News Views


A theme which is touched in three items this month is the role which fathers play in bringing up children. In the Key Text article on John Bowlby’s influential work, Child Care and the Growth of Love, he was said to have seen mothers as being central to children’s upbringing, with fathers and the extended family as rather peripheral. In the Key Text on Clarke & Clarke, there is no specific mention of fathers, but the pivotal role of mothers was down-played somewhat and the happiness of the home was seen as more significant.

Research in the 1970s showed that broken homes were linked with young offenders: 41% were living with one parent, as against 12% in the general population, and the missing parent was usually the father. Young offenders were nearly five times as likely to have a missing father as boys in the general population.

Bowlby was focusing on the bonding between children in early childhood with their mothers, and it may be that fathers play a bigger role as children get older. What do we do about it? On the basis that children of married couples do better, the Conservatives have suggested some tax advantages for married couples, and have been attacked for being discriminatory and for social engineering. The Clarke & Clarke Key Text does, in any case, suggest that it is not marriage as such but the happiness of the marital relationship which makes a difference.

One cannot engineer happiness. It is down to the individuals involved. Which brings us on to the book review about father’s absence (Daddy’s Going Away). Fathers have to be absent for varying lengths of time in a lot of households. How should fathers help their children come to terms with their absence, so that the children do not suffer? Clearly the happiness of the marriage or partnership is a key factor, but addressing the problem directly, as this little book does, is probably also important.

Finally, Valerie Jackson is encouraging readers to support a charity which helps children come to terms with bereavement.

Residential Care Re-appraised?

A report by Bennet and Fishburn has reached the conclusion that foster care failures mean that residential care might be needed by more children. In response, Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardo’s has suggested that 10% of children currently fostered should be in loving, small-scale, high-quality residential care units.

Barnardo’s got their reputation in the nineteenth century by running children’s homes, and then in the 1970s and 1980s they pulled out, to open up other sorts of services. We understand their wish to be at the cutting edge, to experiment with new services and to get away from too narrow a label. We also appreciate that the system of funding at the time left their homes vulnerable to being used by local authorities as ‘overspill’ units, and thus to variable occupancy and high costs.

Nonetheless, real damage was done to the services available to children when the voluntary sector pulled out. The quality of residential child care offered by Barnardo’s and other large voluntary bodies was good; their staff had the right values and were well-trained. Simply because the provision of residential care was the continuation of a traditional service did not seem to us at the time good grounds for closing successful children’s homes and schools.

The gap was filled in due course by the private sector, but we hope that Barnardo’s will respond to this report by becoming a major player in this field once more.

Pats and Kicks

So Sharon Shoesmith has lost her battle. Ed Balls is declared to have intervened justifiably. Even if it’s justified, it’s another kick up the backside for a workforce that already feels beleaguered.

We may have mentioned this before; if so, we’ll underline it. There was some research which showed that for children to pay attention to criticism they needed to be praised four times for every criticism. Otherwise they put up defensive barriers and ignored it.

We don’t think that adults are much different from children in this respect. There are some who have an inner drive that will keep them going in the face of disapproval, but most people really like to be told they are doing a good job. It makes them feel good and it motivates them.

As a caricature, Young Mr Grace used to be wheeled in to say, “You are all doing very well” in Are You Being Served?. People working in services for children, whether as managers, social workers or child care workers, need praise which is genuine and task-related, not just generalised platitudes.

So can the next Secretary of State please dish out some real plaudits to the people handling the front-line problems? Can Ofsted inspectors please give real encouragement to people working with children and not just a clobbering to those who are failing? Can the media please offer some good news stories, to give their readerships some faith in the system? Four real pats on the back please for every kick up the backside, and the quality of service will improve.

Does the Webmag have Readers in the Vatican?

Some years ago we suggested in this column that the Roman Catholic Church needed to follow its own doctrine and repent if it were to be forgiven for the abuse it has visited on thousands of children. The mechanism of confession, contrition, penitence, making amends and absolution is a powerful one, and used properly it has helped many people leave behind them the burdens of their misdeeds and start afresh.

The Pope has now suggested that the Church needs to repent of its failings. Let us hope that it is heart-felt, and not just the right thing to say, now that they have been caught out – abusing and concealing abuse. If it is heart-felt, that is the basis for change. Religions need to be respected if they are to fulfil their role in society, and as things stand, the Roman Catholic Church has to earn that respect all over again.


We are not endorsing this product as we have not tried it, but it looks interesting and could be used in any setting where clothes might get confused or purloined. The email we received said,

“Attach-a-Tag is a revolutionary applicator which attaches name tags to children’s clothes in seconds. It is simply a matter of push, twist and finish. The reusable name tags from Attach-a-Tag are laser etched to ensure they are clear and will not fade in the wash. Attach-a-Tag is so easy to use children could even name tag their own belongings. For more information visit”

We remember name tapes, which took hours to sew on. We also had a system of cotton threads so that each child knew their combination of colours unobtrusively sewn into collars etc. (a primitive form of bar-codes?). This system sounds a lot easier to use, and could be helpful in schools, hospitals and residential care homes. If you’ve tried it, tell us what you think.


In his In Residence column this month, Keith White reminds us of the way that children ask questions. Perhaps the classic example of penetrating embarrassing questions was in the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, where it took a small boy to ask the question which shattered the illusion to which the adults clung.

A fascinating – and sometimes tiresome – stage in children’s thinking is when they realise the power of the question “Why?” They have come to understand that there is purpose behind actions and decisions that cuts through layers of thinking like rock strata, reaching deeper and deeper levels of motivation until one reaches the most fundamental bedrock of beliefs.

We had a neighbour whose son had just twigged onto “Why?”

We were gardening.

“What are you doing?”

“Planting flowers”.


“Because I like flowers”.


“Because they are beautiful”.


This gets trickier. One could get into the circular argument,

“Because I think so.”


“Because I think so”.

Which is the end of it really. “I am what I am”, as Popeye said, or “I thinks what I thinks,” as he might have said.

Alternatively, you go a stage deeper,

“Because as humans we are geared to respond to beautiful things”.

The neighbour’s son might have been a bit foxed by this, but he would still have asked, “Why?”.

I could then say, “Because, as we have evolved we have come to value some things as good for us, and some as bad, and we like the lovely colours of fruit, for example”.

I’m on dodgy ground here, because we don’t eat flowers and spuds are often dirty. To be truthful I don’t really know why I like flowers.

Or one can go theological, “Because God made a beautiful world, full of wonderful things, for which we should be thankful and appreciative”.


“Because thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength”.


We are now down to the fundamentals of our experience of life. It only takes half a dozen “Why?s” to get there.

From the Case Files

The children were weary of strangers…

Not another social worker? How boring…

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