Devon leader John Hart on services to children


5:00 p.m. July 31, 2022

Councilor John Hart, Chairman of Devon County Council, writes for this title

Council President Councilor John Hart said: “We must plan for the future and do everything we can to protect and improve our economy.” Image: Contributed
– Credit: Archant

My children were born and raised in Devon and my two grandchildren who live in the county attend their village’s primary school.

So I’ve always had a personal interest in making Devon the best place to have children, as well as in my role as councillor.

As well as our wonderful natural surroundings, this means making sure our services for children are as good as possible.

We have now taken a major step in that direction by approving a cross-party report produced by the Child Friendly Devon Task Group, chaired by Labor Councilor Rob Hannaford, who chairs our Children’s Scrutiny Committee.

They heard evidence from other local authorities, youth services, volunteer groups, businesses and UNICEF on how they thought Devon could become the best place to grow up and distilled this into a series of recommendations.

We want to ensure that all of our children have the best possible start in life, enjoy good physical and mental health, and have better access to employment and education.

So not only have we endorsed the task force’s report, we have also partnered with Leeds City Council to advise us on how to carry out the practical work.

A little over a decade ago, OFSTED rated Leeds as ‘insufficient’. Now they are classified as “outstanding” advice.

How did you do that? One of the most important changes was putting children at the center of what they do.

For example, by helping families in difficulty and providing the right support at the right time, Devon can reduce the number of children in need of protection, which can sometimes result in young people being taken into care by their families, which is not good for them is and can be very expensive. We are already trying to provide early help and support to keep children with their families and safe care, but we need to do this more broadly.

By prioritizing children’s health we can reduce long-term demands on the NHS. With stronger, kid-friendly communities and support for children and families, we can help schools focus more on learning.

Companies can also make their contribution. When there are more job opportunities for our young people, ambitious young people will not feel they have to move away from Devon to make the most of their talents.

Practical results are already available from the work of the task force. The organization Devon Communities Together carries out a regular inspection of the local community halls and community buildings. In their next survey they will include a section on what these facilities offer for children and young people. It’s a small step, but hopefully it will get people thinking about what their community is doing for the youth living there.

The welfare and best interests of our children truly are everyone’s concern. At the most selfish level, older people need young people to thrive, if only to pay the taxes that fund the services we depend on.

But I would like to believe that we all want the best for our children.

As Rob Hannaford said in his report: ‘We need to create an environment where there are more chances of success and where our young people can afford to live here and want to stay in Devon.

“What we need to do goes beyond supporting families, securing, working with schools, training and creating jobs – we need to create a very different environment where children and young people are our priority, where they are actively considered not only as Council in everything we do, but also by communities, our partners and companies. We have to listen to them.”


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