News Views : May 2007

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including a Secretary of State for Families, offending, anti-social behaviour, Alliance for Child Centred Care,  CEIEC, the value of being there, parental alienation and teenage.

A Secretary of State for Families

We received a Press Release from NCH, which read as follows :

In response to Harriet Harman’s call to create a Secretary of State for the Family, NCH Chief Executive, Clare Tickell, says:

“Creating a Minister for the Family is not necessary.  The ingredients for supporting families are already in place – if the Government really wants to support families it must ensure all departments consider the impact policies have on families and ensure it is delivering consistent messages.

“Ultimately supporting families is about making life better for the children and young people in those families. But some children, through no fault of their own, aren’t being brought up in a family. It is these children who are incredibly vulnerable and need support – a Minister for the Family might unwittingly exclude the youngsters who need it the most.”

We think that the NCH has got this one quite wrong. If the Government is to ensure that the policies of all Government departments are family-friendly, it needs someone at Cabinet level with enough clout to make them toe the line. Clout includes having staff who do the research and pester other civil servants; it includes representation in Cabinet discussions; it includes having the label of Secretary of State to impress MPs and people up and down the country, in local government for example.

As for the children who are not brought up in families, their needs can be highlighted by such a Secretary of State, as they will need the benefits of family life provided some other way. Their needs must not be used as an argument for failing to meet the needs of the majority.

At long last, children’s needs are on the political agenda. Does the NCH really want to turn the clock back?

Offending is Normal

About thirty years ago, under the influence of R. D. Laing, there was a fashion for treating mental health problems as being a natural response to circumstances, a choice of behaviour to be respected. The point has been made that lying is an indicator of development in a small child, as it shows that they are capable of imagining alternative realities, which is the basis for all the creative arts, for planning ahead, and a lot of other key human mental functions. In short, learning to lie is vital and creative, it is argued.

How about treating offending the same way? In the nineteenth century Samuel Butler presciently considered offending as something which would be treated while ill-health would be punished. We have come so close to his model that he would probably be surprised. But is offending simply the best solution for young offenders in the circumstances in which they find themselves? If they suffer poverty, is it not a rational response to copy Robin Hood and help themselves by shoplifting from stores owned by the rich  people who would otherwise be overcharging them and taking their money? If they are threatened by people armed with knives and guns, is it surprising that they wish to defend themselves in the same way? If young males are urged by advertising to see women as being sexually provocative, why are we amazed if those who are unable to satisfy their cravings in socially acceptable ways take to offending?

None of this line of argument justifies offending, or suggests that we should not be paying attention to the rights and needs of victims. It simply means that the solutions in seeking to reduce offending lie with all of us, by ensuring that wealth is shared equitably, that people can feel secure without needing weapons, and that advertising, television etc. are not violent or oversexualised.

Anti-social Behaviour

On the same theme, we noted the news item in the Daily Mail where a 16-year-old girl was given an ASBO for more than sixty anti-social acts over a period of six months. Meanwhile, down under, a study at the University of South Australia showed that 132 disruptive children’s behaviour improved when the were given Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Putting one and one together, wouldn’t a compulsory course of fatty acids work better than an ASBO? Samuel Butler would have approved.

Alliance for Child Centred Care

The Alliance is about to launch a new website and is hosting a Child-Centred Care Matters Conference on 31 May.

The Alliance aims to bring about the development of a truly child-centred care system, and anyone who supports their ten objectives can join. They define child-centred care as :
–           recognising and valuing children’s diversity and individuality
–           communicating effectively with children
–           valuing children’s relationships
–           recognising children’s rights
–           treating children as competent
–           facilitating children’s individual and collective involvement in decisions
–           focusing on the child over bureaucracy and structures
–           supporting and developing the workforce
–           providing sufficient funding and resources.

Email [email protected] if you want to know more.


Are they new initials to you? CEIEC is the Centre for Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood at the University of Melbourne and they are holding their 7th International Conference from 15 – 17 November 2007 under the title Honoring the Child, Honoring Equity – Transforming connections: local and global possibilities.

The Conference web site is now open – (via CEIEC Home page) or (direct link). Key dates are 30 June 2007 for the submission of proposals and 15 August 2007 for early-bird registration. How about a nice southern-hemisphere early summer break in Oz?

Being There

In the In Residence column in this issue, Keith White speaks movingly about the importance of simply being there for children, and he mentions the role of churches in being there for the community. This reminded us of a comment by David Hope, who was Archbishop of York and has just retired as Vicar of Ilkley.

He noted that all the professionals (doctors, teachers, social workers, police and so on) had moved out of poor run-down areas to live in more salubrious parts. This may have been nicer for them, but it had a number of important side effects. There were fewer professionals on the spot to help out with problems. There were fewer capable advocates of higher standards left in the poorer areas who might put pressure on their councils to improve things. The professionals’ salaries (often earned in the poorer areas) were spent in the posher shops and restaurants of the nicer areas, in a sense siphoning resources off from the economy of the poorer areas. Social problems were increasingly concentrated in the poorer areas, creating sink estates which generate even more problems.

The exception, as David Hope pointed out, are the Vicars, who continue to live in the communities they serve, being there for the people. And, we should add, Bob Holman.

How about a supplement for professionals who live in the areas which they serve?

Parental Alienation

Our last item was about being there for children; this is about not being there. Families Need Fathers set up an International Awareness Day on 25 April, to draw attention to Parental Alienation, which they describe as a common form of Child Abuse.

FNF say that Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) occurs post family breakdown, where one parent ‘brainwashes’ the child against the other (usually the parent the child lives with) often leading to the other parent’s complete removal from their child’s life. PAS is not acknowledged in UK courts and is only referred to as ‘implacable hostility’ on the part of the parent subjecting the child(ren) to this form of emotional abuse, which can have devastating life-long effects for all parties, both children and parents alike.

Families Need Fathers report that they hear from thousands of individuals who have experienced the trauma of PAS, and want the courts and medical profession to acknowledge this form of child abuse.

That there is a real problem when close relationships go sour and children are used as weapons, we do not doubt. We are uneasy about seeing this problem as a syndrome, though. It is not a medical condition; it is not completely distinct from other ways in which warring couple fight; nor does identifying the problem as a syndrome make it easier to treat.


We’ve not yet read the book, but from the reviews it looks as if it will be interesting.  Teenage : The Creation of Youth 1875-1945 looks at the impact which teenagers have had over the years, arguing that teenage is not a modern phenomenon. (The word adolescence was apparently coined in 1898.) Adolescents have always been stroppy, riotous and challenging. There were apparently even gangs with a taste for American and British fashions and music in the Nazi era who beat up patrols of Hitler Youth.

We look forward to reading this one to check the evidence, but we can’t help feeling that there was a shift in the 1950s with the increased earning power of young people, such that their culture took over the pop world.

From the Case Files

As you will be aware, Sarah has been in the care of this Department since her mother was admitted to Holloway under a Care Order.

What a difference word order makes.

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