“We work with kids who aren’t very good at sharing and I would like to give all our politicians a mentor so they can learn to share and reminded of what the point of them is,” says Gracia McGrath OBE, the chief executive of Chance UK.
“One of the things that is quite interesting about this election is nobody believes any party can win outright.
“That could be a really good thing - maybe we can move away from the idea that one party is always at another party’s throat. There has to be agreement about things.
“However critical people have been about this coalition it has been good for the parties had to learn to work together. The political parties are only about themselves not the people they are supposed to be serving.”
Chance UK is itself undertaking a new endeavour that will help it assess how well it is delivering positive change for the people it serves.
The Big Lottery Fund has selected Chance UK as one of four ‘Realising Ambition’ projects to receive support to run a randomised controlled trial (RCT) in order to provide a robust evaluation.
It has just begun and it will report in 2017.
“The RCT will look at how our children do against a control group of children who would qualify for our services but don’t get them.
“We are an early intervention organisation, so what is absolutely clear is that nobody is going to fund us unless we can prove we can make a difference.
“Of course we see a little bit of difference when we are working with young people, but the difference that really saves money is years down the line.
“The Early Intervention Foundation recommends that local authorities and government should not commission from organisations unless they have strong evidence of their effectiveness.
“So this RCT is a huge risk for an organisation like Chance UK - as far as we know we are the smallest organisation to undergo an RCT and the first mentoring organisation in the UK to do so.
“This might show that we don’t have the impact that we think we have, but I think it is a risk worth taking.
“If you are spending a million pounds of public money as we are, is the public getting a million pound worth of change in our children? We would say they are getting a lot more.”
McGrath points out that Chance UK is not starting from “zero” – the organisation is 20 years old this year.
“We have at every stage looked for evidence that we make a difference and how we could improve, our whole history is one of evaluation and evidence.”
It may appear that the RCT will attempt to assess something intangible – how does one judge if a young person is better or worse?
McGrath explains that actually it is more tangible than might be imagined.
All children who use Chance UK’s services are initially assessed using the Strengths and Difficulty Questionnaire, a brief child mental health questionnaire for children and adolescents developed by child psychiatrist Robert Goodman.
“The score for an average boy is 8.5 and for a girl it is 7,” says McGrath.
“A child would have to score 16 or more to be eligible for our programmes. Our starting score is about 29 – a significant level of behavioural difficulty. We measure children at the start and end of the programme.
“There are also ‘pro-social’ scores. For example, a child that could not make friends can now make friends – it is more tangible than you might think. Were they excluded from school and are not back in school? Are they now able to share?”
Sharing, the social skill many of our political class need to work on, brings McGrath back to the election.
With the political parties working on their manifestos ahead of election day in May, McGrath has her own agenda for the next administration.
“I would like for nobody to have overall control and then they will have to work together. All the political parties have said that of course they support early intervention in every sphere, working with children and families, but none of them have made a commitment to put money into this.
“We are in a recession because of short-term thinking and we will stay in recession if we continue to do that. Every child that is in difficulty, every parent who is struggling and not getting any support, ends up costing money. It becomes inter-generational and that costs even more.
“In my manifesto they would have to put their money where their mouth is - investing now to save money in the future.”