News Views


We believe in saying sorry if we get something wrong, so we offer apologies to the people of Tristan da Cunha for the error in mentioning them in the September News Views. It was not our intention to give offence. We hope that they get to read this apology.

The mistake was spotted by a reader and put right as quickly as possible; it is one of the advantages of a web magazine that one can expunge errors. Obviously we try to check things, but if we do make mistakes, please let us know.

Social Pedagogy on Trial

The Thomas Coram Research Unit have circulated an email to announce that they are now running the DCSF-funded Social Pedagogy Pilot in children’s residential care programme. TCRU are actively searching for children’s homes in England to take part in the project and social pedagogues (with a qualification from Denmark and Germany (in the first instance)) who would like to participate in the project.

Children’s homes can fall into one of four categories which:

(i) already have social pedagogues working in them;

(ii) would like to recruit social pedagogues from abroad to fill vacancies;

(iii) would like to recruit two social pedagogues to work in practice developmental capacity and are supernumerary, for which a fee towards salary costs will be payable; and

(iv) comparison homes, who are happy to be evaluated alongside the children’s homes in group (i) – (iii).

All pedagogues and children’s homes managers will be offered support throughout the project which will be for 2 years and will be evaluated by a research team.

Here is a web link to further details of the pilot programme.
We are really delighted to know that the project is under way, and look forward to seeing the outcomes.

The Audit Commission and Children’s Trusts

The Audit Commission has produced a report called Are We There Yet? which says that the introduction of Children’s Trusts has not improved child protection, five years after Lord Laming reported on the Victoria Climbie case. It may be that we are getting cynical, but we find that totally unsurprising, for six reasons.

(a) Politicians think that restructuring helps. This is a myth. It does not make people co-operate better or motivate them to be more conscientious. It results in the loss of the experience of people who get pensioned off, costs a lot of money, causes upset for a while and during the process the service users lose out.

(b) The new system is still run by humans, who are still prone to error, and no less liable to be at loggerheads with members of other professions and services than before.

(c) Re-organisation is disruptive and it takes some years before all the fine-tuning is done and the new system is working as it should; even now, it is too soon to make a real evaluation of the new system.

(d) Re-organisation does not create more resources. It does not train more social workers. It does not stop staff turnover. It does not improve recruitment in the most problematic areas.

(e) The complex bureaucratic systems set up to control child protection motivate workers to watch their backs and comply to avoid criticism. They do not engender commitment to meet children’s needs and take risks to battle on children’s behalf. These systems have carried on, unchanged by the introduction of Trusts.

(f) Because of human nature, it is hard to judge degrees of risk in child protection. Because of human nature, a proportion of cases will not go as expected. Because of human nature, workers will always make an irreducible percentage of mistakes. There is, in short, a limit on the potential success of the child protection system. In judging the effectiveness of the system we cannot expect 100%; the question is how far we fall short of the unavoidable percentage of failures.

None of this means that we must not strive at all times to prevent or reduce abuse, but the message could be that we need to focus more on motivating workers, stop messing them about with reorganisations, reduce the bureaucracy and let them have more time to spend with the children.

Children’s Rights in the UK

The UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child has criticised the UK for imprisoning children as young as ten, using physical restraint in detention centres and broadcasting ‘invasive’ reality TV programmes such as Supernanny. It was also concerned about the UK’s record on eradicating child poverty, the use of ASBOs and the provision of health services for adolescents.

It is a mixed bunch of issues. The Government has worked hard to reduce child poverty, even if a lot more remains to be done. It really does deserve criticism, though, on the youth justice issues. We passed legislation back in the 1850s, as a result of Mary Carpenter’s campaigning to get children out of prison. And now in the 2000s we have more than ever locked up in secure units and Young Offender Institutes. It really is a blot on our reputation as a civilised country.

Child Care Pioneers

If you read Robert Shaw’s article on Jonas Hanway or his digest of Mary Carpenter’s book or the reprint of the article by David Wills on Homer Lane, we guarantee that you will be amazed how forward-thinking they were, and how indebted we are to them for the ways in which they helped to change public thinking.

We suspect that all three would all wince at the policies being put forward by the Secretary of State for Justice at the moment. It is not a question of bleeding hearts versus being tough on crime. The question is what works.

Jonas Hanway knew the Royal Navy needed seamen and he encouraged offenders to get into a real job and serve their country rather than go to prison. Mary Carpenter pointed out that prison – even in Victorian times – was a soft option compared with genuine reform. Homer Lane showed how it was necessary to get young people to feel he was “on their side” in order to get them to apply themselves.

What would you do with £2.5 million?

Could you do better than YoungMinds, the children’s leading mental health charity, who have received £2.5 million from the Big Lottery Fund National Grants programme so that 2,700 children and young people can contribute to mental health policy by 2013?

The new funding will expand YoungMinds Very Important Kids (VIK) group, a national panel which provides a voice to 15 young people with mental health problems. Nine new regional officers and VIK members will reach out to 2,700 young people nationally over the course of the project, will offer training in participation to young people and professionals across the regions, and facilitate advocacy for group members needing to access support. The regional officers will also raise awareness of young people’s issues and concerns, will consult with services and make recommendations to promote best practice in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, said: “The group’s work has already resulted in extraordinary change to the Mental Health Act ensuring young people under 18 who need to be admitted to hospital will be treated in an environment which meets their needs. This four year grant will enable us to continue this work and ensure young peoples voices are heard in all areas of mental health policy. We can now support the development of a network of children and young people’s participation in CAMHS across the country.

“Involving young people in service design, in professionals training as well as their own treatment means we can increase the efficacy of our services as well as developing young people’s self esteem and empowerment. If we want to improve children’s mental health services we need to ask young people what it is that will help them. It is no longer good enough for professionals and policy makers to presume they know what young people need.”

We agree. For further information visit

The Children’s Charter

We obviously like alliteration. If you google Children’s Charter, you’ll find pages and pages of references about different charters from South Africa to Scotland and New Zealand to Knowsley, but among the first dozen pages of the 286,000 references there is not a single mention of the first Children’s Charter – the Children and Young Persons Act 1908.

In the history of child care there are a number of significant turning points, and this was one of them.
Young offenders were treated differently as a result of this Act. For a start, the age for capital punishment was raised to 16, but a development with a much wider impact was the introduction of Juvenile Courts.

Foster parents were registered for the first time. Before that there had been unregulated wet nurses (and in the 18th century they had a pretty poor track record in terms of the survival of the children they looked after, as you will see in the article about Jonas Hanway).

Employers were forbidden to employ children in dangerous jobs. Children were no longer allowed to buy cigarettes or alcohol. Parents who maltreated their children were now liable to prosecution.

Perhaps most important of all, local authorities were given powers to develop services for children and there began the tradition of Councils taking responsibility for children in need and acting as corporate parents.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Liberal Government of the day – the year when old age pensions were introduced and when a certain Liberal MP by the name of Winston Churchill was President of the Board of Trade.

Abuse and Punishment

Chris Keates, the General Secretary of NASUWT, stirred up a hornets’ nest by saying that teachers should not be jailed for having sex with pupils who are over the age of consent. It was a step too far, she said, to put them on the Sex Offenders Register when the relationship was consensual. Zoe Hilton of the NSPCC responded that even consenting children should be protected against teachers who abused their position.

It’s one of those tricky questions where the law is inevitably a blunt weapon, measuring relationships in calendar years, when every situation is different, and examples could be wheeled out by both camps to argue their case. Our view is that anyone in a position of power over someone else, whether as a teacher, employer or policeman, should not use their professional position for their personal advantage, whether for sexual favours or other benefits, whatever the age of the subordinate person.

We remember a university lecturer who annually latched onto a vulnerable student in each intake, only to ditch her when the next batch came along. It may not have been illegal, but it was certainly immoral, and the lecturer should have been dismissed. We doubt, though, whether prison is an efficacious remedy for abusive teachers.

Pound a Poem

We don’t normally go for competitions in News Views, but this seemed to be a bit of fun and has the merit of four benefits rolled into one. Children aged 5-11 are asked to write a poem about their favourite fruit or veg, to encourage healthy eating and to send £1 of their pocket money with their entry. Hence the competition is called “Pound a Poem”. (You thought you were going to be paid £1 per poem?)

The prize for the best poem is a holiday for four in Barbados. The winner’s school gets £1,000. Rays of Sunshine gets the money. It’s a charity we have never heard of, but its cause sounds good; it “turns wishes into happy memories for children with serious or life-limiting illnesses in the UK”. If you want to know more, see
We’ve already received one entry. The author said it was cunning enough to win, but he hadn’t got £1 to send it in. We thought he looked too old to submit it :

My favourite veg is turnip,
Because it’s very cheap.
And when I go to Scotland
I love a little neap.
But there’s a question I must ask;
It makes me want to weep.
When they’re so very tasty,
Why are they fed to sheep?

From the Case Files

When I first knew this boy I did not consider him to be totally evil; now, however, …
Nice to see that balanced dispassionate analytical professional assessment is not a thing of the past.

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