A mixture of news items, future events, sales pitches, comments and whimsies, including five campaigns, unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors, children’s origins and a bunch of quickies
A Good Deal
The Samaritans have launched a programme called DEAL (Developing Emotional Awareness and Learning) in schools, to improve the emotional health of young people across the UK and Ireland. It’s targeted at teens to equip them with the emotional skills they need to cope with the knocks that today’s society throws their way.
DEAL goes to every secondary school, to be used as part of a whole school approach to emotional health and wellbeing. It builds on extensive work the Samaritans have done before with schools and will actively promote the emotional wellbeing of young people, raise awareness of emotional health, promote positive ways of coping and challenge the stigma around asking for help.
The traditional image of Samaritans is that they provide a last ditch effort for desperate people, and switching to develop children’s emotional strengths should help to prevent problems in the first place or nip them in the bud.
The programme is backed not only by Sugarbabes but also Jeremy Paxman, so it must be OK.
Campaign: 1: Give Looked After Children in Scotland a Better Deal
Autumn seems to be the time for campaigning. The SIRCC column this month describes a really well orchestrated campaign which they have set up to get a better deal for looked after children in Scotland. They have researched the scene, given a balanced overview (including credit where its is due), concluded that standards are not consistently up to the level which should be attained, and hit the right buttons to get Members of the Scottish Parliament interested. They deserve to achieve an impact. And the children and young people need the changes they are seeking.
Campaign: 2: Get Rid of Bin Bags
Meanwhile National Voice is campaigning to get rid of the use of bin bags for looked after children to carry their worldly possessions in. If this really is still going on, local authorities corporately and the individual staff handing out the bin bags should be ashamed of themselves. Decent luggage costs only a few pounds now – only a few minutes’ worth of the fees charged for residential care. On the other hand, we emailed National Voice to ask for more details about the hard evidence, and they couldn’t be bothered to reply.
While talking about bin bags, we’ve seen young offenders having to carry their gear in them on the train home after discharge from prison. The campaign should apply to them too. They have little enough on coming out of prison, and to have to carry all their worldly possessions in a rubbish bag is as demeaning for adults as it is for the children. The Home Office and the individual Prisons should be ashamed too. After all, prison is meant to be about rehabilitation – isn’t it? Obviously there are a lot of prisoners being discharged, but presumably they could make the bags within the prison system. And sell them to local authorities for looked after children.
Campaign: 3: End CSA Incompetence
The LibDems have joined the bandwagon of politicians taking a swipe at the Child Support Agency. Not only is it now taking 494 days to process new claims, but the CSA’s debts are going up by £20 million a month, amounting to about £3.5 billion, and it reckons that £1.5 billion will never be recouped. This represents failure on a colossal scale, but it also means hardship for a lot of hard-up families along the way, as David Laws MP, the LibDem Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, points out. However, except that he does not want families to lose out, it is not clear what he proposes instead.
David Laws attributed the mess entirely to CSE incompetence. We are not champions of the CSA, but to hang the whole thing round their necks seems unfair. What about the politicians who thought that a single big system would work better than the previous system? What about the civil servants who drew up the over-complex rules? What about the people who designed the computer system? What about Parliament for failing to latch onto the problems sooner? What about the dithering Government, whom David Laws blames?
Big botch-ups of this sort usually have multiple causes, but in our book the prime factor is the political thinking which imagines that big computer systems will be the most efficient way of running a service like this. Perhaps the politicians who dreamed it up wanted to leave a major legacy to remind people of their impact on the country. Well, they have.
Campaign : 4 : End Child Poverty
We are now partway into End Child Poverty Month. The aim is to get Gordon Brown to give £4 billion to wipe out child poverty in the UK. While the Government has lifted 700,000 children out of poverty in the last five years, which is a considerable achievement, the campaigners argue that it is not enough.
3.4 million children live in poverty in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the industrialised world, despite being the fourth wealthiest nation. Of the 25 European Union countries only Italy, Portugal and the Slovak Republic have higher rates.
Earlier this year the Government failed to reach its target of reducing child poverty by a quarter between 1998/9 and 2004/5. It is clear that current policies and resources will not enable the Government to reach its targets.
End Child Poverty Month aims to remind politicians and the public of the massive scale of poverty in the UK today and to call on the Chancellor to devote at least £4 billion towards child poverty in this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review. He could presumably save that much pretty quickly by getting us out of Iraq.
Campaign : 5 : Stop Binge Drinking
Patricia Hewitt asked the Treasury to raise the tax on alcopops to make them too expensive for children, because of the serious problem of binge drinking. The Treasury pointed out that alcopops are taxed at the same level as spirits. She is presumably looking for gestures to make a point. How do we create an atmosphere in which young people do not want to binge? Do we have to wait for a following generation to rebel against the current cohort of children, having seen the ghastly spectacle of liver disease, alcoholism and a lowering average age of death?
The specific idea might not work, but Patricia Hewitt deserves support. We think that – regrettably – there will be a long hard slog to convince teenagers that they are wrecking their bodies by binge drinking. The Know Your Limits campaign, set up jointly by the Home Office and Department of Health seems the right idea, but why aim it only at 18-24 year-olds?
In our crystal ball we can see the law cases looming up in twenty years’ time, with raddled forty-year-olds suing distilleries and claiming that they weren’t told that alcohol might damage their livers…..
Unaccompanied Asylum-seeking Minors
Prospera Tedam raises the question of the way we treat unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors in the UK in an article this month. The subject is certainly well up the agenda now. There were reports at the recent National Children’s and Adult Services Conference in Brighton that there were some hundreds of them in every major city. When it comes to providing services, that amounts to a lot of money, and it is understandable if people argue that these young people should have remained in their home countries.
But it is a problem which will not go away. While there are prosperous countries such as Britain and desperately poor countries, which may (or may not) have the sort of political problems which give grounds for seeking asylum, there will inevitably be the lure of economic gain in moving to the richer country. It will only cease when all countries are developed under a stable world economy, which is not likely in the working life-time of the young people who are seeking to stay in this country.
This is a problem shared with other well-off countries. The USA has a massive influx of labour from Mexico and other Hispanic American countries. In this magazine we have carried articles about the young Moroccans in Spain, the exploited children moving from Eastern Europe into Denmark to steal or become prostitutes, and at the recent FICE Congress there was a workshop on the responses of the Dutch to deal humanely with young asylum-seekers. By adopting good standards of services, the Netherlands became a honey-pot for the young, and had to adopt more restrictive measures.
In Britain we still seem to be floundering in trying to deal with this problem. We stop asylum-seekers from working, so that they have to be a burden on the state or work illegally. We allow children to stay until they are eighteen and then send them back to their countries, regardless of the length of time they have settled in this country. If we are to send them back to their countries of origin, it should be done quickly, before they settle. If they stay and are educated at our expense, should they not be given the option of taking on British nationality so that they can then contribute? And in any case, is it not usually the most able and enterprising who emigrate, the people whom we most need to attract to join our workforce?
Valerie Jackson has talked this month about the importance of knowing one’s origins. That is undoubtedly important in terms of emotional well-being. The sense of knowing where one has come from provides a deep sense of security.
We recall the story of a boy whose mother had abandoned him when he was young. He asked to meet her, and as he and his carer approached the home area, the carer saw the boy’s mother at her place of work, standing on the street corner. He pointed her out to the boy, who said that, now that he had seen her, he did not need to meet her, and they left. Even that brief and unhappy experience gave the boy the knowledge of where he had come from.
But as the study of genetics becomes more sophisticated, knowledge of one’s ancestry will become increasingly important in identifying vulnerability to inherited susceptibility to illnesses and perhaps types of behaviour. Where eggs or sperm have been donated, or in cases of adoption or uncertain parentage, there will be vast minefields of ethical questions and surprises about parentage. In the end, openness will be the only answer.
- The Methodist Church has produced two new resources. The first, called Journey, sets out a vision for the involvement of children in the church, seeing them as central to church life (www.methodistchildren.org.uk). The second, called Curriculum, is to help youth leaders in the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs (MAYC) understand the vision (www.mayc.info).
- Actress Helen Flanaghan, who plays teenager Rosie Webster in Coronation Street, is encouraging children to take part in Macmillan Cancer Support’s eleventh annual sponsored silence, The Big Hush, which is taking place on Friday 26 January to mark the end of Cancertalk Week. Macmillan’s Cancertalk Week aims to get young people aged 7-16 years talking and learning more about cancer in schools. By getting involved in lessons and activities during the week and taking part in a story-writing competition, children can increase their awareness of the disease and help reduce the fear surrounding cancer.
- Since the Internet Watch Foundation was set up in 1996, more than 30,000 child pornography websites have been removed from the web, and last year alone, they received 27,750 reports of illegal material on the internet. This is good news, and IWF deserve congratulations. If you want to know more or have seen a website which needs to be reported, look at www.iwf.org.uk .
- Britain’s teenagers are more sexually active than those in other European country. Over the forty years from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, the average age of first sexual intercourse has dropped from 20-21 to 16, and the proportion of young people sexually active before the age of consent has risen from less than 1% to 25%. Cheap condoms, implants and earlier sex education are being recommended.
- Professor Rod Morgan has pointed out that over the last ten years there has been a 44% drop in offending, but that twice as many young people are locked up now, and he has argued that community punishments should be used more. As a result of the increase in custodial sentences, the system is “in meltdown”, with inadequate mental health services, and young people having to be placed a long distance from their families.
From the Case Files
Sarah has reached a plato in her rehabilitation.
An ideal state?