Q&A Sir Tony Hawkhead, Chief Executive of Action for Children
Children's Health Disadvantaged families in the UK receive welcome support from charities, like Action for Children, to ensure their children's mental and physical health.
What are the pressing health challenges facing disadvantaged families in Britain in 2017?
"In 1869, when Action for Children was founded, diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB) and malnutrition were rife among poor and destitute children in London’s slums. Today, physical health has improved, and treatment is available. However, 75 per cent of adult mental health problems start before age 18. Professionals working with children and families are increasingly focused on having a positive impact on mental health and at Action for Children we tailor our support to help each young person face their individual challenges with confidence."
HRH The Duchess of Cambridge took over as your Royal Patron last year and has promoted openness around mental health; this must helpful in getting messages across?
"There is much common ground in terms of the work we do in our 600+ sites and the interest of The Duchess in mental health has boosted this. On a recent visit to our services in Wales, HRH took part in a family therapy session – this was a huge thrill for the family but also gave The Duchess greater insight into how Action for Children works on the ground. Supporting good mental health and wellbeing sits at the centre of our plans for the future."
If mental health is a key issue, what needs to happen to support young people growing up in care, for example?
"As part of the Alliance for Children in Care with other UK charities, we are calling for a fundamental shift in supporting children and young people in care to recover from traumatic experiences like severe neglect and family breakdown. Too many young people say that the reasons they come into care in the first place are never addressed."
Are there other areas where further work is needed to address health inequality among children and young people?
"There are many aspects to securing good mental health and promoting wellbeing. For example, being able to smile with confidence is important for a child’s self-esteem and good oral health is vital to their lifelong physical health and wellbeing. Recent work showed us that poor oral health can be a serious issue for too many disadvantaged children and young people in Britain and can have an adverse impact on their life chances, with 35% of 12-year-olds embarrassed to smile or laugh due to the condition of their teeth. There is regional inequality too. More five-year-olds experience poor oral health in the North West of England than in the South East. This is one of the last really big health conditions related to poverty in the UK that must be addressed, and we are working with partners in our nurseries and children’s centres to improve things."
How does technology impact on young people’s health?
"In our most recent survey nearly a quarter of parents told us that they struggle to get kids away from screens and that convincing them to ‘unplug’ was more difficult than getting them to go to bed, do their homework, or to eat healthily. This reliance on technology can make it difficult for children to build strong relationships with their parents – something we know can then make children more susceptible to bullying or abuse outside the home, or prevent children from talking to their parents about fears or concerns. It’s important that there is a balance between technology use and other activities."