A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including the Government’s new Children’s Plan, Dolly Parton in Rotherham, parents in prison, social exclusion, justice, Good Enough Caring, early education in New Zealand, grading in Scotland, grading in England, IASSW in South Africa and social pedagogy in Slovenia
Happy New Year! We hope that 2008 is a good year for children and young people, for our readers, – and for everybody else as well.
Not only is it now 2008, but the Webmag is 8 years old as well, as our first issue came out on 1 January 2000. So Happy Birthday to us!
The big news of the month has to be the Government’s Children’s Plan, a blueprint for shaping policies for children and young people over the next ten years, which was announced in Parliament this week by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls. Its strapline is Building brighter futures and it is illustrated with a multi-coloured scene which looks like the building of St Pancras – very topical.
It aims to make this country the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up in and it contains a wide range of measures, some of them announced in advance of the Plan, intended to provide a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of children and young people, based on Every Child Matters.
Measures include a ‘restorative justice’ approach to young offenders, so that first time offenders can try to explain their actions and apologise to their victims instead of appearing in court. There will be more money for families with disabled children, a review of the links between alcohol advertising and under-age drinking, and an extension of free nursery care for two-year-olds, together with a lot more educational measures.
It is good to have an enthusiastic Secretary of State who wants to push things along, – and who has access to the Prime Minister.
Dolly Parton in Rotherham
It sounds pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? But it’s true; Dolly Parton went to Rotherham to launch her Imagination Library programme in the United Kingdom. Founded by Parton in 1996 as a way to inspire children in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee, the Imagination Library provides a new, age appropriate book each month from birth until age five to registered children in participating communities. A local sponsor in each community funds the cost of the books and mailing while Parton’s Foundation covers the overhead, selects the books, and negotiates the cost. She has created the Dollywood Foundation of the United Kingdom to manage the efforts in the UK. Currently, 15,000 children are eligible in Rotherham, and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council are sponsoring the venture. Good for them, good for Dolly – and good for the children.
Parents in Prison
A consortium of charities (Action for Prisoners’ Families, CLINKS, the Prison Advice and Care Trust and the Prison Reform Trust) has been considering the problem of children whose parents are in prison, and they have created a joint Agenda for Action in Parliament. Their estimate is that this year 160,000 children will be affected and that 7% of all children are involved.
This is appalling in a number of ways. Obviously, children need their parents. Obviously – in our view – too many people are being sent to prison. Also obviously, there are too many parents who ought to be earning legitimate salaries to look after their children and setting them a better example.
Chris Durkin’s piece this month on the Sutton Trust report triggers a lot of questions. He quotes the Government definition of social exclusion, which looks quite reasonable, and is certainly a good starting point for action. If people suffer and have diminished life-long opportunities simply by accident of birth, it is clearly unjust, and action should be taken to remedy the situation, in particular for children, to let them escape these limitations and have the chance to succeed.
But is it as simple as that? Is it poverty, i.e. lack of cash, that causes the problems? For some, maybe. We heard of some research in Canada where people were given cash rather than social work support, and over half of the clients never came back; the remainder later needed further support. But some who win millions on the lottery blow it and remain poor.
Is it education? There are certainly many people who have built up professional careers and fortunes as a result of education opening doors for them. But it can also split families if the educated member(s) of a family become wealthier, move into new social circles and take on new ranges of interests as a result, while the others remain as before.
Is it language? This is not just a question of accents, though some accents do risk pigeon-holing speakers – whether opening doors or excluding people. The use of more complex language from an early age encourages certain ways of thinking. Questioning things, understanding causation and consequences, or considering hypotheses and possibilities may help children have broader horizons, aim to achieve more, and think more lucidly. By the age of four, children in affluent families will have heard 44 million utterances, as against 12 million in a poor family, according to a recent Cambridge research project.
Is it motivation? Here we are treading on non-PC territory, but is it not possible that some people actually prefer to avoid the stress of competition, even if the rewards are lower, and are happy with comparative poverty if the alternative is the rat race? Certainly social workers have clients who, even when helped to get their houses clean and tidy, seem to prefer to let their households be dirty, scruffy and smelly. If so, are they choosing to be excluded?
And then there is the question, excluded from what? Is a hermit, who chooses solitude, excluded? Is an old person who likes their own company excluded? Is a family with poor physical home standards necessarily unhappy and friendless? (Think of the Bethnal Green study.) Is there the implication that wealthier people are socially included, however miserable they are? Indeed, do we know, in any depth, what sort of lives people actually want to live?
The statue of Justice shows her holding a pair of scales, and the outcome of court cases has to be clear – guilty or not guilty, with guilt only being established beyond reasonable doubt. Deciding is difficult when professional evidence is contradictory. This was the case when Keran Henderson, a Registered Childminder, was found guilty of the manslaughter of Maeve Sheppard by shaking her, and was sentenced to three years in prison.
If she did not do it, she and her family will have been through the trauma of the trial, separation, unemployability and the loss of her reputation – personal and professional – and all because of an expert interpretation of the injuries suffered by Maeve. On the other hand, if she is cleared on appeal and she did do it, where is the justice for Maeve’s parents, who have suffered the loss of their daughter?
Good Enough Caring
Charles Sharpe has sent us the following email about the online journal goodenoughcaring :
The second edition of the goodenoughcaring Journal has been published. Punch goodenoughcaring.com into your Google search, and when you get to the site – click on Journal. The goodenoughcaring Journal is an online publication dedicated to those who are interested in any way in the culture, experience, care, nurturing, upbringing, education and health of all children and young people.
The authors are all interested in life and about how infants grow to be children who in turn become adults. They are also interested in how parents and other adults help children and young people grow up. In this new edition we have articles by Jane Kenny, Ariola Vishnja, Heather Vincent and Nancy Mohindra. We have two poems by Jan Noble and a short story by Chloe Smith.
We are sure you will gain from reading the journal, and please give your comments because it is important that these authors are heard and encouraged. We would be grateful if you would mention the Journal to others who might gain something from it. Remember too, our invitation to you to write something however short or long for the Journal. The third edition will be published online in May/June 2008. Ariola Vishnja will be joining the editorial group for the next edition.
The first three editions will be published in a combined printed edition in the Autumn of 2008. The Journal is not a commercial venture.
The Shape of Things to Come
Christmas letters bring interesting insights : here are two from New Zealand.
The first was a charming picture of a five-year-old in a gown and mortar board at his graduation ceremony from kindergarten.
The second was a report of a “student-led conference” in which a child at the end of her first term in primary school showed her mother the work she had done that term. None of that old-fashioned stuff about teachers writing the dreaded end-of-term reports about what they think of the child’s achievements.
What next? Self-assessed doctorates at playgroup?
Grading is Coming
We are told by the Care Commission in Scotland that every children’s care service in the country is to be clearly rated under a new grading system being introduced by Scotland’s national care regulator. Nurseries, childminders and residential homes for children will be among those given regular at-a-glance report cards by the Care Commission from April 2008.
The move is designed to make it easier for parents and guardians to check the quality and performance of a children’s care service and make a better informed choice about whether to use it – or not. The new system will involve awarding each service a mark in four separate areas – care and support; environment; staffing; and management/leadership. Each mark will be on a scale of 1-6, with six being excellent.
Each score will be backed up by a more detailed report, giving further background information on how and why the grade was agreed. The first batch of reports will be published on 1 July 2008 to allow for a transitional period but grading inspections will be carried out from April 2008.
To achieve top grades in the individual areas, care services must be able to show that they have involved and consulted children and their parents or guardians. It will not be possible to achieve good grades if people using the service have not been involved.
The grading system means that the Care Commission can target the services where improvement is required more effectively and devote more resources in this direction. They claim that top-performing services will be rewarded with higher grades whereas there will be no hiding place for poorer performing services.
Problems with Grading
Meanwhile in England Ofsted’s grading system came in for some sharp criticism at the NCMA Annual Meeting in Torbay. It was alleged that some Inspectors refused to award Excellent to Childminders as a matter of principle; if true, this is appalling. Other examples of unfairness were given by NCMA members, where very small infringements were used to reduce overall grading, or where averaging created a wrong impression. There was a keen sense of injustice.
The problem which Ofsted has had to face, and which the Care Commission will face in Scotland, is that regulators start with high hopes of setting up a system which is both fair and simple, but in practice they get embroiled in complexities, and there is the risk that they respond by making their systems more detailed and more bureaucratic, so that inspection becomes the application of a complex rule book and loses the human supportive touch whereby Inspectors can help the people providing the services.
The International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) is holding its 34th Biannual Congress at the International Convention Centre in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa on the theme Transcending Global-Local Divides – Challenges for Social Work Education and Practice from 20 – 24 July 2008. They are now calling for papers. So if you fancy a trip to South Africa, contact them on the Congress website www.iassw2008.co.za).
Social Pedagogy in Slovenia
We received the following email from our Slovenian colleagues. It’s a beautiful country and their standards of professional training and practice are high, so if you want to learn about social pedagogy, why not spend a few autumn days in Rogla?
The Slovenian Association for Social Pedagogy organises the 4th Congress of Social Pedagogy, taking place in Rogla from October 16th – 18th, 2008 on the following topic: The profession of social pedagogy: the present-day challenges.
The organisers are confident that this Congress will offer yet another opportunity to share the reflections of professional development and the achievements of practice as well as to address the challenges that the field of social pedagogical work is facing in Slovenia, in our neighbouring countries and in other EU countries.
The Congress is mainly aimed at the members of our professional Association. However, in the past the Congress programme has been enriched by the active participation of our colleagues from abroad – Croatia, Austria, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, England, Slovakia, Romania, Czech Republic….
From the Case Files
Upstairs was no better, with faces smeared on the toilet walls.
Had Tracy Emin to stay then?