News Views : Aug 2007

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including pupil premiums, beating children, atonement for clerical child abuse, Harry Potter, nimbyism, unintended consequences, the Children in Care Bill and nursery rhymes.

The Child Poverty Action Group has welcomed a LibDem proposal that schools should be paid a pupil premium to take account of their needs. “A pupil premium would target funding at those children who most need help”, said Sarah Teather.

It is our experience that those who have money tend to resolve their own problems by buying the services they need or want, whether it is a place in a boarding school or a nursing home. In calculating the funding needed by authorities to provide services, the key factor should be the extent to which they need to compensate for people’s inability to pay themselves. Some authorities have more than their share of people on low incomes or in part-time jobs, and these people often do not have the margin of resources to cope with members of the family who are frail, confused or disabled. So the pupil premium idea is a step in the right direction.

CAU!A calling

The Government has launched a review of the current law allowing parents and others to justify common assault of children as “reasonable punishment” (Section 58 of the Children Act 2004). The Children Are Unbeatable! Alliance believes that Section 58 is unjust and unsafe, and campaigns for children to have the same protection under the law on assault that adults take for granted. To take part in the review and send this clear message to the Government, click here
Children Are Unbeatable! Alliance
94 White Lion Street
London N1 9PF
Tel: 0207 713 0569

Settling a debt

Cardinal Roger Mahony has apologised to hundreds of victims abused by Catholic priests in the Los Angeles area. A settlement has been reached which will cost the Church $660 million. It is good news that agreement has been reached and that the Cardinal apologised.

Whether that will be the end of it remains to be seen. It has taken a very long while for the Church to repent of its sins, and it had a good go at covering them up first in many areas. People will not forget this lightly, especially when the Church has such a tradition as a firm moral authority.

The amount the Roman Catholic Church has had to pay out is said to have amounted to more than $2 billion since 1950, but it will survive the loss of cash. In Los Angeles, they may need to sell off some buildings, but they won’t go broke. The real losses to the Church will be the members of congregations who have fallen away, those who have lost trust in the priesthood and, most of all, those who have been abused.  It has failed to set an example, to lead, to care for and to protect these people.

Re-establishing trust may take a long time. Let us hope that the Cardinal’s contrition is genuine and patent, so that it reaches out to the Church’s adherents, and enables them to leave this sorry episode behind.

BLISS, bonding and Non-Bio

We’ve been sent a press release pointing out that one in eight babies is born premature or sick in the UK, one of the highest rates in Europe – and that Fairy Non Bio will therefore be supporting BLISS – the premature baby charity, to undertake some research.

In the UK, hospitals are well equipped with all the latest technology to give premature babies the best possible chance, but extensive research has shown that it is often difficult for parents of special care babies to bond with their new arrival.  Due to medical restrictions such as incubators, it is often the case that parents are not able to be as physically ‘close’ with their baby as they might like, and this can have long-lasting effects on their relationship with each other.

The aim of the Fairy Non Bio and BLISS ‘Support 1 in 8’ campaign is to help alleviate the bonding difficulties that parents of premature babies often experience by funding research into different techniques that help mums and dads get closer to their babies, to provide parents with the help and advice they need to overcome this additional barrier to bonding with their new baby.

At the heart of the campaign is the idea that parents who are given the opportunity to become directly involved in their baby’s care and treatment are likely to enjoy a better bonded relationship with their child. Not only does this direct involvement encourage a stronger relationship between parent and baby, the research is predicted to prove that the technique also reduces stress for the parents and helps them get through the challenges of having a baby that is born prematurely.

Perhaps they might also find out why the UK always seems to be top of the league when it comes to indicators of failure. Is the high percentage of sick or premature children simply national misfortune, or the result of excessive weight, smoking, drug abuse and binge-drinking by mothers, or what?

Nothing to do with child care

A man being evacuated because of the flooding in the Gloucester area was asked if it had spoilt his holiday. “Well, it’s not been the most perfect of holidays”, he said.
One wonders whether he was in the Glosters when understatement led to them having a bit of a rough time in the Korean War. And will his statement achieve success for him if he makes an insurance claim?

Going Potty

We like to shop unobtrusively in the early hours of the morning, and calling in at the local Asda a bit earlier than usual, we were amazed to find the car park full, and inside there was a queue which snaked round the shop – past the news stand, the stationery, the pizzas and the refrigerated meat all the way to the milk – hundreds of people patiently in a line. Then there were the midnight chimes of Big Ben and a countdown to the launch of the final Harry Potter novel. Even when we’d bought all the groceries we needed and were heading off home, hundreds of people were still there in the queue, edging forward to buy their copies.

What we witnessed must have been replicated in hundreds of places. It was an extraordinary phenomenon. We’ve nothing against Harry Potter books, which are quite good fun, but it is hard to see why they whip up this level of interest, and why people feel the need to queue in the middle of the night to be sure of a copy as soon as possible. It is not an auction for a unique work of art or a scramble for Wimbledon   tickets. I can understand queuing or a competitive approach then. But there will be copies of Harry Potter available for years to come, and the story won’t change.

Maybe there is a deep-rooted tribal instinct to be in at the kill and get one’s share.


Talking of deep-rooted feelings, nimbyism is one of the most powerful. People want to guard their nests and keep predators away – not in my back yard. A lot of the residents of homes and other institutions are seen as antisocial or undesirable, perhaps because of people’s feelings of ignorance and fear, or guilt, or associations of social incompetence or undesirability. Anyway, a lot of people do not want to have social care establishments anywhere near their homes and families.

We have come across the list below, which is having a go at putting things in order of (un)desirability. The question is : Can you put in rank order the sorts of establishment which you would like / not like to have next door to your house (with the most acceptable first and the least acceptable last)? Would you want any of them next door? There should really be a public poll on this subject, but what do you think of the order?

Day nurseries
Public schools
Other schools
Homes for children with disabilities or sensory loss
Kennels and catteries
Day centres for old people
Adult training centres
Homes for older people without dementia
Homes for older people with dementia
Children’s homes for younger children
Homes for children with learning disabilities
Homes for adults with learning disabilities
Worm farms
Youth clubs
Children’s homes for young people / adolescents
Homes for people with mental health problems
Homes for ex-offenders
Secure units for young people
Mental hospitals
Secure prisons
Open prisons
Secure mental hospitals
Accommodation housing paedophiles in the community

Then there’s the question what we need to do about nimbyism. A lot of these establishments should pose no real threat to their neighbours, and if their clienteles do present some sort of problem, their staffing levels, security systems and working methods should reduce the level of threat to be no greater than if the establishment were not there.

It will take a lot of talking before large sections of the public are prepared to accept some client groups, so maybe we need to get talking.

Unintended Consequences

When we were at a prep boarding school many years ago, there was a rule that boys could only have one teaspoonful of sugar per cup of tea, for the obvious reason that sugar was still rationed (“on points”) after the Second World War. This was a challenge; who could sneak an extra spoonful or two? The winner managed to get twenty-seven spoonsful into his brimming mug, but the resulting liquid was impossibly sweet to drink. He then faced another challenge, as there was a school rule that one had to eat or drink everything. Nothing could be left. The only answer was to spill the tea accidentally. The table was sticky for weeks afterwards.

This story is a propos of nothing very much, but it is a parable of the way that rules turn people delinquent, and of the triumph of ingenuity over bureaucracy.

New faces, new initiatives

We should not let this News Views column pass without noting that we now have a new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. He has been around for so long, playing an influential role in so many fields, that it is hard to adjust to the fact that the last one really has gone to the Middle East, and is not just on another foreign visit. Gordon Brown has faced a difficult task in having to acknowledge consistency with the past (as he voted for the measures) while wanting to lay out a new stall which will be attractive to the wider voting public without upsetting existing adherents.

He has announced his new team of Ministers, and Ed Balls, the new Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has already announced his priorities. A Children in Care Bill, based on the Care Matters consultation, will be on its way.

Gordon Brown gave real priority to the needs of children in his role as Chancellor, and it will be interesting to see how his Government acts, following up previous initiatives or trying out new ones.

Traditional Nursery Rhymes

We were sent the details of three CDs for children. As we didn’t get the CDs, this is not a review. We’re writing about it here, though, because one of them was called Traditional Nursery Rhymes and we have become aware how few children today know their nursery rhymes. They seem to have been a casualty of the PC cultural purges of the 1980s.

It is, perhaps, not surprising, though, as the contents of some of them are fairly gruesome (chopping off the tails of mice?) or descriptive of child abuse (whipping children soundly?). Nonetheless they are part of our culture, and they are taught to children abroad to help them learn English. We think that nursery rhymes should be taught again in nurseries and primary schools, and as far as we know, this CD will do the trick as well as any other. We shall let you know if they risk sending us one to review.

This particular CD is Xtra, CAT No: CD6681. It is coming out on 10 September 2007, and you will get 45.25 minutes of songs for RRP: £3.99. Most of the twenty tracks listed were known to us, but three of them raised our eyebrows. Presumably Here We Go Round The Mulberry is a shorter and speedier version of the one where we went round the whole bush (based on Wakefield Prison exercise yard).  We have never heard of Do Your Ears Hang Low? Is it do to with excessive numbers of ear studs, or is it something that happens to people when cornering on sweet chariots? And we liked the idea of Lavenders Blues – perhaps a tribute to the late George Melly?

From the Case Files

Action Points [following a Case Conference]

5          Social Worker to pursue a washing machine.

That would be worth watching; no doubt a competence taught on DipSW these days.

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