Professor Christopher Chapman: Community can play a huge part in tackling child poverty
Around a quarter of Scotland’s children live in poverty. This means that about 230,000 children are growing up without the resources to participate in activities, have the living conditions, or obtain the type of diet that are considered the norm in 21st century Scotland.
Put simply, poverty is limiting young people and their families, trapping them into circumstances that all too often prevent them from reaching their full potential in educational outcomes, and subjects them to higher levels of chronic illness and mental health issues.
Unless radical action is taken, these levels of child poverty seem more likely to rise than decrease over the next few years.
The University of Glasgow and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health’s response has been to develop a place-based approach to empower communities and to work in partnership with key players to draw on the combined expertise and experience from education, health, regeneration and broader public policy.
This approach, Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland (CNS), uses the collective wisdom within a neighbourhood and draws on the best international evidence and experience.
CNS is guided by principles rather than a prescription for change; this is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We believe many of the answers can be found within the neighbourhoods and the services intended to serve them. This is also not a quick fix to tackling poverty, rather it is an inter-generational approach to improving educational outcomes, health and wellbeing to support all children from birth to adulthood.
Children’s Neighbourhoods are designed to create new ways of providing seamless support, provision and opportunities across public services and other resources to deliver long-term and sustainable cultural change. This requires rethinking roles, relationships and responsibilities between services, partners and the communities they serve.
The purpose of CNS is to ensure that all resources are used to be mutually reinforcing and pull in the same direction to achieve ‘collective impact’ for young people within the neighbourhood.
We invest time in building trust across key stakeholders to create the conditions that will promote authentic collaboration and partnership across the neighbourhood. The Children’s Neighbourhood in Glasgow’s Bridgeton and Dalmarnock is a ‘backbone organisation’ that brings together different resources, brokers and facilitates connections and activity, and researches and evaluates progress to ensure that learning is fed into future developments.
With its track record in out-of-hours provision and community relationships, Dalmarnock Primary School has been the catalyst for CNS and we continue to build relationships with other schools and partners across the neighbourhood to extend and embed our work. Senior leaders, practitioners and members of the community work closely with the CNS team from the University’s Social Science Research Hub at Olympia to make it a reality.
We have undertaken a detailed analysis of context and developed a theory of change that identifies what we want to achieve in the short, medium and long term. We also have a research team in place to develop the research and evaluation strategy. This is an important priority to ensure we modify our approach as we build our own evidence base.
We have used our analysis and worked with the community to identify CNS priorities, including transitions and mental health and aspects of social life including play. These will drive our future activities and our three, five and 10-year plan.
We believe, and the emerging evidence suggests, that this can make a difference to the lives of young people and their families locked into poverty and can play a significant role in achieving the 2030 child poverty targets.
CNS is also flexible enough to travel and therefore has the potential for roll out to other areas, both urban and rural. The Scottish Government has recognised the potential of this approach and has committed to support its expansion.
Over the next four years we will establish some new neighbourhoods within Glasgow. We will also use our data and work with partners across Scotland to identify another three sites.
We are looking for another urban setting, a town and rural area to develop and refine the model to help us put child poverty in its place. For more information on CNS, go to www.childrensneighbourhoodsscotland.com
Professor Christopher Chapman, director, Policy Scotland, co-director What Works Scotland, University of Glasgow.