News Views

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Haiti

The scale of the disaster in Haiti is such that it would be wrong for the Webmag not to recognise its individual impact on a whole generation of children in that country. Thousands have been killed; many are orphaned; many have lost limbs or been injured; for the rest of their lives all of them will carry the memories of the earthquake, the fear, the loss, the sight of suffering and the uneasiness and grim living conditions afterwards.

It is a terrible tragedy, made worse by the poverty and political instability in the country over recent decades. There is always anger at the slowness of the authorities to respond to disasters but, in the case of Haiti, the community did not have the resources or infrastructure to be able to respond.

If there is to be good coming from the suffering experienced in this catastrophe, two things need to be done:

-           There need to be better international systems (presumably run by the UN) for taking over and creating the infrastructure to deal with disasters, so that the right balance of supplies and services can be provided and controlled, and to avoid squabbles and shortages.

-           Haiti - and other poor countries - need to be helped to build up their economies so that they themselves can cope better, not only at times of disaster, but as participants in the world economy, so that their people can live a better life in the first place. Haiti has needed help for a long time; it has had some aid and support, and the UN was active, but action was not enough to get the country properly on its feet. We hope that a shocked world will be motivated to give long-lasting help to this generation of Haitian children after their ordeal.

And in all the ghastliness of the disaster, let us be thankful for the generosity and commitment of everyone who has helped out, and for the miraculous rescues of people many days after the event.

Being Professional 1

Jennifer Lehmann refers in her article this month to the socialisation effects of training, which encourage students to take on a professional approach to their work and their clientele. This presumably entails the absorption of professional values, adopting professional attitudes such as being non-judgemental, and creating a professional persona which will be independent of the clients. At the CCHN conference in October 2009 June Jones spoke impressively about the ways in which medical students were educated into internalising professional ethics, and the importance of the personal influence of the lecturers in making students face their shortcomings.

On the other hand we were at a meeting of a voluntary organisation the other evening where the thread running through the discussion was that former clients appreciated the way that non-professionals in the voluntary sector listened and did not judge or pigeon-hole people, by contrast with the professionals, who assessed and categorised clients and told them what to do.

We obviously need professionals who are independent but not aloof, listening while analysing unobtrusively, and as committed as volunteers but with hidden skills.

Being Professional 2

While thinking about professionalism, don’t miss the article about the social pedagogy pilots this month. Whatever you think about social pedagogy, as an enthusiast or as a sceptic, you cannot fail to be impressed by the interest it has stirred up. Participants have had their eyes opened, they have had successes and their keenness to improve is palpable.

Enthusiasm is not everything. If you want a pipe fixing, an enthusiastic plumber can wreck your electrics as well. But in child care a real commitment is as vital as all the skills and knowledge.

Well-being

This year’s Christian Child Care Forum Annual Conference on 24 March 2010 at King’s Cross Baptist Church is focusing on well-being, with Baroness Howarth to speak about Government policies, Jim Davies about The Good Childhood, Jo-Joy Wright about professionals’ needs, Richard Eason on the well-being of communities and Joanna Gordon on parents’ and toddlers’ well-being.

The event is friendly and modestly priced, and whether you represent a Christian organisation, or you’re a Christian working in child care, or you’re just curious about well-being, it should be an interesting day. Ring 0208 504 2702 for more details, or go to www.christianchildcareforum.org.

Acting Together

The Young Vic and Siblings Together are collaborating to provide a half-term workshop, intended for separated siblings (in care, adopted, left care etc.) to give them an opportunity to share an interesting activity. The week-long programme will give young people aged 15-25 the chance to work with professional actors and directors, and to create a show by the end of the week. To find out more, ring

07899  2745 or 0207  231  6925. Time is short and places are limited.

Grandparents’ Rights

The new Government Green Paper on families suggests that grandparents should have more rights of access to their grandchildren. We back this development. For too long the family has been viewed as consisting primarily of parents and children, with other family members being also-rans.

Before the days of open adoptions, when children were presented to their new families as if their minds were tabula rasa, it was not only the parents who were deprived of their children, but grandparents lost their grandchildren too. While adoption may have been the outcome of poor parenting, grandparents were punished too, even if they had done their best for their grandchildren.

Now we are into the era of family conferencing where a wide range of concerned extended family members may be involved, and the saying about children’s upbringing being a matter for the whole village, not just the parents, has been quoted so often that it is verging on the hackneyed. For it to be true in practice, though, a lot more changes will be needed. Any ways in which nuclear families can be supported should be encouraged, and giving grandparents a more significant role is a move in the right direction.

Leading from the Front

We liked the story about Brian Walker, Head of West Park School in Spondon, Derby, who insists on silence during an hour’s Vivaldi, Bach, Handel or Mozart as part of detention. A lot of the subsequent comment was whether this would put children off classical music for life. We doubt it, but the point we want to make here is that Brian Walker’s impact on the school community strikes us as resulting from the way he leads from the front.

It is Brian Walker (or his deputy) who supervises the detention; it is Brian Walker who is on the school’s home page, inviting people to contact him. We expect that the children in his school know where they stand with him, and that he provides the sort of framework for children’s behaviour which they need. Not only that, but we suspect that he keeps coming up with challenging educational ideas which expose the children to new ways of seeing things, new experiences - which is what learning is all about. If so, it is not surprising if misbehaviour is down in West Park School; the classical music is probably only one part of a bigger jigsaw.

Everyone a Reader

A piece of research by the Institute of Education in London University called Every Child a Reader found that half an hour’s individual teaching a day for four months enabled six-year-olds who had fallen behind in reading to catch up, and the change was long-term. Good news.

We would also like to encourage child care professionals to read more. It’s a good way of picking up ideas from other people, of professional self-development, of understanding children and their needs better, of having your preconceptions challenged, and so on. Ask your colleagues when they last read a professional book, and tell us what you found out.

Smacking and Optimism

Professor Marjorie Gunnoe of Calvin College Michigan is reported to have done some research which showed that children smacked until they are six did better at school, and that smacked children were more optimistic. We knew a man once who said that the way to train a dog was to beat it while it was young, so that it knew who was its master. We can’t tell you if his dogs were more optimistic.

New Technology - and its Impact on Children

Prezzybox polled 1398 parents with children aged under 10 and found that 63% of the children had mobile phones and 77% had their own lap-tops. However, 54% of parents did not monitor the call usage of their children’s phones in any way, and Prezzybox was concerned that primary school children’s use of the internet should be checked too.

More than 40% also had handheld consoles, iPods or MP3 players, digital cameras, and their individual TVs in their rooms. Having their own TVs presumably stopped squabbling about channels, but we must be breeding a race of hermits. Arguing about TV channels is at least a form of social interaction which hopefully helps children to learn about give and take.

MyVoucher Codes also did a survey and found that parents had allowed 78% of children under 15 years old to join social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo, and 48% did not know what their children were doing on those sites.

Meanwhile a YouGov poll has indicated that a sixth of children aged one to seven have speech difficulties, and this is attributed to their sitting in front of screens of all kinds.

It’s not only children we need to be worried about. Winmonkey did a survey and found that 23% of stay-at-home mothers spent more time on the internet than on giving their children quality time. Another illusion dashed! Humanity certainly has its frailties.

Safe at Home

Commissioned by the Department for Children Schools and Families, the Royal Society for Safety and the Prevention of Accidents has devised a scheme called Safe at Home, designed to spread information widely and make equipment available. There is an 8-minute DVD for starters, being made available to all SureStart Centres.

They point out that families in need are often those most at risk, and from the cases we have come across we can only agree - little children left alone in a house, standing by open upstairs windows, for example. See www.safeathome.rospa.com. if you want to read more.

The Child’s Best Interests?

On 19 January Barnardo’s issued a press release quoting their Chief Executive, Martin Narey, “Today’s Cafcass figures show that the sharp rise in care applications after baby Peter’s death has not been reversed. This should be welcomed as an appropriate response to child neglect and abuse. Social workers need to be supported to intervene earlier when a child is at risk. Barnardo’s is concerned that pressure to keep families together, almost at any cost, must be resisted. The interests of the child should always come first.”

We don’t disagree, but the question is what is in the child’s best interests. Some people believe that keeping children with their families helps children most. To get out of this circular argument there needs to be much more research to identify where real risk lies, and this will need to reflect all the nuances and variations between different families when it is applied. Otherwise, social workers will have to follow their hunches.

Just to use one example, research has shown that fostering is more successful when children maintain links with their birth families. Now is this just because the links are maintained, or because the more coherent and supportive families are the ones which maintain links? And since there can at times be fearful tensions between foster carers and birth parents, with the children torn between them, do we have any ways of identifying potential foster carers who will not be able to work in partnership with birth parents successfully?

Every School-day Counts

Under this banner Sunderland City Council have done a deal with Hays Travel to offer a 10% reduction to parents who book family holidays and stick to school holiday times, in order to encourage 100% school attendance. In view of the high percentage of parents who remove their children from school to go on holiday, we think this is a good idea. When parents do this, it is a sort of parentally-sanctioned truancy; it tells the children that the holiday is more important than education, or that the price of missing some schooling is worth paying to keep the costs of holidays down.

The alternative is that, like virtually all other places of work, schools could remain open almost all the year, and children could take holidays as appropriate, in the way that workers in factories, offices etc. do, covering for each other and keeping the business going. Has anyone tried that model? Even in 365-day boarding schools we’ve not heard of staggered holidays.

Social na Pedagogika

We have received the November 2009 edition of the Slovenian social pedagogy journal. This one is in Slovenian, but four of the five articles have abstracts in English. Their themes are:

-           the group as a social learning space,

-           the developmental and psychological significance of games in middle and late childhood,

-           the significance of interactive play activities for social skills training,

-           confronting aggressive behaviour in children and adolescents following the LSCI model, and

-           the teacher in the role of the mediator.

It’s time to learn Slovenian.

Advice for Parents

A new parental advice website has been set up called www.parentchannel.tv, supported by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. It is designed to give simple advice on key issues of concern. They have undertaken a survey to find out what causes greatest alarm to parents and children.

They have found out that parents are most bothered about their children getting involved in drugs and alcohol, followed by the possibility of a serious accident, and they are least confident about talking to their children about sexuality or paedophilia, though they thought that sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy were the two main subjects which they should be discussing.

The children were concerned about sexuality, serious accidents, academic failure their financial stability and being in trouble with the law. The survey also covered what they lie about - which includes homework.

Tegan’s Wish

We don’t usually carry feel-good stories unless they have some other message about encouraging high standards of child care. On this occasion, we felt that as a contrast to the news from Haiti, it would be good to end with an item which is simply heart-warming. Well done, to everyone involved.

Budding ballerina Tegan Jones, aged 11 from Bishop’s Cleeve in Cheltenham, was granted a surprise wish by Make-A-Wish Foundation UK, the charity that grants magical wishes to children fighting life-threatening illnesses. Tegan has been dance-mad since she was four years old. But living with hypersulinaemia and hypoglycaemia, disorders affecting insulin and sugar levels in the blood, had often meant missing ballet classes.

Despite this, Tegan had always dreamed of being a star and her condition did not get in the way of her dream, when she was escorted to her own VIP dressing room at the Royal Opera House. Tegan, her mother Carol and her grandmother Beryl Downie were then given a behind-the-scenes tour of the venue by Royal Ballet dancer David Pickering, which included a sneaky-peek at costumes and ‘heads’ from the Tales of Beatrix Potter. When Tegan was given a mouse costume to try on in the Wardrobe Department, little did she know she would be performing in it later.

After dinner with the dancers, Tegan, Carol and Beryl were then allowed backstage to watch the first show of the evening, Les Patineurs, a ballet about an Edwardian skating party. The highlight of the evening came when Tegan was taken backstage during the evening’s performance of the Tales of Beatrix Potter and told she would be on next. Far from being fazed, Tegan was in her element, following her instructions and getting into character with the other, more seasoned, ballet dancers onstage, before staying for a bow at the final curtain. Tegan was made to feel the star of the show as everyone in the company congratulated her and showered her with gifts - signed ballet shoes, Beatrix Potter goodies and bunches of flowers to name but a few. Tegan’s Mum Carole said, “I never dreamed that anything could be so special. It brought me to tears seeing her perform on stage”.

There are currently 20,000 children and young people like Tegan in the UK fighting a life-threatening illness. This year alone around 1,000 children will turn to Make-A-Wish and to grant all these, Make-A-Wish needs to raise at least £5 million in 2010. To contact Make-A-Wish ring 01276 40 50 60 or visit www.make-a-wish.org.uk

From a Report

It took two moths to allocate J as the family’s Social Worker.

Why pay a Team Leader when a couple of clothes moths can do the job?

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