Devon's children need to be given best possible atart

Primary school children. Picture: Getti images

Children in Devon need to be given the 'best possible start' - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Councillor John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, writes for this title

Council leader Councillor John Hart said: "We must plan for the future and do all we can to protect

Council leader Councillor John Hart said: "We must plan for the future and do all we can to protect and improve our economy." Picture: contributed - Credit: Archant

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

So I’ve always had both a personal interest in making Devon the best place for children to grow up as well as in my role as a councillor.

Setting aside our wonderful natural environment, that means making sure our services for children are the best they can be.

We've now taken a big step towards that by endorsing a cross-party report prepared by the Child Friendly Devon Task Group which was chaired by Labour councillor, Rob Hannaford, who leads our Children's Scrutiny Committee.

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

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

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So, as well as endorsing the Task Force report, we have now formed a partnership with Leeds City Council to help advise us on doing the practical work.

Just over a decade ago, Leeds was rated as "inadequate" by OFSTED. Now they are ranked as an "outstanding" council.

How did they do it? One of the key changes was to put children at the centre of everything they do.

For example, by helping families in difficulties and providing the right support at the right time, Devon can reduce the number of children needing safeguarding interventions which can sometimes result in young people being taken from their families into care which isn't good for them and can be very expensive. We already try to offer early help and support to enable children to remain in their families and be safely cared for but we must embrace this more widely.

Likewise, by prioritising children’s health, we can reduce the long-term demand on the NHS. With stronger, child friendly communities and support for children and families we can help schools focus more on learning.

Businesses can also play their part. If there are more job opportunities for our young people,  ambitious youngsters won’t feel they have to move out of Devon to make the most of their talents.

There’ve already been practical results from the work of the Task Force. The organisation Devon Communities Together does a regular audit of local village halls and community buildings. In their next survey they’re going to include a section about what these establishments offer for children and young people. It's a small step but hopefully it will make people think about what their community does for the youngsters who live there.

The welfare and best interests of our children are really everyone's business. On the most selfish level, older people need young people to succeed if only to pay the taxes that will fund the services we depend on.

But I'd like to think we all want what’s best for our children.

As Rob Hannaford said in his report: "We must create the environment where there are more opportunities to succeed 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, safeguarding, 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 just in everything we do as a council, but also by communities, our partners, and businesses. We have to listen to them.”