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Social Work students attend conference on child poverty

MA Social Work students and staff attended a conference on child poverty at Cardiff University in January 2016. Here is their report.

A conference on the theme of 'Child Poverty' was held in January at Cardiff University. It was supported by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and attended by 11 students and staff from Bangor.

 In his comments as Chair, Malcolm John said that according to the latest statistics, and despite the efforts of the Welsh Government and others over a number of years, around 31% of children in Wales continue to live in poverty. He said that this situation was unacceptable and that it was therefore appropriate for the delegates to convene to consider what contributes towards child poverty, what are its detrimental effects on our children's lives, what is the evidence regarding policies and services which make a difference, and what in addition needs to be done through collaboration to surmount this substantial social problem.

In his presentation on Inequalities in Child Welfare, Professor Jonathan Scourfield discussed the definition of inequality and then conveyed a number of the perceptions from a research project to which he had contributed. He referred to the 'inverse care law' i.e. higher care needs/receiving worse health services. He noted that the research had found great inequalities between being in care and living in a deprived area. He noted that the research showed there was a link between inequality and ethnicity, with Asian people more likely to live in a deprived area.  His main message was that the link between children's welfare and inequality should not be taken for granted. Tackling poverty will reduce harm to children.

 Emyr Owen discussed his research on Neglected Children and Social Work. He explained that he is undertaking research into the ways professional workers assess neglected children. This is the largest category of child abuse in Britain. Often a lack of understanding of the assessment process creates difficulties. There is much material and information available which draw attention to the link between child abuse and poverty. He explained that his work attempts to facilitate workers to better understand what are the living experiences of children in this category and, consequently, make their assessments and intervention more effective. He referred to the danger of losing the child's voice and the atmosphere when assessing.  He said that the child abuse system fails children in poverty as there isn't a 'trigger' - one incident.

The theme of Siôn Jones' presentation was 'Lack of Ambition - ambitions of young people from deprived areas in the South Wales Valleys'. According to Siôn, policy makers increasingly believe that lack of ambition is the main factor which causes young people in poverty from underachieving in school and not have the 'best' jobs in society. However, on the basis of data from his research interviews, Siôn argued that it was obstacles and not a lack of ambition which prevented children from poor backgrounds from achieving in education and employment.

In his presentation Mark Drakeford AM - the Welsh Government Minister for Health and Social Policy - discussed the context and policies relating to child poverty since devolution. He said that the main reason for child poverty is the increase in inequality since 1945. By 1976, he noted, the gap between the poorest and richest had been reduced - this was the heyday of the welfare state. But things had taken a turn for the worse during the following twenty years. He maintained that policies have been introduced since devolution which have succeeded in halting the effects of poverty on children, but that it had not been possible to reverse the tide. He mentioned the ways the Welsh Government can make a difference.

a) Introducing a National Well-being Law - proving everything against the core aims of the law e.g. a more equal Wales.

b) Ensuring a healthier Wales

c) New legislation to protect the rights of vulnerable individuals

d) The Welsh Government should challenge the Westminster Government, e.g. over universal credit 

He said there was a need to redouble efforts to create a higher skills economy 

Ann Parri Williams spoke about the work of the Team Around the Family in Gwynedd. She explained what were the Team's core elements and how it is part of the Welsh Government's Child Poverty Strategy. It was explained how the team set about with staff from Bangor University to devise a means of evaluating whether or not families who received voluntary support services made progress in surmounting their problems. It was mentioned that the team organised a number of services, e.g. Keeping Accounts, Parenting Courses, A Worker with Fathers, Professional Counsellor, laptop borrowing scheme. Ann explained that linguistic sensitivity was central to the team's work. Users' response to the team's service was very positive - on the basis of the research work undertaken by 20 families, 16 said that they had had a positive experience. 

In her presentation, Dr Siân Wyn Siencyn said that the politics of poverty were becoming quite dangerous, e.g. preventing any change in the definition of poverty. According to Siân poverty meant disempowering people and taking away their hopes. Siân mentioned the different types of poverty which exist, e.g. income, participation, fuel, service. She also emphasised the particular characteristics of rural poverty. According to Siân what is important is the way in which poverty impacts children and their hopes.

Professor Sally Holland - the Welsh Children's Commissioner - described her role as listening to children's voices and promoting their rights. She explained that she was concerned about children who live in poverty. She referred to the various articles in the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights which deal with poverty, e.g. 3, 6, 27, 28, 31. She mentioned that a high number of children lived in poverty and that it was possible for social policy to make a difference to poverty levels. She said that the UK's policies on taxation and benefits had had a negative effect on children and their families. At a local level she said that she supported local developments, such as Sure Start - but she questioned what the provision was for those poor children who do not live in a Sure Start area. At a Welsh Government level she said it was imperative to make an assessment of the impact of every policy on children's lives. She referred to the positive impact of the music project 'Codi'r To/Raising the Roof' in Gwynedd - which offers intensive music lessons of a high standard to children. This enabled them to focus on building their confidence and was a good example of social cohesion. To conclude, she said that every child - be they from poor or rich backgrounds - had the right to develop to their utmost potential. 

Publication date: 11 April 2016