In the 1980s, there were huge shifts in child awareness. There was the incredibly forward-facing Childline* which gave children and young people anonymity whilst they talked out their experiences of being abused or rejected by those who should have loved and protected them. There were the significant names of small children who were in the care of or known to social services and the other caring professional bodies and yet they still died horrible deaths – Tyra Henry, Jasmine Beckford, Kimberley Carlile and Doreen Mason were all murdered by parents or step-parents. There was a new vocabulary to be learned which linked to child abuse and child torture. There was no longer the same opportunity to sweep such things under the carpet. This definitely was the dawning of a new era.
At the same time, the country was coming to terms with an aspect of life that also made for uncomfortable thinking and sparked off angry debates. Racism and its subsequent issues created many different approaches to training and education, especially for those who wished to work with children and young people. Everyone had to demonstrate their equal-mindedness. The old style anti-racism training was designed to make people, white or black, feel uncomfortable and to question or challenge traditional assumptions under which they were raised.
During this turbulent but exciting time and through to the 1990s, there were also changes in legislation as well as the way that training and education were delivered. We acquired the Children Act 1989. The message was very clear – all children’s’ services including the Police should have clear communication and work in partnership. The significance of this Act was in its acknowledgement of the individuality of every child and their identity through culture, gender, religion, ethnicity, language, sexuality and so on.
This was indeed an innovation in this country. With the changes in attitudes and expectations of children, came an increasing awareness of the diverse needs of children. The welfare list defining a Child in Need became a key feature within any training programme. Training organisations and colleges spent more time looking at the development and progress of children through life towards adulthood.
The other major change was the way that training was delivered and conducted. National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) were introduced, initially for those workers who had spent many years as unqualified staff members. Their experiences and skills had to be acknowledged in some way, so a programme that allowed them to demonstrate their understanding of children and young people with opportunities to show how they would predict and plan so that progress and success were guaranteed, was devised – the NVQ. It was a practical method of gaining a paper qualification whilst holding onto a job.
The purpose of the NVQ was to support candidates whose reluctance to enter into academic training may have been a barrier to their chances of promotion and progress. The NVQ was a huge and positive step to help the existing adult workforce. Since then, NVQs have become very much a catch-all. They are used within most training organisations and colleges and indeed schools to push young people through a system which allows very little opportunity to learn and understand the theories and thinking behind child care practice.
An NVQ is very much a paper-based qualification with an academic expectation which challenges one of the fundamental principles on which it was originally produced. Young people from the age of 16 years can enter into this form of training and by the age of 17 can be considered qualified to work as an assistant in a pre-school or nursery setting or even with children in their early school years. Even though they are considered to be assistants only, it is common practice to leave these youngsters in sole charge of small groups of children.
Working to qualify as an electrician or plumber cannot be equated to the complications of supporting children’s care and education. I have seen nothing yet that convinces me that we will be able to produce high quality and well-educated staff members if this practice continues, as I know it will.
We do not place enough value on our children and young people whether they are the carers or the cared for.
- Childline is a voluntary organisation where children and young people can call if they want to talk about their problems and where, if they choose, they can get help to resolve their difficulties. www.childline.org.uk