Helping every child to reach their potential is one of the most difficult tasks facing society - but it can also prove the most rewarding.

Charity can play a leading role in this and no doubt some of the millions of pounds raised through Red Nose Day will be used to help young people.

But there are also local initiatives that do just as good work.

On March 31, for example, local radio stations Tfm and Magic 1170 hold their annual Make a Child Smile fundraising auction. Chaired by Middlesbrough FC chairman Steve Gibson, the charity helps local sick and underprivileged children.

Meanwhile, several children from Chernobyl are currently visiting the area. Although it is 18 years since the nuclear disaster, babies are still being born with severe defects and hundreds of thousands suffer from cancers due to contamination of the soil and water.

The Chernobyl Children Life Line Charity arranges "health breaks" for these youngsters to stay with host families on Teesside and elsewhere.

It costs just £350 to bring a child over here and many local organisations have chipped in to offer a range of great days out. Not only does this give them a great holiday, but just a month of living in an uncontaminated area can add two years to their life expectancy.

Of course, helping children to achieve their potential is not simply a matter for charities. It is a key aspect of government, but the extent to which the state interferes into the lives of the public is always a difficult balancing act.

If a child is at risk from physical, mental or sexual abuse, local authorities do a pretty good job of stepping in. Very rarely they get it wrong: they act too slowly and when that happens it can lead to tragic consequences for the child and serious questions being asked.

But there are other areas in which we must be as vigilant if we are to truly give every child an equal start in life.

We need to consider how we help children whose parents bring them up to believe crime is a way of life. I am aware of a dreadful case in which a home had been turned into a drugs den and relatives taught a child to open the grille on the door, take cash and hand over the drugs.

Now, I am not suggesting that anyone with a criminal record should not be allowed children but I do question whether those who accustom their children to such a way of life are fit to be parents.

If parents will not help their children achieve their potential then the local authority must take on the responsibility and perhaps such youngsters would be better off in care.

Many also feel the way some parents feed their children is criminal.

A recent report confirmed that a quarter of the people in this area are dangerously overweight and life threatening obesity is on the increase amongst children.

If education does not work then more punitive action may be required.

If parents can face court for failing to ensure their children attend school, perhaps similar sanctions should be used against those who continue to feed their children a constant diet of junk food.

Published: 11/03/2005