1 Apr 2014

Hundreds of children and families whose lives are blighted by poverty and neglect will be helped by a radical new approach -- the first of its kind in the UK and inspired by a hugely successful project in New York -- launched today (2 April) by The Children's Society in the West Midlands.

The new Children and Family Zone is being introduced in North Solihull, and will offer families and children continuous support from birth until they start work or begin higher education.

Almost 175,000 children are living in poverty in the West Midlands making it one of the most deprived regions in the country, with North Solihull one of the most affected areas.

The Children's Society will work with the full range of bodies, including local authorities, health groups, schools, and community, faith and voluntary organisations to make sure these children get the comprehensive help they need. This includes after school clubs, child development classes, parenting programmes, help for teenagers, health help, drug misuse support and debt advice.

The project is based on a model first tried in 100 blocks of central Harlem in New York in the 1990s, and focused on children from birth to 18, aiming to make sure those in the most disadvantaged communities gained the best educational and economic opportunities.

Since then it has transformed the lives of thousands of families and children and was widely praised for its ground-breaking work by Barack Obama.

The Children and Family Zone is the centrepiece of The Children's Society’s new West Midlands hub. It will concentrate the organisation’s services and expertise on specific areas of need, and foster working in partnership with other agencies to make sure there is a joined up approach to tackling poverty and neglect across the region.

The Children’s Society’s Chief Executive Matthew Reed said:'Today marks an exciting step in The Children’s Society’s continued commitment to help children and families struggling in poverty and facing neglect in the West Midlands.

'By working together with services across the region from within the heart of the poorest areas, we can put an end to children being trapped in the destructive cycle of poverty. Poverty and neglect are not forgone conclusions. Together we can help make them a thing of the past.'

Rob Willoughby, area director of The Children’s Society said: 'By creating a Children and Families Zone in North Solihull we can bring the remarkable success of Harlem to one of the most deprived areas of the country. We want to make sure families can get the skills and support they need to be more independent and help their children thrive.

'We are transforming the way we work. Over the next decade, this zone will target our services at those most in need and involve our partners, including Solihull council, and the whole community to provide continuous support from a child's earliest years through to helping them get a job or into higher education.'

In a survey of the West Midlands, 80 per cent of people supported Children and Families Zones as a way to tackle child poverty and neglect.

Three of the seven urban authorities have more than 30 per cent of children living in poverty. Infant mortality is higher than the national average in six of the seven local authorities, as is readiness for school, while teenage neglect is present across the entire region.

The Children’s Society has been helping and supporting some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in the West Midlands since 1893. Our projects include helping children in poverty, child refugees and asylum seekers and destitute families.


Media enquiries

For more information, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to editors

  • Find out more about the Harlem Children’s Zone
  • In some parts of the West Midlands, over 50% of children live in poverty.
  • In Birmingham, unemployment is over 14%, almost twice the national average.
  • In six of the authorities, infant mortality is higher than the national average.
  • The average rate of teenage pregnancy (15–17-year-olds) is above the national average.
  • The number of looked after children is significantly higher than the national average in all seven of the region’s local authorities.
  • Across the UK, six in 10 children living in poverty are in low-income working families. Over three million children are living in poverty in the UK. 
  • By 2020 – the year by which the government committed to end child poverty – an estimated 800,000 more children will be living in poverty than today according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  • The Children’s Society is supporting the first ever Children’s Commission on Poverty. It is being led by a panel of 16 children and teenagers from across England, ranging in age from 12 to 19 who are leading an 18-month investigation into child poverty in the UK. It provides a crucial platform for children to speak out about what poverty is really like and reveal, through their own eyes, the day-to-day challenges they face and what needs to be done.
  • The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life. Someone who acts on their behalf and can help guide them through the extremely complex system. These children deserve to be kept safe so they can recover from the trauma they have suffered and rebuild their lives.