Response to Council referral on 18th July regarding UNICEF child friendly status and No Child Left Behind
Objective: To consider the discussion paper provided in response to the 18th July Council referral, and consider any next steps.
Richard Gibson (Head of Communities, Wellbeing and Partnerships)
Richard Gibson (Head of Communities, Wellbeing and Partnerships) (RG) introduced his report, which had come about as a result of a Council motion in July. It sought to answer three key questions: what was UNICEF child-friendly status and how did it compare with No Child Left Behind; given current council priorities, would working towards UNICEF child-friendly status add value to their work; and was it realistic, given current workloads for the council, to lead the work to achieve child-friendly status alongside its existing priorities and its commitment to No Child Left Behind?
He outlined how child-friendly status involved adopting a rights-based approach based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as opposed to the voluntary-based No Child Left Behind program. There was nothing within the convention that Members would not support, though it would be a long-term commitment (their guidance suggested three to five years) rather than a quick win. It could not be achieved without consideration of the financial impact, and the report highlighted some of the associated budgetary issues. He also highlighted that they would need the support of two-tier colleagues, including the health service, county council, the police and the voluntary sector, rather than just being a CBC-led project.
The report also considered alignment with the council’s corporate priorities, including health and wellbeing and the town centre. The final question was simply ‘is it realistic?’, the answer to which would depend on the budgetary situation and whether an aligned approach with partners could be achieved. There was also the question of workload: with limited officer capacity, it was worth considering what might need to be reprioritised to make room.
The Chair moved into Member questions and debate:
- One Member highlighted the importance of the cost-benefit balance, and the possible opportunity cost. It was hard to see how child-friendly status would be achieved without diverting attention from NCLB, unless it generated extra income.
- One Member noted that a number of the current child-friendly cities listed in part 3.7 had well-documented issues with gangs and youth crime, and questioned what child-friendly status (or working towards it) was actually achieving.
- One Member noted that the list of partners the council would need to get on board included GCC children’s services, which was deemed inadequate not long ago, while the 2021/22 PEEL Report had raised questions about policing.
- One Member highlighted the work of NCLB as a visible presence in Cheltenham’s communities, and suggested that the resources needed for child-friendly status would be better invested in expanding NCLB. Both county-wide buy-in and a major shift in finances would be required to deliver both.
- One Member emphasised the importance of the rights of children to education, to play and to see their friends, which had been constrained in the last few years. If these were to be specifically enshrined in council policy, they would like to see something far stronger.
- One Member asked how many of the key points raised at 3.4 in the report were already covered by the council and its partners’ existing policies. RG responded that these points were all covered by a variety of sources, not necessarily the council – for example, protection from exploitation was primarily in the gift of the police and social care. Other points on the list were tougher to nail down – for example, when it came to young people being able to express opinions and influence decisions that affect them, the council could do more. There used to be a youth council called Making a Difference which worked alongside the actual Cabinet to ensure young people had a voice.
- One Member stressed the need to avoid spending precious officer time duplicating work already being done elsewhere.
- One Member suggested that the key was to work constructively with partners, while accepting that there were some areas they could not influence. Another Member agreed, highlighting the need to hold their partners to account so NCLB was not just an empty pledge.
- One Member highlighted that the partnership scheme only required the council to sign up to a manifesto, so it was not necessarily a major budget commitment. NCLB’s own budget was not entirely clear, and it would surely be possible to expand its scope with child-friendly status as an appropriate framework.
- One Member noted that Dame Janet Trotter, chair of Gloucestershire Childrens Coalition, had confirmed that they considered joining the UNICEF scheme several years ago and turned it down, which might make other parties reluctant to buy into it. Another Member responded that Janet Trotter had also said that the Coalition had gained traction since then, and was playing a major role in ensuring cross-organisational working.
- One Member suggested writing to the GCC Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee or the relevant Cabinet Member to see their view on this, and suggest taking it forward county-wide.
The Chair suggested that Cheltenham was lucky to have an organisation like NCLB that had grown out of local need and was focusing specifically on children living in less than adequate conditions. As a result, they were reluctant to tamper with it, and suggested ring-fencing it from interference. He summarised that while Members felt there was a real need for the principles of the UNICEF framework, the difficulties were clear.
He agreed that the county council should be canvassed for their views, though he expected they would reject this. He asked Members whether they would prefer to return the motion to Council along with the report provided by the Head of Communities, Wellbeing and Partnerships and let them vote on it, or say here and now that they wanted to pursue a different course and investigate cross-county co-operation.
- One Member felt that Council should certainly have an opportunity to vote on it.
- One Member noted that as the Chief Executives of both CBC and CBH sat on the coalition, there was already a direct link to the council. The Executive Director of Place and Communities also sat on the Health and Wellbeing Board, which was developing the Integrated Care Strategy and working to integrate support for young people.
- One Member highlighted the importance of prioritising youth democracy, as this was lacking in schools nowadays. It was only right that young people should be consulted about the decisions that affected them most of all. Another Member noted that there were local representatives in the Youth Parliament, although there was no Cheltenham-specific body.
The Chair summarised that the overall recommendation of the committee was for NCLB to be ring-fenced and not diluted in any way by the UNICEF child-friendly approach. Cheltenham did not currently have the resources to address this, though there was a need for greater involvement of children in the process. The council needed to consult colleagues at GCC to find out if a cross-county approach could be developed.
- No Child Left Behind be ring-fenced, and not changed or diluted by pursuit of the UNICEF child-friendly approach.
- County council colleagues be consulted to see if a cross-county approach can be developed with relation to the child-friendly framework, including greater involvement of children in the decisions that affect them.