News Views

Signing and Singing

In this issue of the Webmag we have focused on communication, and this is quite appropriate as it is the Year of Communication.  On 9 February thousands of people all around the country took part in an attempt to beat the previous record for mass signing and singing of 13,418.  The event was organised by Sign2sing, not only as a Guinness World Record attempt but also to raise money for SignHeath, the national healthcare charity for deaf people.  Over 90,000 were estimated to take part in this event ,meaning that the current world record will have been smashed. At exactly 2.45 pm they sang and signed along to the song I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.

Health and Diet

We have a couple of articles this month on the effect of children’s diet on their health and wellbeing. During the month we have also received a number of news items around the same subject; it clearly is a hot topic

  1. According to the Lancet, researchers in the Netherlands studying ADHD behaviour put a group of 41 children on a restricted diet, with a control group eating as usual. The behaviour of the control group remained unchanged but after five weeks the behaviour of 78% of the children on the diet had improved. This ties in with work done by Masud Hoghughi at Aycliffe some decades ago, but we are not aware that any child care services apply such findings. Please let us know if you are aware of foster carers or residential provision that organise their menus with this in mind.
  2. In the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology they found that childhood allergies mainly affected boys from well-off homes, with young males being a third more vulnerable to peanut allergies than girls. The reasons were unknown. Another case of post-code lottery.
  3. A study just published on behalf of the Health Supplements Information Service (HSIS) has found that children in the UK are risking serious illnesses later in life because of poor diet and nutrition while they are young. Health experts are warning that all too many British youngsters face a ticking health time bomb because of high intakes of saturated fat, salt and sugar and inadequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals and essential fatty acids from oil rich fish. While the researchers found that on average diets have improved in recent years, they say that there are still major nutritional problems that were cause for concern and need addressing urgently.Proper nutrition in childhood is essential for growth, development and long-term health into adulthood. There is mounting evidence that problems with child nutrition can significantly contribute to chronic and degenerative diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. In addition, poor diets and too little exercise have led to childhood obesity, with figures showing that one in 10 youngsters in school reception classes (aged 4 to 5) are obese, and this increases to 18% of those in year 6 (aged 10 to 11). Similarly, dental decay and even type 2 diabetes are becoming more of a problem in children.
  4. The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, covering 14,000 children, has found that children who eat a healthy diet from an early age are more likely to have higher IQs than those consuming diets high in fat, sugar and salt, according to findings from the, which is tracking the long-term health of 14,000 children.  The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reported that children who eat plenty of fruit and salad at age three have higher IQs at age eight. The more fat they ate, the lower their IQs, and this appeared to have an ongoing impact through childhood, while (as reported in Dr Lin May’s article this month) good nutrition in early childhood may encourage optimal brain growth.
  5. Finally, a survey conducted by, found that the majority of mothers, 51%, introduced solids in to their child’s diet ‘earlier than recommended’, 19% of whom did so because they felt their child was ‘too hungry to just have milk’.33% of mothers that breastfed their children stopped doing so once their baby reached 4 months old. When asked to stipulate why they decided to stop breast feeding, 23% stated it was because of the ‘inconvenience’ of having to do so. When the respondents who didn’t breast feed their children were asked, “Did you give your baby more than the recommended amount of formula milk?” 31% said that they did.The study found that 6% of the respondents gave their baby chocolate before they were 6 months old, whilst the majority, 42%, waited until their child was over a year old before they did so. Almost a quarter, 24%, of the respondents stated that they gave their child caffeinated drinks before their first birthday. In comparison, 4% didn’t give their child ‘caffeinated drinks’ until the age of 5.


The number of children placed for adoption are reported to have fallen by 15% between 2009 and 2010. Only 7% of the 12,200 care leavers aged five to seventeen were adopted; and the rate of adoption varies between local authorities from 2% to 16% of children in care. The government is therefore pressing for adoptions to be increased.Tony Blair also put pressure on authorities to get more children in care adopted early in his premiership. We were sceptical then, and we remain somewhat sceptical now. The reason for the high level of success in adoption was in our opinion because great care was taken in matching and because of the selectivity. There may have been children who missed out as a result, but our view is that a consequence of pushing adoption on the grounds of its effectiveness would actually be a higher breakdown rate. This concerned us, as the rejection implied for a child who has been ‘chosen’ could be doubly hurtful, repeating and re-inforcing the perceived abandonment by the blood parents.Our view is that for some of the children who are hard to place a long-term foster placement is preferable. If the child becomes part of the family, adoption can then follow as a natural development.It was also reported that black and minority ethnic children take on average 100 days longer to be adopted than white children. This is sad, and we support measures both to recruit more adoptive parents from BME parents and to ignore the attempt to achieve racial matching if necessary.


WellStart is a “multi-media memory box and parenting guide” designed to replace parenting manuals and keepsake albums with a single application for PC or Mac that will “last a lifetime”. It will enable parents not only to digitally capture their children’s milestones but also to store health records and medical appointments. From conception onwards, everything from mum’s pregnancy diaries to school reports can be kept safe in one digital scrapbook.Developed by experienced GPs who are parents themselves, WellStart includes an interactive development calendar, to guide new parents through what to expect month by month from the first trimester of pregnancy to the first day at school, and to replace all the other parenting advice manuals.We have not seen WellStart in action, and cannot commend it therefore, but the idea seems sound. Intriguingly, children in care often end up with much fuller records of their childhood than the rest of the population, partly to compensate for the absence of the family folk memory. WellStart may change that. They claim it is a lifetime record; we only hope that technological developments do not prove them wrong.WellStart is available at Amazon and or via at £14.99 for a CD and £9.99 for a download.

Social Pedagogy News

The Pedagogy Development Network will be holding its next get-together at the Camphill Community in Glencraig near Belfast on 1 April 2011, with a free evening seminar on 31 March about social pedagogy. Prof. Pat Petrie from the Thomas Coram Research Unit will talk about social pedagogy and the creative/expressive arts; Mark Smith from the University of Edinburgh will discuss social pedagogy and ethics as first practice in social care, and Vibeke Alfred from the University of Aberdeen will explore the links between Camphill Communities and social pedagogy. Gabriel Eichsteller writes to say that “this is a great opportunity to gain some insights into social pedagogy from a more theoretical perspective and thus better understand what social pedagogy is about. To book a free place, please email Vincent Reynolds from Camphill, who is co-ordinating the evening seminar”.For the SPDN meeting on Friday there will be a short overview of social pedagogy activities in the UK, hopefully with some presentations from practitioners in different projects, so that participants can get a sense of what is happening around social pedagogy across the UK. People who haven’t been at previous SPDN events or are new to social pedagogy will gain some insights into what various organisations have been doing around implementing social pedagogy and what this means for practice.For more information about the Social Pedagogy Development Network, email [email protected].


David Cameron said he would do the minimum necessary to comply with the Court ruling that people on the Sex Offenders Register for life should be able to appeal against registration. It is well known that people who commit sex offences against children often remain a danger to them for the rest of their lives, and one can understand the Prime Minister personally having strong feelings on the subject. But, as a matter of justice, it is our view the people on the Register should be able to appeal. We anticipate that virtually every appeal will be turned down in the event, but it is possible that there may be cases where the offenders no longer pose a threat, and the decision to register should not be seen as totally irrevocable, whatever our personal feelings. Otherwise the impact is as permanent as branding.

‘Research’ : Family Meals

A Bisto research project has shown that 57% of British families no longer eat their dinner together in one room, instead eating in up to four different rooms in the house, contributing to a rise in ‘four-room dining’.The poll showed that one in five children are allowed to eat dinner alone in their bedroom, and 61% of families are just too busy to sit down and eat a meal together.  On the rare occasion that they do make time to, 59% admit to getting distracted by text messages, emails and the TV. A traditional family meal with everyone sitting together around a table with no TV on is only likely to happen once a week, and the average family meal was shown to last for just 22 minutes.The survey of 2,000 families across the UK showed that nearly a third confessed to eating dinner in front of a computer screen and almost a quarter said that they used social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter whilst eating with their family.The research was commissioned to launch Bisto’s Power Down for Dinner campaign set to encourage families to re-embrace the quality family meal without the disruption of emails, calls and virtual pokes. A spokesperson from Bisto said, “We want to encourage families to occasionally log off and dedicate some quality time together over a relaxed meal. To pledge your support to power down and enjoy a meal with your family log on to”.We support Bisto’s campaign in principle; eating together regularly is important in strengthening family bonds. It is a time to talk about how the day has gone, what people are doing, what they plan to do, and to form group cohesion. However, Bisto may be going against the tide. The figures clearly show that millions of people are simply voting to eat alone, and campaigns make few dents in social movements of this sort.At least, if people are eating at their computers, there may be some crumbs for their mouses. (Or are they called mice in computer-speak?)

‘Research’ : Conception

More children are conceived in September and fewer in February than any other month. This may be helpful as a pub quiz fact, but can you explain why? Is it the effect of the cumulative amount of daylight in the previous four months, which presumably matches the figures? If so, why? Does sunlight affect fertility? Obviously St Valentine’s Day doesn’t have much of an impact.

Research : Eczema

Up to a fifth of all children of school age have eczema. Anecdotal reports from patients have suggested that hard water may worsen atopic eczema, and population surveys also suggested a possible link between atopic eczema prevalence and the degree of water hardness.It had therefore been hoped that water softeners would provide simple but effective relief for the many children who suffer from this itchy and uncomfortable condition.  However, the trial – Softened Water Eczema Trial (SWET) – carried out by The University of Nottingham and published in the journal PLOS Medicine showed no objective difference in outcomes between the children whose homes were fitted with water softeners and those without.Negative findings are disappointing, but they are nonetheless important.

Something for Nothing

A boy was paid by his mother for cleaning shoes, and it struck him that this was a good way of making some extra pocket money, so he priced all the other things he had done and gave the bill to his mother; it came to quite a tidy sum. She thought for a while, then wrote down all the things she had done for him and sent him the bill; the total was nothing. She’d done everything for love.The point of this little Sunday School parable is that the monetary relationship is sometimes less important than closer bonds. Money is a way of relating, and it could be argued that you could price everything, but it would result in an awful, mean, stilted way of living – focusing, as they say, on the price of everything and not its value.Britain already has an excellent track record of people undertaking voluntary work of all sorts. As we note in this month’s Editorial, in some cases a highly paid professional in retirement does for nothing work for which s/he would previously have been paid handsomely. Whole services rely upon voluntary work, such as hospices and blood donation. Without the unpaid contribution of people caring for relatives, welfare and health services would collapse.So the Big Society is already here. The question at present is how far that can go. You cannot instruct people to volunteer – unless they are in the army. It is a question of nurturing the right values, so that people internalise them and wish to serve their neighbours and local communities.Despite the good track record, there is a long way to go. There are dysfunctional communities. There are people who do not contribute. For a start, there are some rich people who have not yet adopted the American practice of endowing charitable causes. Giving something for nothing? No. The gain is in the satisfaction of giving, in the practical outcomes of the gift (whether time, skills or money), and in the closer relationships created as a result. As Scrooge found out.

Hard Balls

Malvern Primary School in Huyton got a few headlines by banning the use of leather footballs for health and safety reasons and permitting only the use of sponge balls. Presumably soft balls for cricket and hockey too. You wouldn’t need to shout “Fore!” if sponge golf balls were used, and the courses could be a lot smaller, as it would be hard to hit balls any distance. We have some sympathy for the line which the school has taken. Footballers used to lose a couple of IQ points every time they headed the old-style leather footballs, and even a swing-ball can do damage if you get it in the face. On the other hand, that’s how you learn co-ordination. Coping with risk is an important part of learning.

From a Press Release

… trans-fats can form thick, hard plague deposits that clog arteries and reduce oxygen flow to the muscles, heart and brain.And then you get the Black Death, so watch what you eat.

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