News Views


A fortnight ago it seemed obvious that the theme for the Editorial would have to be about the riots. There were the horrendous pictures on the twenty-four hour news of children and young adults helping themselves to goods, burning down blocks of shops and assaulting people with impunity. It seemed that law and order had broken down, with the Fire Brigade fearful of moving in to put out fires and the Police unwilling to challenge rioters until they had overwhelming force.That was a fortnight ago, and the media have moved on to Hurricane Irene and the dying throes of the Gaddafi regime. So, from a child care point of view, what do we make of the riots?

First, it has to be recognised that mankind is at times an acquisitive and aggressive species. Throughout history (and prehistory to judge by archaeological remains) people have at times been violent – usually young men. This is not to condone the rioting, just to put it into perspective. If anything, it is surprising that a species which was made up of small scattered wandering bands until neolithic times is now able – through the mechanisms of social order – to live in communities of millions, for the most part in comparative peace.

Secondly, the thing that was different on this occasion was the use of new technology. It was mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter which let the rioters communicate and speedily build up groups which could not be quickly contained. It is the television and CCTV cameras which let the populace as a whole watch as the riots progressed. It is by those same mechanisms that many of the perpetrators are being caught. Messages of incitement, pictures of goods being stolen – they are all evidence when the law catches up.

Thirdly, the nature of the action deserves analysis sociologically. The action was not strictly rioting in the sense of planned political action by groups. It had as much planning and spontaneity as a Mexican wave. Police methods, such as escorting demonstrations and kettling, have been designed to cope with organised identifiable groups. They will need to think up speedier and more fluid responses to cope with action of this sort, with snatch squads perhaps instead of front lines.

Fourthly, the rioters appear to have been a mixture of the usual suspects known to the Police and other people without records who seem to have got caught up by the excitement of events. In one sense these were group actions, but like Mexican waves they were made up of individuals deciding to act in that way. The law, though, deals with them as individuals, and they have each had individual sentences

Fifthly, it has become evident that a substantial minority of the community have not internalised the values which enable society to work. It was not only a question of stealing, but of destroying businesses and making violent attacks on individuals. This is disquieting. The parenting and schooling of such people has failed a crucial test. Some of them may be damaged individuals. They all need encouragement to value their communities and develop a stake in them so that they do not want to riot. That will entail hard work, especially where communities are run down and there is high unemployment. Cuts have hit youth and community work hard – disproportionately, according to Tim Loughton – and Professor John Pitts may now be saying, “I told you so”, having warned of a surge in summer crime before the riots took place.

Finally, the response of communities which came together to tidy up afterwards was reassuring. Here was David Cameron’s Big Society in action, as spontaneously as the rioters, valuing their local communities and refusing to accept that society is broken. It is this level of society which needs strengthening.

The Long Long Summer Holidays

According to a study conducted by, 51% of parents admitted that they disliked school holidays. More than three quarters, 76%, said it was as a result of the stress caused by having to arrange alternative childcare. A further 6% said they felt this way due to the hassle of having to book a large amount of annual leave from work, whilst a further 12% said it was because of the extra mess created by their children in the family home.

According to the results, a fifth, 19%, of the parents polled also believed that school summer holidays should be shorter than the standard six weeks. However, in contrast to this, a quarter, 23%, stated that Christmas holidays should be longer. Furthermore, almost half, 49%, of the total number of respondents admitted to worrying about finances during school holidays, as a result of entertaining children or paying for additional care.

Have they been reading our July Editorial? We questioned a number of aspects of the current schooling system, which seem to be accepted simply because of the blinkers of tradition. The long summer holidays are a classic example. Why have them? And why not vary the school day, starting and finishing earlier? And why not relax a bit, with more time on outdoor activities? And why have exams in the heat of the summer? It’s time for a radical rethink.

Challenge and Improvement: the Facts

The Challenge and Improvement section of the Department for Education have put together a Data Pack about children’s homes in England, and it contains some interesting points, perhaps leading to more questions. They have collected some of the information themselves and some is drawn from Ofsted.

On 31 March 2010 there were 6,200 children and young people in children’s homes, of whom about 10% were in secure accommodation. About 90% were aged 12 or over, the peak age being 16. the majority are boys. Compared with looked after children placed elsewhere (E.g. in foster care) more showed behavioural problems and fewer had suffered abuse or neglect.

Most children leave residential care after they turn 18, but more leave earlier than from foster care. They stay much shorter times in secure care, for example. Those who stay longest are in residential schools. The figures are useful, but raise questions about patterns of care. For example, 30% of children in children’s homes have had at least five previous placements, and those leaving secure care tend to go to another form of residential care.

Children in foster care tend to live within the authority or within 20 miles. Children in secure units tend to be over 20 miles away and outside the authority. Other forms of residential care vary.

The types of care used vary considerably from one authority to another. Some still have their own homes, whereas others rely entirely on the private sector. Three small authorities had no children in residential care, while one had 225, the average being 33. The average weekly cost of care in a local authority home was £2,639, and in a non-statutory home £2,408, as against £676 for foster care.

The aim is to provide fuller information in future. We would like to commend them on the work so far. To say the least, it provides a baseline for observing trends and a valuable starting point for further questions and discussions.

Street Work: Achieving aims, maintaining values and developing effective practices in an era of austerity

In view of our wish to encourage youth and community work (see the item above on rioting) we wish to commend the Federation of Detached Youth Workers Annual Conference and AGM Yarnfield Park Conference Centre, Stafford, Friday 11 – Sunday 13 November, 2011

The conference is for all involved in street work. Whether a street-based practitioner working with youth, adults or the wider community, or a manager, commissioner or partner agency engaged with street-based services, there is much to be gained from collaborating and learning together. The FDYW invites participation from a wide community of youth and adult workers, drugs, crime and health workers, those working with homeless people, and researchers of these fields. Contributions are also sought from those wishing to present a paper, or facilitate a workshop or symposium.

Confirmed speakers include Hon. Julie Hilling MP, Dr Elizabeth Henry Chief Executive of Race on the Agenda (ROTA) and Professor Howard Williamson, University of Glamorgan. For further information contact Acomo – 0116 242 7490 or [email protected] .

A Cameo

Some months ago we published an account of the Court Lees incident in 1968. It contained the following quotation:

“Other events at approved schools also made headlines such as “Sniffs put boys in hospital: Two try fumes for ‘kicks”, referring to Wellesley [Nautical Training School] boys. By the time the story was printed as front page news it was already some days old, and the boys, who had been sniffing cleaning fluid, were all well again, despite the lurid descriptions of the after effects mentioned in the Journal.”

We have now heard from someone who recalls the event:

“The lad in question was called Keith Blackburn. Very good looking lad. Jet black hair. Strange sense of humour. He was in Drake House in 1967/68. So was I. We became good pals. He was from Clitheroe in Lancashire. He was adopted which bothered him. His parents were very ‘straight’ and strict people. His (adoptive) Dad was a businessman. His Mother a housewife.

“Keith stole a car whilst under the influence of whatever. He ran into and killed some young people, hence his incarceration at Wellesley. The incident constantly played on his mind. The dry cleaning fluid (Thawpit and Dabitoff) was his release. One night he overdosed on it. I remember they carried him, in an armchair, over the field from Drake to the sick bay. He was hospitalised, came back then did it again. No one realised it was an attempt at suicide but I remember him telling me.

“I looked him up when I got out and we went driving around in a stolen car (stolen and driven by me). I stayed there a couple of days, then never saw him since.

“Many years later my cousin was living in Clitheroe. It’s a small town. I asked him if he knew of ‘Blackie’. He did. He then told me that he’d committed suicide, drugs I think, apparently because his wife left him and took their son with him. I traced his wife last year and asked her if she had any pics of him. She gave me the impression that Keith was someone she didn’t want to remember. She promised to send me pics but never did. I’m sure counselling would have helped him but of course there was none of that in those days.”

Keith is third from the right on the back row. Do you know anyone else in the picture? It was taken at an inter-approved school athletics meeting at Eastmoor School in Leeds in 1968.

Gerd Schemenau

We have received the following email from Professor Toma Mares, the President of FICE-Romania on the death of Gerhard Schemenau, known as Gerd, a German child care worker who ran services in Romania and a member of FICE Federal Council:

“A great man of our times, dedicated to the human values. Our love for ever! Our souls are now in deep sorrow: Gerd Schemenau passed away. FICE Romania is mourning the decease of this great man, the secretary general of FICE, a very close friend of ours and of our organisation.

“Gerd Schemenau was a great personality of our times, a man dedicated to the human values, to the social care of children and youth, who dedicated his life to help those in need and suffering. He was a model and a mentor for us all, a man who understood that love, care and solidarity should be supreme values of our world.

“For the members of FICE Romania, and, especially, for the children in difficulty in our country, Gerd Schemenau’s professionalism, objectivity, warmth and enthusiasm proved to be important sources of trust and help. We can’t forget, in these moments of deep sorrow, and we won’t ever, that the founding of the actual organisation of the children care system in Romania is due to the competent support, profoundly human, given by an exquisite specialist of this professional domain.

“Gerd Schemenau was a supporter and a devoted mentor for FICE Romania, whose constant support and help, along the years, have essentially influenced the activity of many specialists, members of our organisation, and the functioning of many institutions and programmes dedicated to the children rights protection.

“In these sad moments, we, FICE Romania, are expressing our deep sympathy and sorrow to the Schottener Reha team, the institution to which Gerd Schemenau dedicated his whole life and whose services many members of FICE Romania have benefitted of in the professional perfectioning process.

“FICE Romania is expressing deep condolences to the mourning family, our deep love and respect for the outstanding professional, and great man, Gerd Schemenau.

Good bye, our beloved friend! We will never forget you! May God rest your noble soul in peace!”


“The reasons for laughter are not uniform at all. We laugh as expressions of a wide and mysterious variety of emotions. Nervous laughter comes out of fear, we laugh to mock, we laugh with relief, we laugh with disdain as well as out of amusement and sheer joy. Laughter can be used as a weapon to destroy an enemy or fight off gloom. It can lift the spirit, and lighten an atmosphere.”

We received the above quotation in an email recently. It was nice to get something thoughtful, quite a contrast to some of the trivia we have seen on Facebook.

Laughter is an extraordinary social mechanism, which can be used in all sorts of ways, as the quotation indicates. Its value is learnt young. Children are told to wipe the smile of their faces when being told off; is their smile indicating amusement or anxiety or insolence, or a mixture of all three? The laughter of a bully can add to the insecurity of a victim, especially if the rest of the group join in. On the other hand a joke or amusing aside can defuse a tense situation, and a group of young children laughing together at a funny story is music to the ears of the teacher or entertainer.

Do other animals have a sense of humour? When a Greek philosopher was asked by his pupils whether dogs had a sense of humour, he replied, “Woof”.

Sharing the Experience of Residential Child Care

In addition to the three conferences recommended elsewhere in this issue, here is another.

The Struggle of Memory Against Forgetting: Telling the story and sharing the experience of residential child care is a unique meeting of academics, practitioners, former children in residential care, former staff in residential care, heritage professionals and other to discuss the experience of the story of child care.

Hosted by the History of Medicine Unit at the University of Birmingham and the Planned Environments Therapy Trust (PETT) in Toddington, Gloucestershire, this conference is based on the work of a 21-month project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which researched and recorded British children’s experiences of residential care in the second half of the twentieth century.

The conference reaches out to storytellers among former ‘disturbed’

children, former staff, and current students to explore the issues of living and reliving traumatic and disrupted childhoods, and the complex issues involved in sharing these experiences with the wider world.

Friday 16 September and Saturday 17 September at the University of Birmingham Medical School. Online Registration:

FunMats for Fundraising?

We do not endorse products unless we have tested them, but this caught our eye.

FunMats is a fundraising art project, in which each child draws a picture that is used to produce a choice of gifts, from coasters to shopping bags and glass kitchen boards. It’s popular with parents because it creates lasting pieces of their child’s artwork and fantastic Christmas gifts at the same time. It’s suitable for all ages and can be built into many areas of the National Curriculum.

FunMats fundraising is also risk free; the company guarantees that no school can lose money. There is no minimum order or obligation to buy, every sale makes a profit for the school and money is collected from parents for the products they order before any payment is sent to the company – so there are never any unsold items left at the end.

All products are hand-made in the FunMats’ factory in Malvern, Worcestershire. The company has been helping schools to raise funds for 15 years and has recently extended its product range to include new items including a handy picture message pad and framed prints.

For more information go to

From the Case Files

He shared the same dilutions as his mother and brother.

They all liked their tea weak.

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