Every child matters
In 2003 Lord Laming’s report Every Child Matters was presented to Parliament. It was the official response to the tragic death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, seriously neglected by her family. This report had five core desired outcomes: all children should be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and reach their potential, make a positive contribution in life, and experience economic well-being.
Most Christians working with children and young people gladly welcomed the values of this report. They already knew children mattered to God. After all, Jesus had amply demonstrated this.
‘Jesus saw children as role models for adult discipleship.’
He scolded his disciples for obstructing parents bringing children to him. He saw children as role models for adult discipleship. He recognised children’s right to worship him while his enemies wanted to silence them. He raised two children from the dead. He urged his followers to care for the needy, which included children. Rooted in the Christian faith, the values of Every Child Matters remain true today.
The report resulted in many significant initiatives. Yet in the UK 20 years later, child poverty, deprivation and abuse remain rampant. This includes the more recent shocking revelations of child abuse within the church. Children’s education, friendships and mental well-being were badly affected by Covid, made worse by the wider demands on support services. Abuse within the home became more likely. This winter many parents in wealthier countries like ours are desperately anxious about providing food, warmth and paying the bills. It is even worse for parents in countries like Ukraine, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Anyone reading beyond the first two chapters of the Bible however will know that humanity’s broken relationship with God has resulted in our broken and damaged world, a world where children are especially vulnerable. Not every child matters within their family, nor outside of it.
‘Humanity’s broken relationship with God has resulted in our broken world, where children are especially vulnerable.’
Be healthy, stay safe, experience economic well-being
Christ came to bring life and hope into the darkness and to equip people, by his Spirit, to make a difference. We rejoice in the initiatives we encounter. NGOs and charities around the world continue to seek to meet the physical and mental needs of children with food, clothing, medical care and shelter plus protection and rescue for children being trafficked. These include Christian agencies such as Compassion who, using their local church partners, provide nutritious food and clean water for children, hygiene to prevent disease and counselling through trauma. Churches in this country provide free lunches in school holidays, motivated by the love of God.
Enjoy and reach their potential
Recently I saw these words on the wall in a primary school: ‘In the world you can be anything you want to be. Be kind!’ Being kind is an important value but the first sentence is not true for most children. We live in an unfair world. Opportunities and privileges are unequally distributed. Lack of education holds back many children.
But God knows the potential of each child. Psalm 139 reminds us we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. The psalmist says to God, ‘When I was made in the secret place… your eyes saw my unformed body.’ Global initiatives seek to raise standards of education, to widen expectations, providing skills for life and enabling children to discover their God-given gifts and talents.
Christians, embracing the compassion of Christ, are playing their part – such as school pastor mentoring, offering outdoor challenges, providing school uniforms and pencil cases.
‘God knows the potential of each child.’
Make a positive contribution in life
Jesus affirmed the value of childhood. He experienced the joys and sorrows of being a baby, a son, a brother, a refugee, working in his father’s carpentry business. As he studied the scriptures and communicated with his heavenly Father, he must have become aware of his identity and sacrificial contribution in world history. His role was uniquely significant.
Few children become well-known for their positive contribution. Only a few in the Bible are named – Josiah, the boy king, who became a strong God-fearing king; John the Baptist, chosen before his conception to herald the coming Messiah. A few unnamed children played a brief role in God’s story of salvation – Naomi’s grandson, Naaman’s servant-girl, the boy with loaves and fishes, the apostle Paul’s nephew.
Today, a few children hit the headlines with their astounding activism, such as Malala Yousafzai known for publicly speaking out against the prohibition of girls’ education in Pakistan. But there are thousands and thousands of unknown child activists, like the six-year-old pastor’s son in India who fund-raised for the needy children in his area or the nine-year-old boy I know who cleaned cars for a whole day in aid of Tearfund.
‘This generation of children are keen to campaign and make a difference, knowing the dangers of the climate crisis really impact them.’
This generation of children are keen to campaign and make a difference, knowing that the dangers of the climate crisis really impact them. Christians would encourage all children to get involved in environmental projects in God’s world or welcome asylum-seeking children into their class and friendship group – as Jesus did.
The missing ambition
Christians might insert another category into the Every Child Matters agenda: every child matters to God, but unless children themselves hear the stories of Jesus and are invited to respond to God’s love for them, their main source of hope in life remains untapped. Their fulfilment, along with emotional and spiritual wholeness, is incomplete.
The psalmist declared:
‘We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done… so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.’ Psalm 78:4, 6
‘Unless children themselves hear the stories of Jesus and are invited to respond to God’s love for them, their main source of hope in life remains untapped.’
One final thought!
Praise God for Messy Church and all agencies and churches seeking to tell the stories of Jesus. This year, how might we share the Christmas story with children we encounter, so they can celebrate Jesus’ coming to earth as a baby simply because he loved them? Children matter.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.