Men in Child Care
Let’s start with a few political comments for a change.
Nick Clegg has made a speech at the Daycare Trust in which he said, “There is still a huge stigma attached to men wanting to work in childcare. Even just for men who want to take a more hands-on role in providing care for their own children. … For men wanting to actually work in the field, the social disapproval, even hostility, that they often feel is a huge deterrent. The Daycare Trust’s own research shows that one in four men would consider working in childcare. Sadly some worry that their motives would be viewed with suspicion. … Children need a mixture of role models. And for the one million lone parent families in this country, a male presence in the childcare environment can be hugely positive.”
We agree and we are delighted that Nick Clegg has taken this stand, but we have to recognise that the period in which men were encouraged to work in residential child care co-incided with the period when there was an undue volume of instances of abuse. We do want men in child care, but we also want children to be safe.
Confidentiality or Transparency?
Having been given the opportunity to read the Serious Case Review about Baby P, Liberal Democrat Shadow Children, Schools and Families Secretary, David Laws said, “Given the huge public concern about this tragic case, I believe that the full review should now be published. This review is already anonymised and the vast majority of it could be published without any threat to personal privacy. The limited sections that are sensitive could be withheld.” He then went on to castigate Ed Balls for refusing.
The Lib Dems clearly think that such confidential reports should be open. There are also moves to open up family courts to press scrutiny. There are arguments for such moves – transparency and honesty, the opportunity to know what was recommended and what was eventually actioned.
In the recent cases about children best known to the public (Shannon Matthews, and Baby P), a massive amount of detail about the children and the families is splashed across the pages of the papers. Indeed it is hard to imagine that there is much left to tell which is not already in the public domain. It also has to be acknowledged that people appear often to be prepared to talk more openly about themselves than in the past. So, does it matter if we let it all the dirty washing hang out for everyone to see?
If the trend is towards greater openness, it raises the serious question of the erosion of confidentiality. Professionals are still expected to keep information about clients confidential, and there is a hue and cry when personal records are found on a tip or left on a bus. Either we need to be tighter about keeping matters private, as Mr Justice Eady would presumably argue, or we need to be generally more open. We cannot have it both ways. If the LibDems are arguing for greater openness, are they also arguing for doing away with confidentiality?
We would like to pay our respects to Andrew Rowe, who was a Conservative Member of Parliament for 18 years. In terms of climbing the ladder of power, his career only reached becoming a Parliamentary Private Secretary for two years, but he championed children – a thoroughly nice man, principled and hard-working. It is good that Parliament has a place for people such as Andrew, especially in view of the low esteem the public has for politicians as a species. He also served on the Board of Save the Children. Google the Guardian obituary for fuller details of Andrew’s career.
The NCERCC Annual Conference is now well established as the top event of the year in the residential services calendar in England. This year it was held in Manchester on 5 November. One might think that the day would have been memorable because of Bonfire Night, but it was also the day after the announcement that Barack Obama had been elected as the 44th President of the United States. Professional conferences in England are usually apolitical, but on this occasion one speaker after another mentioned the event with approval. Ian Milligan from SIRCC probably summed the feeling up best when he spoke about the parallel between the hope which Barack brought for a brighter future for the United States and the world, and the real need for work with children in care to be suffused with hope for better things to come.
The NSPCC have been holding Anti-Bullying Week. Bullying is the biggest single reason for children to contact ChildLine. Fifty-three per cent call about bullying, and of them there are nearly twice as many girls as boys, with 12-15 year-olds being the main group. Yet only one in ten of these callers have told their parents about the bullying.The NSPCC has released a list of twelve steps to help parents tackle bullying and protect their children at school. Among the steps, the parenting website, Your Family, (www.yourfamily.org.uk), urges parents who suspect their child is being bullied, to try to discuss these issues with their child, but not to pressurise their child into talking. Your Family also recommends that parents try to remain calm, and even if they are feeling angry and upset, not to go straight to the child’s school demanding to see the head teacher, or to talk to the bully or the bully’s parents. Children are often afraid of revenge from the bully, and the bullying could well get worse if a parent reacts like this.
The helpline number is 0800 1111.
The NSPCC has also been expressing alarm at the increase in Court fees from £150 to £4000. The Government’s idea is presumably that the fees should cover the cost of running the Courts. The concern in child care circles is that local authorities may try to save funds by reducing the number of children coming into care.This potential problem has been reviewed and apparently there is no real problem. After all, a child does not have to be long in care for the costs to dwarf the new Court fees. On the other hand, why can’t Courts – like the big national museums – simply provide a free service, paid for out of taxes? Must every service charge and pay for itself?
Under the heading The Shame of Britain’s Intolerance of Children Barnardo’s have put out a Press Release which we have reproduced in full because of the graphic way it makes its point. More than half of the population (54%) believe that children in Britain are beginning to behave like animals. And there are lots more figures making the same sort of point.
The survey came in for a lot of stick from commentators who criticised the wording of the questions and argued that it was unhelpful. We applaud Martin Narey and Barnardo’s for making the public face up to the issue, as the media in particular to switch from sentimentalising little children to demonising young people. But what is their aim? Throughout history, adolescents have been seen as threatening and challenging, because that is what a substantial percentage of them are like as they try things on in establishing their adult identities. What is more, it is the threatening ones who do frighten people. This tension is part of human life and it won’t go away. All that we can hope for is a slight shift in the pendulum of public opinion. To hope that the media will reform is crying for the moon.
Actually it’s more than tolerance; it’s a positive move. While Barnardo’s are highlighting the demonisation of young people, the Methodist Church is doing something about bridging the gap between them and adults. It is appointing thirty-two young people into part-time jobs as District Youth Enablers, with a full-time co-ordinator called Youth President. It is part of a £4million Youth Participation Strategy aimed at involving young people in the Church by giving them a real say.
Which Way should Baby Face?
The National Literacy Trust has run a campaign called Talk to Your Baby. From as young as six months, babies are able to respond to the sound of parents’ voices by turning to look, smiling and vocalising. It is therefore very important that baby is carried in a position that enables him/her to comfortably see the parent so that s/he will make attempts to communicate.
John Lewis report that in consequence sales of parent-facing push-chairs have gone up by 28%. While we are pleased for all concerned about these sales, we are rather surprised. Parents knew about the need for parent-facing push-chairs forty years ago. Why are they not universal by now? Is there some hidden advantage in forward-facing push-chairs? Is it that parents think that babies like to see where they are going? And if they do look forwards, aren’t they terrified when their parents push them out into the traffic at exhaust height to encourage it to stop so that they can cross the road a good yard behind baby?
Reading to Children
A survey undertaken for the Children’s Society found that UK teachers thought that reading at home can directly impact on performance in the classroom, citing higher reading ability (68 per cent) and increased vocabulary (66 per cent) as the most noticeable differences in children who are read to at home. An overwhelming 94 per cent of teachers said they could clearly identify between a child who reads at home with their parents and one who doesn’t. Teachers said that they also detected differences in concentration, vocabulary and confidence levels among children who read at home. The survey revealed that 70 per cent of teachers believed that for many children reading had become functional rather than enjoyable, with some only reading what their teachers set at school. More than eight out of ten teachers (84 per cent) also said that they believed children wanted their parents to spend more time reading with them.It seems that these findings were what teachers thought and had not been checked out against children’s attainments, but they make sense. On the other hand, there are more good children’s books out now than ever before, and they do sell. There are plenty of children who get thoroughly absorbed in the latest Harry Potter or whatever. Computer games may gobble up a lot of children’s time, but many children do a lot of reading too.
You are showing your age if you think these initials refer to the National Coal Board. The National Children’s Bureau does not want to be called “the Bureau” any longer, but just NCB, which means we have to waste our time explaining what NCB stands for. It has also got rid of the four children’s faces as its logo, and it has a new one made up of three not-quite-concentric circles. We are sure that the off-centre bit must have deep significance, and that it is not just that the designer couldn’t draw properly.
You may have gathered that we are a tad sceptical about rebranding. We are not sceptical, however, about the work of the NCB. It is still doing a brilliant job. In round terms, its turnover has increased from £13 million last year to £20 million this year, largely because it is overseeing the work of Play England.
The NCB has a history of triggering new ideas, setting up new fora for discussion of neglected issues, establishing organisations and then floating them off to become independent, while maintaining friendly ongoing links. This year, for example, it has done a lot of work with the Anti-Bullying Alliance with its 50+ members and End Child Poverty has become independent.
At the Annual General Meeting, there was a farewell event for Harry Marsh, who had held the post of Vice Chair for many years and had earned his many plaudits, and a welcome to Jane Held, who took over the role of supporting Gillian Pugh, the Chair. There are plans to modify the NCB’s governance systems, which met with supportive acceptance from the membership.
Paul Ennals, the Chief Executive, noted that “Young people’s voices are getting louder” – not a quotation from a Daily Mail leader but a reflection on the fact that the views of children and young people are being taken properly into account now, for example in schools. When Ed Balls had attended the NCB summer reception, he had been approached by Young NCB who requested – and got – a meeting with him, at which they were able to put over to him their concerns on matters such as transport.
Paul’s view of the current scene was balanced and generally upbeat, for example in wanting to ensure that the lessons from the Baby P case were positive and strengthen children’s social work, and do not represent knee-jerk reactions, as “Bad cases make bad policy”.
These few paragraphs cannot do justice to the hundreds of projects in which the NCB is engaged, and any person who sees him or her self as a child care professional should join NCB as an individual member to get the extraordinarily wide range of information which the Bureau produces (020 7843 6080).
Philip Pullman, the author, has warned that the closure of the school library at Meadows Community School in Chesterfield, Derbyshire will mean the school will become a “byword for philistinism and ignorance”. Technology does not yet mean that books are redundant, and they are complementary to the use of computers and mobile phones. It is not only Derbyshire County Council which needs this message. Leading children’s charities are also closing down their libraries. It is to the credit of the NCB that they have a beautiful new library, another reason for joining the Bureau.
A Lesson from History
Back in 1857 Rev Sidney Turner, the first Chief Inspector of Reformatories – indeed, the only Inspector when he started – used to travel from Reformatory to Reformatory in his carriage making unannounced visits in good Ofsted style. Unfortunately for him – and fortunately for the Reformatories – it was the start of the modern age and the telegraph had been invented. The next Reformatory along the route was informed, the boys and girls were given their buckets and besoms, and by the time he got there, the Reformatory was immaculate and ready for inspection.He must have had a suspicion that there was some forewarning going on, as he had the same menu wherever he went. The Reformatory heads used to club together to buy a joint of beef and this would travel along with the Chief Inspector, gradually diminishing in size.
With all this forewarning, were the visits pointless? Certainly not. They meant that Rev Turner was able to demand high standards of the heads at least during his visits. The heads then were fully aware of what was expected of them. They not only achieved those standards during visits, but also knew that the standards would be applied if there were a scandal, if there were complaints or if there were a genuinely surprise visit. And think what things might have been like with no inspections at all.
While talking about lessons from history, Phil Carradice’s article last month on the start of the Reformatory system reminded us of a little-known fact. A number of the Reformatories were sited in old wooden battleships, so that the boys could learn sea-faring. The good news was that their absconding rates were much lower than those of their land-based counterparts. The bad news was that the death-rate for the boys was much higher, at 2% per annum. We do not know if the two were connected.
Some years ago, at his retirement party, Geoff Lake, the Principal of Eastmoor School for young offenders, told the story of the time in the late nineteenth century when the School suffered a serious fire. The School is sited on the outskirts of Leeds, a long way from the fire station. One of the boys had the presence of mind to go with all speed to call the brigade, and on his way he saw an unattended brewers’ dray, which he hi-jacked to accelerate his journey. He duly called the brigade, who dashed out to Eastmoor with bells ringing, only to find the block in question gutted and burnt to the ground by the time they got there. They felt that the boy should be praised for the initiative he had shown in alerting the brigade. Unfortunately, having done so, the boy realised what the contents of the cart were, and decided to sample them. When they eventually found him and the dray, he was out to the world, and so he ended up being both rewarded and punished on the same day.
Nothing to do with Child Care
In view of the long article last month about Homer Lane, we should perhaps make it clear that – as far as we know – he was not related to the Editor of the Webmag. Nor is the Editor related to Jane Lane, one of our contributors, though he is to Kathleen Lane. While it’s not a very common name, it’s certainly not rare, and there are fifty-seven Lanes listed on the First World War monument at Thiepval whose graves are unknown.
From the Correspondence
Please ensure that your hosehold insurance is up to date. In case you accidentally spray a litigious visitor?