay but make a huge difference. One child came up to me last week and said, ‘this is the best day of my life’. My Nan would have loved that.

We are lucky to do the jobs we do and empower the best possible services for children and young people.

We have a professional duty to ensure the best professional skills and knowledge, to follow the Nolan principles of public life along with our moral duty to remember why we do what we do, to offer time, love, kindness and compassion. Why? Because it matters.

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