News Views

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including the recession, generations, social workers’ attitudes to residential child care, working methods, Catholic adoption societies, bouncers and voluntary work

The Outcome of the Recession

Forty-five years ago a Pakistani friend predicted that the United Kingdom was going to be the first developed country to relapse into being a third world country. He was looking at the steady collapse of manufacturing industries, the British attitude to work, the destructive protectionism of trades unions at that time, and so on.

He was wrong in his prediction, but the recession shows how vulnerable the economy is. Since my friend uttered his warning, the manufacturing industries have diminished still further, the pits have been shut, our reliance on the financial services of the City has increased, more people are in service industries, and there has been a massive change in technology.

In which direction should Britain go next? How should we train our workforce? What sort of education do our children need? We don’t usually stray into economics in the Webmag, but this is certainly an issue which will affect today’s children throughout the rest of their lives.

If the country is to be economically successful, children need to be as well educated as possible, as future developments will rely on creativity and ideas, as people will need to take initiatives and be self-starters. The days of mass workforces in mills, shipyards and factories are well over. We shall also need a workforce where people want to work, and work as efficiently as possible, not seeing it as a necessary chore in order to get a wage.

Chris Durkin this month has written about the impact of the recession on individuals, and suggested that education may offer the spark which gets individuals to see unemployment as a positive chance to move into a new field and to train for it. One of the things which intrigues us is how we replicate change for an odd individual or two until it becomes a mass movement. In future the workforce is likely to need training and retraining throughout their working lives.

How, then, do we change one person’s spark into a nationwide interest in education, leading to better jobs, positive attitudes to work? The recession might prompt something. If not, the UK might head gradually towards being a third world country and the friend’s prognostication may still come true. He may be sixty years out in his timing, but Nostradamus is still being quoted, and it’s 454 years since he first published Les Propheties.

Did You See….. (1)

….. BBC Breakfast television on 20 04 09, and Barry Shearman MP explaining the newly-published Select Committee report? They had invited an independent social worker to comment as well. She said she thought that all children’s homes should be closed. We think that she and any of her colleagues who think the same way are one of the reasons why residential care in this country is not as good as it should be. It is a complex picture, but one factor is that a proportion of field social workers over the last thirty years has consistently rubbished residential child care, and they have contributed to a partly-self-fulfilled prophecy.

When they are taught on their training courses that residential child care is no good, they understandably divert children who need residential care until serious damage has been done. When they are taught of the dangers of institutionalisation, they try to discharge children from homes where they are settled. When they are told how unprofessional residential child care staff are, it puts good people off working in the setting. It’s twenty years since the Wagner report was published, but it’s still true that for some children and young people, residential care is a positive choice, indeed the best choice.


The average age for a woman to have her first baby was said to be just under 24 in 1971, but by 2007 it was 27.5. In 2007 the average age of mothers at birth was 30.5. Clearly, despite all the concern about teenage pregnancies, the population as a whole is having children at a later age. We used to reckon that generations were about 25 years apart, or four per century. The way things are going we are heading for three per century.

There is, however, a lot of variation. We recall our surprise during our twenties when we first met a grandmother who was 32 years old. (And she didn’t even look that old.) We also recall a person younger than us whose grandfather was born in the reign of William IV. If you work it out, you will realise that the men in that family remained sprightly long after they had started to draw their pensions.

Does any of this matter? Obviously, if child-bearing is left too late, there may be various complications, but people are remaining fit longer than in the past, and a few years’ slippage may not matter at all. The figures may, however, be another indicator of a growing rift in society, in this case between the educated, included, wealthy, late-child-bearers and the under-educated, excluded, poor, teenage mothers.

Did You See….. (2)

….. the piece in the Guardian on 11 April 2009 comparing the approaches taken by Ray Lewis and Camila Batmanghelidjh towards the children and young people they worked with? Ray was advocating zero tolerance of misdoings, physical exercise, discipline and conformity. Camila was arguing for tolerance, love and warmth. Their views were so polarised that it was almost a caricature, except that both are serious, influential and well regarded.

We recall some research undertaken about thirty years ago, which showed that all social work methods were equally successful, and not a lot better than the spontaneous remission of the clients’ problems. However, the key finding was that social workers who really believed in their own working methods conveyed their confidence to their clients, who had higher than average levels of success.

So maybe Ray and Camila are both winners.

Forced to Conform?

The Catholic Children’s Society in Westminster and two other Catholic adoption agencies are appealing to a tribunal under charity law about the Government’s insistence that they arrange adoptions for gay couples as well as for the heterosexual couples whom they have served to date.

The legal arguments are no doubt very complex; we have a simple gut reaction. We think that government should be about enabling citizens to do what they want (as long as it does not harm others) rather than stopping them. If Catholic agencies only want to arrange adoptions for heterosexual couples, they should be allowed to do so. If people want to set up a specialist adoption agency for gay couples, they should be allowed to do so.

The outcome of the Government’s line of argument is that a number of Catholic agencies may pull out of the service, while others will have been forced to cut their links with the Catholic Church and, presumably, act against their religious inclinations. This sort of action smacks of the Thought Police, and the Government should be ashamed of itself.


It’s not 1 April nor is it the August silly season when editors are looking for stories. So we were surprised to see this one. The NUT conference managed to come up with the story that bouncers were being appointed to keep control in schools. The staffing agencies were said to be looking for former police, prison officers, security staff etc. and the complaint at conference was that they were not properly qualified. We would have thought that such people are much better trained as bouncers than teachers are. What we don’t understand is why they need bouncers in the first place. Why don’t the schools just appoint prefects? It’s much cheaper, and it gives young people a chance to learn about people management and leadership.

Voluntary Service

Apparently the Prime Minister wants every young person to do fifty hours of voluntary work in the community. This smacks to us of the army sergeant asking for three volunteers, “You, you and you, come here!” Except that in Gordon’s case, the beckoning finger is to everyone.

We like the idea of everyone contributing to the community, but hope that there will be some genuinely voluntary aspect in what young people choose to do. Otherwise their work may be grudging, of poor quality and resented, rather than a gift of their time and skills to fellow citizens, of which they can be proud.

From the Case Files

The fosterparents and the parents did not see eye to eye because of the trained relations between them.

All the serried ranks of aunts and uncles doing their parade ground manoeuvres?

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.