News Views

Ten Years

With the publication of this issue, Children Webmag will have completed ten years of publishing, but we are not quite sure when to celebrate. Do you recall the people who celebrated the millennium at the end of 2000? They were factually quite right, but everyone else had their parties when the year 2000 started. We’re looking on the January 2010 issue as our anniversary, as it’s exactly ten years from the publication of our very first edition, which is still there in the archives.

Now is the right time to thank everyone who has contributed over the years, whether as readers with email responses, as authors, as donors and sponsors, or as Board members. Everyone’s help is appreciated, and looking ahead, please carry on reading the Webmag, and please keep on sending in emails, articles and – if you are able – donations. We manage things as cheaply as we can, but we still need funds for the basics.

Time for Penance

The Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin has been published during the last month. It was well reported in the media and we do not propose to give a précis here. Forty-six priests were involved in abusing children and four successive Archbishops worked hard to conceal the abuse and it is the implications of this which are the point of concern for us.

This is not a question of a few ‘bad apples’ but of institutional abuse. Each of those people involved carries personal accountability for their action, whether as abusers or as collaborators in concealing abuse. They are also guilty of professional misconduct, as they will have known that their actions breached their duty to protect and help the children in their care. We can think of no theological rationale by which they could explain their actions.

Their failure as members of their institution, as individuals, as professionals and as men of God is beyond comprehension, and indicates how thin is the veneer of civilisation and how vulnerable we all are to falling short, even when we start with the highest of ideals.

“Flawed, Wasteful and Failing”

Not our words, but the opinion of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services in describing Ofsted. We have not undertaken a scientific survey of Ofsted’s work, but it is remarkable how consistently we hear criticisms of Ofsted’s work at one conference after another. We hear of inspectors who know nothing of the services they inspect. We hear of practitioners and managers who are scared to complain in case they suffer critical reports which affect their livelihoods. We hear of tick-box approaches which take no account of innovative treatment methods or individual approaches taken to meet individuals’ needs.

Whether all these criticisms are justified and the allegations are true, we do not know, but it is absolutely clear that Ofsted is not respected, and that professionals have had enough of it.

Going back  two or three decades, inspectors were people who had reached the peak of their profession, having been successful practitioners and managers. Their views were informed and their comments were aimed to improve practice rather than to condemn. Without painting an unduly rosy picture, they were also generally well respected.

A Time for Fundamental Rethinking

On 11 November the Child Care History Network chose to look at the history of ethics in child care as the theme for their Annual Conference. If you think the subject sounds a bit stuffy and irrelevant, just consider the previous items. The need to set professional standards and to keep to them is absolutely vital in looking after children.

There were some excellent papers. Noel Howard, the past President of the Irish Social Care Workers Association, gave a thorough account of the Ryan Report, which examined in detail the historical scandals in residential care in Ireland, and the way in which they are making restitution and trying to bring closure to this unhappy episode.

Mark Smith of the School of Social Work at the University of Edinburgh spoke about the conference theme, going back to Hume, Smith and Kant, and tracing the historical influences in today’s legislation and processes and raising issues which posed serious challenges to the basis of today’s child protection systems.

June Jones of the School of Health and Population Studies at the University of  Birmingham spoke about the training of medical students in ethics, and the ways in which they were encouraged to internalise professional standards. Richard Rollinson, independent child care consultant, drew the day together in the final input.

There were also two additional sessions during lunchtime – one a film about David Wills and the other a description of the Royal Caledonian Schools ands their archives by John Horsfield. There was an interesting mixture of participants and networking time was well used. All in all, it was a really stimulating conference.

But it was not just a question of having an interesting time. Papers such as that by Mark Smith challenge the whole basis of current practice and merit careful attention, especially when current services are under fierce scrutiny. The papers are being transcribed and will be on the Network’s website – www.cchn.org.uk .

The Threats of Recession

At the National Children’s Bureau Annual General Meeting on 26 November Sir Paul Ennals outlined the threats posed to children by the recession, and the responses being taken by the NCB.

In addition to the pressures on families such as unemployment and consequent hardship, violence and depression, young people are suffering a high level of unemployment, affecting not only the jobless but demotivating students who consider the achievement of qualifications pointless.

Sir Paul noted that the Government was already facing problems in achieving its targets to do away with child poverty, and the recession was going to exacerbate the situation. For charities, times are getting harder as both individual and corporate giving are being reduced, and local authorities are going to face cuts too. Just as there is talk of the recession ending, things are going to get worse for services for children.

There are several dangers ahead – a reduction in preventative services, salami-slicing of all services, reversion to old models and the abandonment of new services not properly embedded yet. As a response Sir Paul suggested keeping a level head and an eye on long-term goals, gathering evidence of cost-effectiveness, developing strong partnerships, and accelerating the integration of services.

He suggested that the crisis should be used to rethink our values, and opined that the next generation might take a more balanced and mature view of life, having witnessed the dangers of reliance on unsustainable financial systems. Hear, hear.

Social Pedagogy on the Move

There has been quite a lot of talk about social pedagogy, but its impact is now being felt in practice. At a conference on 27 November nearly eighty professionals – mainly involved in pilot schemes where social pedagogical ideas are being applied and tested out – met at Colchester under the joint aegis of Essex County Council and Thempra.

A number of themes emerged from the day. A recurrent issue is whether social pedagogy brings any new ideas, or whether we have been doing it all the time under different names. The response seemed to be that while there is nothing in social pedagogy which is absolutely new, it has features which have been neglected in British child care, such as understanding the significance of group dynamics, the use of shared activities, the willingness to take risk and the emphasis on relationships which have an emotional component.

On the other hand, some workers see social pedagogy simply as a threat, and in a few pilots it has been a struggle to achieve any impact. It remains to be seen whether an understanding of social pedagogy will change the critical attitudes of some field social workers to residential care.

However, it is the combination of a range of features of social pedagogy that makes sense of child care practice as a whole, and it is this which gives people working with children and young people such enthusiasm for social pedagogy, finding it can transform their relationships with those in their care. If their enthusiasm catches on, child care workers will develop the confidence to take control of their profession.

If you want to know more, contact Thempra on www.socialpedagogy.co.uk.

Going Down

The number of childminders has dropped to 59,500, a fall of 4,300, which has co-incided with the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage. It may of course be that with the recession fewer people need or can afford child care. Our hypothesis is that the amount of childminding is remaining constant, but that childminders fall into two main groups. The first are the professionals, who meet registration standards, value training and link with other childminders, for example through the NCMA. The others may come into the work as a way of looking after their own children, or those of friends and relatives. They do not want to stay in the work as a career and do not really want to be bothered with training and official palaver, and so they keep their heads down and don’t bother to register. This may be a crudely drawn distinction, but if it is true, how is Ofsted going to find out about those who are unregistered?

Speeding Up

It is reported that over recent years Coram has placed about fifty children for adoption ‘concurrently’ i.e. with the prospective adopters caring for the children while the adoption process goes ahead, so that the children do not suffer multiple placements.

We are surprised that this is a news story, as the practice went on as far back as the 1980s. If it works out satisfactorily, that is of course in everyone’s interests; the risk is that if there is a breakdown of any sort, the child suffers disruption which is painful also for the intended adopters. But if a concurrent placement is not made, there is the painful waiting, and the need to move the child from a temporary foster home where s/he may have settled happily. So we back concurrency.

Happy Christmas

It will be New Year 2010 before we publish again, and Christmas will be over once more, so we wish you all a Happy Christmas 2009, wherever you are.

From a Recent Conference Programme

The Policy Debate will be held on the afternoon of Saturday, in the Ballroom. Doors will open at 3.00pm, and the session will start at 3.30am. Admittance will be by ticket only.

And security checks will take twelve and a half hours, so bring your sandwiches and a fat novel.

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