Dr Nicola Atwool knows children. She cares for children too. Not just one or two or a few like most of us. Dr Atwool cares for all of them. And she knows most about caring for them than surely anyone does. She has combined a career as a front-line social worker with an academic career and mixed in a fair splash of government policy advice.
In a society that is becoming used to statistics about increasing inequality, and where 1 in 4 children are living in poverty, Dr Atwool takes us on a journey of what this means from a child’s perspective. The tale is one of hardship – what families are not able to provide. And these things are not just nice to haves – they affect health, mental health and schooling. Education is the most at risk, with children in poverty missing out on this social capital leading to what Dr Atwool calls intergenerational transfer of poverty and inequity.
She tells us why she thinks the government refuses to engage in an holistic model that takes child poverty seriously, believes that work is the only solution, and subsequently fails children. Part of this is the short term thinking favoured by the electoral cycle. It doesn’t help that an increasingly polarised society with people opposed to a “nanny state”, and that the family is private, yet are happy that a surveillance model being applied to our most impoverished. At the root, she says, is an increasing tolerance for inequality.
Dr Atwool also talks about the positives, even in the face of adversity. She describes factors that encourage resilience – achieving positive outcomes in the face of adversity. Important here are the characteristics of the child – high self esteem; the presence of a supportive family environment; a supportive person in their environment; and positive cultural connections.
To make a real difference, Dr Atwool would like to see a cross-party accord focussed on increasing the social capital of children.
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