News Views : August 2006

A mixture of news items, future events, sales pitches, comments and whimsies, including risk, childhood, the Child Support Agency, child protection, useful websites, staff needs v. children’s needs and patterns of schooling.

Theme 1

Sometimes we have had a theme for the month in the Webmag. Sometimes regular contributors cover the same subject without any of us planning to do so. This month, Chris Durkin focused on the terrible risks faced by children in war-torn countries, while Valerie Jackson was asking whether we mollycoddle children too much, so that they cannot learn how to cope with risk.

Humans are built to cope with a certain amount of stress, being ready for fight or flight, and many of us have to face life-changing stresses at some point. But is there a right amount of stress? And is there a right amount of risk for children, to prepare them for the stresses they may face?

In some activities, children can experience risk while actually not being in real danger, for example when wearing a safety harness while walking over a high rope bridge. In others, there is a degree of risk, minimised by careful planning, training, close supervision and the use of the right equipment, but the risk remains real, as the tragic case of Aaron Gloss in Ecuador showed recently. Small amounts of calculated risk-taking may help children learn and develop self-confidence, so that they can take on bigger challenges later in life. But it is hard to see how anyone can be prepared to face the terrible traumas of war.

Theme 2

The Editorial and Keith White’s In Residence column were written independently, but again a synergy has emerged, with the Editorial arguing for better corporate parenting by the community and Keith showing how even a very modest activity can have far-reaching and profound effects for families and individuals.

This is a subject which would warrant a conference or two.

Risk

While talking about risk, the RNLI have begun a campaign called Beachwise, with a new website for children to test their knowledge of seaside risks http://www.rnli.org.uk/Shorething. Apparently 33% of children consider inflatables to present a risk, exactly the same score as sharks. The actual risk is shown by the figures for rescues. Last year 151 children on inflatables had to be rescued, but not a single one had to be saved from a shark.

Childhood

Suddenly everyone’s getting interested in childhood. About time too. But one shouldn’t look gift horses in the mouth. The Children’s Society has set up an Inquiry into the Good Childhood, on the basis that it is not good enough at present. The Chair will be Professor Layard and Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner, is one of the panel members.

The Children’s Society describes the Inquiry as the first national independent inquiry into childhood. While they acknowledge the greater wealth available today, they note a lot of problems faced by children – higher levels of mental ill-health, the danger of idealising / demonising children, disabilities and offending.
The Children’s Society say that children and young people are helping to shape the inquiry’s themes and will be actively involved throughout the initiative. The Children’s Society has already asked 10,000 young people what they think makes for a good childhood and the findings will be published in September. That is certainly the right way to start the Inquiry. We look forward to seeing what they come up with as ways if improving the lot of children.

The Child Support Agency

The CSA has become everybody’s favourite target. The LibDems are the latest to have a go at them, and their Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, David Laws MP said:

“The CSA is continuing to fail some of the most vulnerable children in society, placing them in severe financial hardship. Today’s admission that some families are having to wait 16 months for their Child Support payments to begin is simply unacceptable. The CSA has failed to collect £3.5 billion of Child Support. It is clearly a dying organisation, crippled by 13 years of ministerial incompetence. The CSA must be abolished and replaced with a new organisation with complete access to income details and the ability to deduct money at source from those who refuse to pay. However, this week’s Government announcement shows that rather than genuine reform, we will have another two years of consultation at the expense of the poorest families.”

Of course, if couples did not split up, we would not need the CSA in the first place.

Safeguarding Children

Just a little plug. A series of lectures has been arranged by the University of Huddersfield for senior practitioners working in the field of child protection. There are six three-hour sessions, to be held on Friday mornings between 9.15 and 12.15 about once a month from September 2006 to April 2007, and they are free. To apply, contact :
s.m.hanson@hud.ac.uk (01484 473213).

More News

The National Child Minding Association has set up an e-newsletter which carries information about the latest legislation, training developments and a host of other things which may be of interest to home-based child carers.

Among other things, their inaugural edition carries the story of the NCMA’s award as a good employer. Of the 256 companies accredited by the Sunday Times, the NCMA was one of the 41 which achieved the top rank of three stars. Nice for an association to be one of the news items.

They say that over 2000 people have already signed up to read NCMA News. If you are interested in reading it or would like to comment, email ncma.news@ncma.org.uk .

Even More News

The National Children’s Bureau has set up a new website concerning good practice in working with asylum-seeking children. Understandably, the project is called Asylum and Refugee Children in Need: Developing Good Practice Project, and the website can be found on www.ncb.org.uk/arc .

Who Comes First?

Sally Paul raises some interesting issues in her piece about the need for managers to value staff. She makes her point very clearly, and one would not want to dispute the importance of staff, the need for managers to value them, and the way that doing so provides a model for the staff to value the children and young people they work with.

But whose needs come first? The staff are only there to meet the children’s needs. If there were no children with needs, there would be no jobs for the workers. So the logic is that the children should come first. Sally gives an example of a member of staff who was assaulted by a young person deciding to go to the police to report the incident. If the children come first, the primary question is whether it is in the child’s best interests to be reported to the police. The answer will depend on the circumstances.

But, people might argue, why should the member of staff’s rights be subordinated? Staff deserve as much respect as children, and it could be seen as poor social modelling if anyone is treated as being inferior. If so, the question is whether there is agreement in the unit that anyone striking another person renders him or herself vulnerable to being reported to the police or whether such incidents are dealt with inside the unit.

The question of modelling by managers is important, but it is not simply a question of valuing staff. The way in which any unit is run is influenced by the personality of the manager and his/her leadership style in all its nuances. What is more, the varying styles bring out different qualities in the staff. One can see people functioning differently as heads of units change, for example. We all have the capacity to function in a variety of ways, depemding upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is for the managers to provide a setting in which good practice flourishes, and meeting the children’s needs is the priority.

Did you see? …..

….. the Guardian Education Supplement story about the school which had done away with the school bell to mark the end and the beginning of lessons (25 July)? It said that the head teacher, S. Broadbent, was also questioning the value of lessons being 45 minutes long, and was suggesting a day a week dedicated to specific subjects. We said this years ago. The traditional pattern of schooling has been built up through historical precedents and small changes, but no-one (as far as we know) has asked why it is the shape it is, and whether we might gain by changing it fundamentally.

Why have terms? Why work the hours currently worked? Why have lessons on traditional subject lines? If we are needing to prepare children and young people to be able to relate to each other, to work under their own motivation, to be able to probe and question, to analyse, to express themselves, to think clearly, and so on, why do we shape schooling as we do? If we need children to pick up specific areas of knowledge, such as a foreign language, a month concentrated on the subject, for example by going abroad, would teach a lot more.

From the Case Files

This man was thought to be a heroine addict.

He read nothing but the lives of Florence Nightingale, Grace Darling and Madame Curie?

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