ItemChildLinks Issue 2: Perspectives on Play(Barnardos, 2004) BarnardosThis edition of ChildLinks, focusing on play, was prompted by the launch by the National Children's Office of Ready, Steady, Play! A National Play Policy earlier this year The document is presented in three colourful formats, ie. a full version, a summary version and a leaflet for children. The vision proposed is "An Ireland where the importance of play is recognised so that children experience a range of quality play opportunities to enrich their childhood." The National Play Policy is the first major publication of the National Children’s Office and it Is encouraging that there was such a high level of consultation with children, children’s organisations and — other stakeholders. To the best of my knowledge this is the first occasion since the adoption of the National Children’s Strategy where Government actively consulted with, listened to and responded to the views of children on a key issue. That is a positive model and precedent for future policy making. The document itself is a very useful resource to those interested in "play" in the broadest meaning of the word. It includes content on the objectives of play, definitions, underlying principles, the broader policy context, as well as useful information in regard to what might be called the state of play in Ireland today. Of interest to the childcare sector, it notes that 77.5% of childcare settings had access to an outdoor play space (2002 figures). It also refers to the fact that "80% of childcare is conducted through the use of childminders, relatives and other informal arrangements... that there is little published information on the overall standard of play opportunities for children in this sector of childminding", The play policy proposes three actions of specific interest to the childcare sector as follows: ° The Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education will address the importance of play in developing quality standards in early childhood care and education. The revised Child Care (Pre-school) Regulations will have a greater emphasis on the importance of play in child development. e Local authorities will monitor compliance with "Childcare Facilities: Guidelines for Planning Authorities" (2001) to ensure that outdoor play facilities are provided in all new facilities. The document also contains case studies of good practice which cover a range of relevant themes such as the importance of play in school, meeting children’s play needs in a_ hospital environment, community playgrounds and international experience. The Action Plan proposes 52 specific actions crossing a range of objectives. The Action Plan is ambitious, innovative — and comprehensive. The commitment to "partnership between Government Departments, agencies, voluntary groups, local communities, families and children" is to be welcomed. What is less clear is the Government commitment to resourcing the Action Plan. While a number of separate funding schemes have been announced in recent weeks and months there has not been a detailed resource plan produced to accompany the Action Plan. Given the importance of play in children’s lives and the quality of this play policy, it is incumbent on all relevant Government Departments and agencies to ensure that the Action Plan is resourced and implemented in full. ItemChildLinks Issue 1: Changing Families(Barnardos, 2004) BarnardosThis year marks the 10th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family and this edition of ChildLinks is devoted to the theme of “Changing Families”. The structure and demography of the family in Ireland have changed dramatically in recent years. Irish family life has been affected by many social changes including greater economic prosperity, growing inequality and the widening gap between the rich and poor, the increased labour force participation of women, the arrival of growing numbers of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers and the increasing birth rate. In her article “Family Change in Ireland over the Past Decade” Dr Finola Kennedy sets out the significant demographic changes that have contributed to the changing profile of the family and family life. The topic of developments in family policy in the context of changing socio-economic conditions Is explored by Dr Valerie Richardson. The question of family well-being, what contributes to the well-being of children and families, is addressed by Dr Kieran McKeown in his article “Family Well-Being: What Makes a Difference?” Reporting on a study published in 2003, he concludes ‘that the physical and psychological well-being of parents and children are shaped primarily by family processes, particularly processes involving the ability to resolve conflicts and arguments and by the personality traits of the parents”. The Barnardos approach to family support is described by Suzanne Connolly, including the principles underlying Barnardos’ family work practice, as well as the range of interventions provided, Services include universal services such as information, resources and training provided by the National Children’s Resource Centre, to the more targeted interventions Family Welfare Conference projects and early years work. The issue of work/life balance is relevant to policy makers, employees and employers alike. Caoimhe Gleeson in her article has shared the learning arising from the Tipping the Scales project which has focused on implementing work/life balance policies and practices in three local authority agencies in the North West. The final article by Bill O'Dea sets out the role and strategy of the Family Support Agency which was established in 2003. The changing nature of the family and family life in Ireland is reflected in the recent report compiled by Professor Mary Daly on the public consultation fora organised by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The key themes which emerged from the for a were: Definition of Family in Irish Society; Parenting and Childhood; Reconciliation of Employment and Family Life; Relationship Difficulties; Family as Carer; and_ finally Addressing and Changing Policy. The commitment by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to draw up a “clear, comprehensive, integrated strategy for strengthening families” by the end of 2004 is to be welcomed. ItemChildLinks Issue 3: Children and Creativity(Barnardos, 2004) BarnardosThe theme of the Barnardos pre-budget submission to Government this year is ‘invest in children’. It may be a cliché to say that children are the future but it is also arguable that investment in children will pay economic and social dividends in the future. As an organisation which works primarily in disadvantaged communities, Barnardos is particularly concerned that the 2005 budget should prioritise the needs of disadvantaged children. The evidence of child poverty in Ireland is well documented and irrefutable. The most recent data (2001) shows that 6.5% of children in Ireland or 66,000 children are living in consistent poverty. While acknowledging that Government has made significant progress on alleviating consistent poverty, the relative poverty figures have actually dis-improved. In 2001 over 23% or 237,000 children lived in families experiencing relative income poverty. What do these statistics mean in reality for the children and families experiencing poverty? Barnardos meets the many faces of child poverty through our work with children and families. Many families with whom we work often find themselves trapped in a cycle of welfare dependency, low paid work, unemployment, debt and cyclical money crises. Children suffer too. Often families cannot afford the costs of ‘free education’ including uniforms, schoolbooks, transport, meals and after school activities. Children in disadvantaged areas often have little or no access to play, recreation or arts facilities and their families cannot afford the cost of a weekly swim, a trip to McDonalds or the cinema, outings which most children take for granted. Returning to the ‘invest in children’ theme referred to already, the arguments for early intervention and prevention also support the case for increasing our investment in children. The evidence from the Perry Preschool project and others in the US support the argument for early intervention and investment in early years services. The High/Scope Perry Pre-school Programme reported a cost benefit ratio of 7 to 1. In other words there was a return of 7 dollars on every dollar invested which included savings arising out of decreases in crime figures and juvenile justice system savings. Barnardos supports the case for national universal quality early years provision, both from the cost-benefit analysis point of view and arising from a commitment to best outcomes for children. In Budget 2005 the Government should begin to introduce a comprehensive quality early years service for all three and four year-olds. It should prioritise disadvantaged children in the first few years and should be extended to all children in the future. It is also important that strategies and services to support children’s rights, put in place by Government, are adequately resourced. In particular, the Government should allocate additional resources to the Ombudsman for Children's Office, the Family Support Agency, and the National Educational Welfare Board to enable them carry out their roles in relation to children. Budget 2005 offers the Government the opportunity to address the plight of disadvantaged children and families. All the economic indicators and the public finances are positive. There is an abundance of research and policy advice available to Government on which measures to adopt in tackling child poverty. An investment in children is an investment in all our futures.