An examination of a charity working with children and young people: A Case Study of Action for Children
Action for Children is a charitable organisation registered in England and Scotland with headquarters located at Watford. Founded in 1869, it was formerly known as the National Children’s Home, which was established by Reverend Thomas Bowman Stephenson, a minister from the Methodist church. In 1994, the charity adopted the name the National Children’s Home Action for Children (Action for Children, 2013a).
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In September 2008, the charity changed its name to Action for Children to reflect its shift from a children’s home to providing more diverse services (Dunne, 2010). The charity’s work is now focused towards more community-based projects including children’s centres; providing support to vulnerable families; and helping to avert potential problems (Action for Children, 2013a).
The focus of Action for Children is the welfare of children and young people. The charity is ‘committed to helping the most vulnerable and neglected children and young people in the UK to break through injustice, deprivation, and inequality, so they can achieve their full potential’ (Charity Commission, 2013, p.1).
In the UK, Action for Children is the foremost provider of services for children, young people and their families, including community centres; services and facilities in rural areas; services for children with disabilities and their families; and services for young people who are leaving care. The charity offers various services in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; and provides assistance to activities in the Caribbean, Central America, and Southern Africa (Action for Children, 2013b).
The organisation, its values, aims and work that they do
Methods of data collection
The data used for this report was obtained by conducting a document search in the organisation’s website, campaign materials (e.g. leaflets, posters, etc.), policies and articles. Additional information regarding the organisation was also obtained through a document search using Google and Google Scholar.
The main challenge in this data gathering process is the lack of third party sources to confirm the information from an objective perspective. Since the data came mostly from Action for Children’s website, the information may be subjective and biased in favor of the organisation. In order to address this issue, this report also utilised information from other data sources.
The organisation’s values and aims
Action for Children was established with the objective of promoting the nurturing and caring of children and young people who need help, from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions. The main beneficiaries of its programmes and activities are children and young people. The aims of Action for Children include the following: (OSCR, 2013)
Advancement of education and health
Providing recreational amenities or organising recreational service and amenities, with the goal of improving the living situations of the persons for whom the facilities and/or activities are intended for
To offer respite to people in need due to age, illness, disability, financial difficulties, or other disadvantage
Action for Children aims to end the cycle of poverty through its various activities and campaigns. It challenges social injustice and empowers children to succeed despite the obstacles that hinder them from moving forward. The charity works with local authorities, families, communities and local organisations. (Action for Children, 2013b)
Action for Children’s vision is for all children and young people to feel that they belong, are loved, and valued. The charity aims to help children and young people to conquer unfairness, poverty, and discrimination in order to allow children to achieve their full potential, create their own path, and experience happiness in their lives. Its core values are passion, equality, and hope. (Action for Children, 2013b)
Action for Children continues to work in partnership with the Methodist Church. Its values remain deeply rooted in the principles of the Methodist Church. The charity’s vision and values are reflective of the words of John Wesley, who proclaimed that ‘go not only to those who need you, but to those who need you most’ (Action for Children, 2013d, p.1).
The organisation’s projects and activities
For the past 140 years, Action for Children UK has been helping and supporting the most at risk and neglected children in the country. The charity has worked with more than 250,000 children, juveniles, parents, and carers as it tackles several issues including child neglect and abuse (Action Children, 2013c).
Action for Children provides a various types of pioneering services to children in care, children with disabilities, and young people. These include family support services, adoption and fostering services,, and specialist schools. Action for Children has 600 projects, services and schools across the UK. The charity also advocates for social justice through its research, campaigning, and lobbying for change. (Action Children, 2013c)
Action for Children works with children and young people who: (a) need support for their families; (b) cannot live with their birth families; (c) have some form of disability; (d) who are in care; and (e) experience severe difficulties in their lives. It is committed to offering early intervention and long-term solutions for children and young people in need. (Action for Children, 2013b)
The charity has also adopted an early intervention and prevention approach in dealing with children and families. The charity seeks to catch issues early on and stop them from getting worse. It also aims to prevent such issues from occurring in the first place, as much as possible. Action for Children believes that early intervention is the best form of child protection and helps to prevent children’s problems from recurring in a cyclical pattern. The charity has been working with politicians and decision makers in the UK to push for early intervention in welfare programmes for children and young people.
Action for Children has adapted its programmes to fit the needs of local communities. As such, each area also has its own focus on specific activities: (Action for Children, 2013e)
Wales – Gweithredu Dros Blant
Action for Children offers assistance to over 15,000 children, young people, and their families each year. The charity has over 50 projects across Wales and partners with 21 local authorities in the region.
England – England North, England Central and West, England South
The local authority regions of North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber are supervised by Action for Children’s England North division. There are over 150 projects in this region, with offices in Harrogate, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Warrington. This division provides more than 115 services for children and families and offers 65 services.
Through 14 projects across Northern Ireland, Action for Children has helped around 5,000 children, young people, and their families. The charity focuses on providing children’s and family centres in this region. All these services are delivered in partnership with local authority, community, and voluntary organisations.
With over 60 services across the country, Action for Children is the biggest provider of services to children and young people in Scotland. The charity offers assistance to over 8,000 children, young people and their families. This includes a variety of services such as family centres, relief centres for disabled children, emergency lodging for young homeless people, criminal justice projects, fostering projects, and other services that are targeted to address the needs of local communities.
Analysis of the organisation’s policies in relation to the UNCRC
The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is ‘an international human rights treaty that grants all children and young people (aged 17 and under) a comprehensive set of rights’ (DfE, 2012, p.1), including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The UK is a signatory of the convention and the UNCRC was implemented in the country in 1992. The UNCRC has highlighted the need for the participation of children in the UK, especially regarding activities that contribute to their welfare (Shier, 2006).
The UNCRC describes the factors that a child needs in order to have a secure, joyful, and satisfying childhood irrespective of their gender, religious beliefs, race, social origin, or their parents. The UNCRC affirms that all children and young people should have the right to: (DfE, 2012, p.1)
Special protective measures and aid
Be able to use various services, including healthcare and education
Cultivate their personalities, skills, and abilities to its maximum capacity
Live in an environment where they can be happy, loved, and understood
Be educated regarding their rights and participate in an open and dynamic manner
Based on the above, it can be observed that the aims and institutional policies of Action for Children are in line with the substantive rights that are accorded to children, as stated in the UNCRC. The charity has been fully supportive of the UNCRC and has in fact lobbied for the full assimilation of the UNCRC into the legislations of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. It has also provided help to the DfES in its collation of the UNCRC reports from other British Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic.
Action for Children has included in its lobbying and campaigns the importance of the UNCRC. It has worked in partnership with legislative bodies to provide services to children, young people and their families. It delivers services in five main areas that are in accordance with the UNCRC’s main agendas. This includes family support, aid for children with disabilities, assistance to children in care, support for young people with criminal offenses, and education.
The charity is very active in campaigning for change in the lives of children, young people, and families who are facing extremely challenging situations. It also carries out research and lobbies the government for support. Its policy and research pushes policy makers to prioritise the welfare of the most at risk and neglected children and young people in the UK (Action for Children, 2013b). These programmes and activities are all in line with the core tenets of the UNCRC.
Addressing child neglect is one of the main agendas being pushed for by the UNCRC. In recent years, Action for Children has focused most of its activities on addressing child neglect. The charity came up with directed initiatives to tackle the key causes of neglect. It also provided more training to staff and volunteers in order to better identify and address neglect. Moreover, it launched a campaign to make UK citizens more aware of child neglect (Action for Children, 2013e).
Action for Children has also highlighted three key articles of the UNCRC in its programmes and has lobbied the UK government for support in these areas.
Article 12 states that children and young people should have the right to communicate their opinions and be heard.
Article 13 gives each child the right to freedom of expression while respecting the rights of other people.
Article 23 gives children with disabilities the right to participate actively in the community.
In its report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Action for Children upheld the UNCRC and called on the government to provide significant investments in services to uphold the welfare of children, young people and their families, and eradicate child poverty. It also appealed to the UK government to take a more active role in fostering a more encouraging view about children and young people in order to stop age discrimination. The charity recommended that legislation should be created to guarantee that children are given protection against assault and/or the threat of assault, which are the equal to the protection given to adults. It also highlighted that disabled children and young people’s freedom of expression are not being maintained. Lastly, Action for Children underscored that greater importance should be given to the opinions of children and young people.
Opportunities, challenges and barriers to implementation of the institutional aims and policies
Methods of data collection
The data used to answer this section of the report was also obtained from Action for Children’s website (i.e. documents, articles, policies, leaflets, etc.) as well as from other third party sources such as the Charity Commission UK and the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR)
Action for Children is able to implement its aims and policies primarily through its activities and programmes. Around 81% of its income is received from local authority, central government, and NHS funding. Income from donations is also a critical source of funding (Action for Children, 2012).
In 2011, the charity had a total income of nearly ?198 million and spending of over ?184 million. With over 4,000 employees and more than 2,000 volunteers, it is currently one of the largest charitable organisations in the UK. Action for children has 576 projects and provides assistance to an estimated 48,000 children, young people and their families in various local communities all over the UK (Charity Commission, 2013). Using this funding, the charity was able to pursue opportunities to achieve its institutional aims and policies.
Action for Children also offers opportunities for people to get involved aside from donating money. Volunteers and partners are able to help by writing, emailing, or talking to local authorities and government ministers about the charity’s campaigns. For instance, Action of Children is currently lobbying the UK government to update the law on child neglect. It is encouraging people to email local MPs to ask them to change the law.
Challenges and Barriers
The main challenge to Action for Children’s implementation of institutional aims and policies concerns issues in funding. The recent recession has caused problems in funding, especially with local authorities. There are more children requiring services because of the economic crises; however, local authorities have had to cut down the budget for allocated for charitable organisations including Action for Children (Caplin, 2013).
Action for Children is faced with the challenge of how to maintain its sustainability despite less budget allocations from local authorities and other government agencies. To ensure that the charity remains efficient in providing support to its beneficiaries despite budgetary issues, it has focused most of its expenditure on direct services.
In recent years, there has also been intense competition for donor income among charitable organisations. There is competition amongst charities to win ‘cause-related marketing contracts with commercial enterprises and sponsorship deals’ (Bennett, 2003, p.335). Charities also have to be competitive when they offer tenders for government grants. This is another source of challenge for Action for Children.
Action for Children has taken various steps to remain sustainable and financially efficient. It has significantly reduced its management costs and streamlined its operations. It has also invested business development in order to better address the needs of their local authority partners. Despite spending cuts, the charity strives to provide adequate services and early intervention programmes to children, young people, and their families.
The charity has also taken more efforts into growing its income from donations. It has taken efforts to be transparent to all its funders – both statutory and voluntary – particularly in terms of how money is utilized by the charity. It has launched My Action for Children, which is a website that allows donors to select where their donations goes. It also provides an annual report with details of all programmes, activities, and expenditures of the charity.
Action for Children has diversified its sources of income. This includes partnerships with other organisations to implement its programmes and activities. This includes private individuals, organisations, and businesses. It also raises funds through corporate partnerships, fundraising events, and sales of videotapes for children.
Another challenge for the charity is the implementation of some programmes, which are not the priority of the UK government. For instance, the charity has not yet succeeded in lobbying for the government to stop its hesitation to the UNCRC’s mandate on asylum and immigration. Specifically, the charity is lobbying the UK government to end its practice of putting asylum seeking and refugee children into detention. However, it has not succeeded in putting an end to this practice. Despite its failure to influence the UK government regarding this issue, Action for Children continues to lobby for the better treatment of child refugees and asylum seekers.
As one of the largest charitable organisations in the UK, Action for Children has devoted its efforts into providing various services for children and young people in the UK. It is one of the foremost providers of preventive and intensive assistance to the most vulnerable members of society, including children in care, young people who problems with the law, children with disabilities, and those with mental health problems.
Its primary aim is to help the most at risk children and young people overcome social injustice, poverty, unfairness and discrimination so that they can reach their full potential. The charity’s vision is for all children and young people to have a sense of belonging, to feel loved and valued – to live in a world where they can build their own future and experience joy in their lives. These aims, vision and objectives concur with the UNCRC. Action for Children has upheld the UNCRC and has lobbied for its full incorporation into UK laws.
Action for Children’s funding comes primarily from government grants with additional support coming from donations and partnerships. However, the recession has severely affected its finances due to budget cuts by local authorities and government agencies, as well as competition from other charities. This is compounded by the increase in children who need help due to the economic crisis. The main challenge, therefore, is how to maintain its sustainability despite problems in funding and resources. The charity has addressed this barrier by focusing its income on direct services and by seeking alternative forms of income such as private donors, partnerships, and sponsorships.
Action for Children. (2012). Annual Report 2012. Available: http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/media/4075296/annual_report_2012.pdf. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
Action for Children. (2013a). Our history. Available: http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/about-us/our-history. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
Action for Children. (2013b). Our vision. Available: http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/our-vision. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
Action for Children. (2013c). What we do. Available. http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
Action for Children. (2013d). About the partnership. Available: http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/about-us/methodist-partnership/about-the-partnership. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
Action for Children. (2013e). Fact Sheet. Available: http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/media/5137243/1feb_2013_factsheet.pdf. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
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Caplin, M. (2013). Austerity threatening child welfare in UK, report warns. Available: http://www.christiantoday.com/article/austerity.threatening.child.welfare.in.uk.report.warns/32095.htm. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
Dunne, H. (2010). Best rebranding exercise, Winner: From NCH to Action for Children. Available: http://www.corpcommsmagazine.co.uk/news/575-best-rebranding-exercise. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
Charity Commission. (2013). 1097940 – Action for Children. Available: http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/Showcharity/RegisterOfCharities/CharityWithPartB.aspx?RegisteredCharityNumber=1097940&SubsidiaryNumber=0. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
Office of Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). (2013). Extract from the Scottish Charity Register, Action for Children, SC038092. Available: https://www.oscr.org.uk/search-charity-register/charity-extract/?charitynumber=sc038092. Last accessed 15th May 2013.
Shier, H. (2006). Pathways to participation: openings, opportunities, and obligations. Children & Society. 15(2), p.107-117.