Editorial : A Time for Thinking

Having been working in or around child care for over forty years now, one of the key lessons we have learnt is how little people learn from the past mistakes of others.

It is quite extraordinary the way that Ministers introduce rafts of new legislation, strategies, policies, methods of work and pilot schemes without first taking a long cool look at what has worked in the past, what failed and why. No doubt it helps give them an image of being dynamic, decisive, capable of sorting out the detritus left by their predecessors, and in due course, suitable for promotion to a more important ministry. One can certainly sympathise with their plight, having to take over complex portfolios at very short notice and appear expert, but such changes often undermine the provision of consistent leadership for the services.

Professionals tend to move on to new ideas, rejecting current practice as inadequate, following fashions which are not always based on proven practice or sound research. Publishers are happy to produce books on new ideas – theories or practical approaches – but ask them to publish a historical analysis of child care policies and practice, and they will tell you how small the market is.

To be clear whether a method of work with children is successful, we should probably wait until the children are themselves parents and see how they bring up their own families. To come to conclusions at the time or shortly after children have experienced child care is dangerous. Useful information can be gathered, but it is the long-term impact on their lives that really matters.

By the time we have such information, the child care scene will have moved on, partly for the reasons given above and partly because the world changes. Today’s children have to cope with text bullying, the dangers of grooming through the internet and excessive sitting at the computer. Yesterday’s child care approaches may not provide solutions to these problems.

But, for all the technological development and all the social changes, human beings have not changed very much since recorded history began. The ancient epics talk of people who have emotions, problems and successes which we can identify with. Children still need care, protection, love, education and so on, just as they did thousands of years ago. The fundamentals do not change, nor do the fundamental problems which child care workers have to address – abuse, insecurity, inconsistent parenting and so on.

In finding ways to help children to grow and develop towards adulthood in safety, achieving their full potential, we need long-term solutions, not political quick fixes or professional whims and fashions. Which is why the current concern to take a long hard look at childhood is so welcome. 

There has been talk about the need for a thorough debate for some years, and the Children’s Society has now established its inquiry. Not only that, but the media have got interested – including the Daily Telegraph. The politicians are latching onto the subject. The Lib Dems have issued a new family policy and Gordon Brown has made children one of his key areas of concern.

Now we need to make sure that this is not a flash in the pan, but that the debate continues until the subject has been thoroughly aired and long-term conclusions reached. We need to make sure that children stay high on the political agenda, and that they get the long-term funding they need for the services they require. It is more important than any other form of investment – even on economic grounds – because it will be the children who create the wealth for the next generation, and for that we need children who grow up to be creative, well-educated, hard-working, concerned and responsible as adults.

It is a time for hard thinking, and the Webmag will be happy to play its part. If you have views about the way we should be bringing up children, send them in.

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