News Views

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Celebrate on 6 May 2010

We expect that on 6 May in the UK, there will be some people celebrating and some feeling down in the dumps, assuming that it proves to be General Election Day. However, we have had a call from the Coalition for Residential Education (CORE) in the United States, to celebrate with them their second annual National Residential Education Day.

Maya Aguilar writes:

We invite you to participate in the festivities! National Residential Education Day is an opportunity for residential education programs to reach out to policymakers, funders, and the community at large to better share with them all that programs do for and with the youth they serve. This day-long public awareness event across the country is a powerful platform upon which programs can increase recognition and understanding.

At the same time, decision-makers can also be educated about what distinguishes residential education, using the “branding” language CORE has developed over the past few years. Using common and clear terminology, we have learned, is a powerful tool for making residential education better recognized, understood, and valued, especially in today’s environment.

We chose May because it is convenient to most programs’ schedules and because it is during National Foster Care Month. Leading child welfare organizations are coming together to increase awareness about foster care. This gives an opportunity to “piggy back” on other national efforts to raise public awareness of the need for safe, healthy, education-focused settings for at-risk children.

Bill Frye of Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches secured a proclamation signed by the Governor of Florida naming May 6 Florida Residential Education Day! We encourage you to use your established relationships with local media, policymakers, and supporters. When all programs nationwide concentrate their awareness-building efforts on one specific day, there is enhanced visibility. As the saying goes, “All news is local.” We encourage you to highlight your programs and your accomplishments within this national context, and to have fun while doing so.

The Institute of Child Care and Social Education considered setting up 6 May as Residential Care Day in the UK, to mirror CORE, but decided that - this year at least - people might have other things on their minds. What do you think about having a UK Residential Care Day later in the year - perhaps when the new Parliament has settled in? Perhaps the day could be used for children and young people to contact their MPs, to make sure that the newcomers are alert to their needs.

If you want to know more about CORE, here are the contact details:

Maya C. Aguilar

Director of Communication

CORE: Coalition for Residential Education
6900 Wisconsin Ave, Suite 410
Bethesda, MD 20815
T: (301) 656-6101  F: (301) 656-6134
www.residentialeducation.org

Visit South Africa

No, we don’t mean the World Cup; something much more important. In December 2010 FICE is holding its Congress in Cape Town, under the heading Celebrating the Courage to Care in a Diverse World. No country is more diverse than South Africa, with its mixture of races, cultures and languages, so they know what they are talking about.

It’s a long way to go for a conference, but the event should be fascinating. South Africa faces massive child care problems because of poverty, social stresses and HIV/AIDS, and they have come up with creative answers. The National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) has played a significant role in developing services and training workers, and there is a lot for non-South Africans to learn from them.

Elsewhere in this issue Merle Allsopp has put together an article giving information about the Congress and South Africa. December may seem a long way off, but it may be helpful to start planning now. We all know what a fabulous country it is for holidays. How about combining a holiday and the FICE Congress?

Head over Heart, but Not Yet

One obviously has to have sympathy for Denise Fergus, the mother of Jamie Bulger, not only because of the loss of her son, but also because of the constant reminders which open up the old wounds. We suspect that the media will not let the story die until Jamie’s murderers are themselves both dead. Feeling sympathy for her, though, does not mean that she is right in calling for the resignation or dismissal of the new Children’s Commissioner, Dr Maggie Atkinson.

We ought perhaps to recommend that Dr Atkinson does some media training. To suggest that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised is a brave thing to do in a Britain where, as her predecessor, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, pointed out, young people are figures of hate and fear for a section of the population and media. To make the suggestion in relation to Jon Venables after all the recent hou-ha about his alleged re-offending was simply asking for trouble.

The subject merits careful dispassionate thought, and the emotional response was not only predictable but will have clouded the issue so much that a proper discussion is not on. At a time when politicians do not want to upset the electorate, the Ministry of Justice kicked the ball into touch immediately and understandably, ending the game for the present.

Of course Dr Atkinson should not resign, but she needs to bring the issue back when the next Government is settled in, has got over its immediate priorities and is under no threat. Even without the emotional overtones the issue is complex, involving our understanding of child development, our attitudes to child offenders and the nature of our legal system. There may be quite a few ways of resolving the issue, not just raising the age of criminal responsibility. And whatever changes may emerge, they will need to take account of the internet and its impact on attempts to maintain secrecy in cases such as those of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

What’s the CCCF?

The Christian Child Care Forum has just held its Annual Conference, focusing on the theme of wellbeing. A good time was had by those who attended, but the organisation is not well known, and the Conference merited a higher level of attendance.

Baroness Howarth offered a commentary on the current political position, and the threat of cuts. She pointed out that the Easter message was that achievement was through pain and suffering. Good things can come out of hard times.

There was an update by Jim Davis on The Good Childhood Conversation initiated by the Children’s Society, who are now wanting to involve others in discussions about the issues raised in the report.

Jo-Joy Wright spoke about the needs of carers, and the importance of carers themselves being cared for, supported and looking after themselves.

Richard Eason of Oasis UK gave an introduction to Developmental Assets - originally an American system which provides a helpful analysis of the strengths of individuals and offers ways of helping them do better. It has not yet been taken up widely in the UK, but it has a lot to offer - a sound foundation in research, a clear comprehensible structure, a positive approach based on strengths rather than a negative pathological viewpoint, and applicability in all sorts of settings - schools, communities or residential care, for example.

The final input by Joanna Gordon was a lively introduction to the world of toddler groups, and delegates were tested on their knowledge of parenting. (Did you know that 41% of parents with young children look after them without other help such as nannies or childminders?)

A key message emerging from the Conference was that churches throughout the country are acting as focuses for community action and providing services for children. They are serving people from all faiths or with none, and the quality of their child care is widely appreciated by those who use the services. Yet there were reports that churches trying to set up child care services or making bids for funds  were suffering discrimination on the part of local authorities, who presumably assumed that to support Christian activities would somehow upset ethnic minorities and be discriminatory. It is time that this line of argument was abandoned as rubbish.

The CCCF had undertaken a survey of political party attitudes to children, which is published elsewhere in this issue.

For Christians working with children and young people and for Christian organisations providing services for children the CCCF Annual Conference provides a friendly and supportive setting and a good opportunity for networking. Email us if you would like to know more.

Positive Social Health

No; we are not arguing for eugenics or anything like that. But we are arguing for a change of philosophy. When Professor James Anglin researched children’s homes in Canada, he did not look at the bad homes and recommend how to address their problems; he looked at the good homes, then identified the factors which made them good. It’s a matter of building on the strengths and the positives, rather than simply trying to counter the negatives and weaknesses.

We tend to research social problems and then apply resources in relation to the problems. How about identifying the areas of society where things are going well, and then ask what it is that makes living in those areas good? Is it high income? the number of parks? the size of the community? the stability of the population? the ethnic mix? the social mix?

We suspect that, like the findings of  much social research, some answers might be obvious. But we might also be surprised by some. And we might find that we are directing resources at the wrong things in trying to provide good surroundings for people to live in.

Top Ten Classic Children’s Books Now Free e-Books

We received the following Press Release from Yudu, and thought it might be of interest to readers.

To celebrate Children’s Book Day on Friday 2 April, digital publisher YUDU Media has released the top ten children’s book classics in modern day e-Book format.

Available to parents, teachers and children at no cost, the top ten classics are available at yudu.com, housed in their own eLibrary.

The top 10 e-Books include the following titles:

  1. Andersen’s Fairy Tales                        (author: Hans Christian Andersen)
  2. Alice in Wonderland                            (author: Lewis Carroll)
  3. Secret Garden                                     (author: Frances Hodgson Burnett)
  4. The Wind in the Willows                       (author: Kenneth Graham)
  5. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz                (author: L. Frank Baum)
  6. The Railway Children                          (author: E. Nesbit)
  7. Little Women                                        (author: Louisa May Alcott)
  8. Peter Pan                                             (author: J.M. Barrie)
  9. The Water Babies                                 (author: Rev Charles Kingsley)
  10. Aesop’s Fables                                    (author: Aesop)

Simultaneously, YUDU have also released the Top Ten Classic Books for Boys and the Top Ten  Fairy Tales, containing some of the most well known children’s classics including Robinson Crusoe, Oliver Twist, Cinderella and Jack & the Bean Stalk to name a few.

The free e-Book technology is compatible with screen readers for the blind and partially sighted and includes features such as   digital Bookmarks; keyword search and a page note facility; perfect for an educational environment. Readers can create their own free eLibrary on YUDU.com, to store any favourites, ready to read at any time.

Robert Elding, Marketing Director of YUDU Media, says, “With Children’s Book Day only a few days away, we wanted to make the top ten children’s classics available to all as free, modern day eBooks.”  Elding adds, “They will become part of a greater eLibrary we are creating on YUDU.com as a free resource for children, parents and teachers in a bid to make classic books freely available to all using state-of-the-art digital editions.”

Secure Accommodation

The number of young people in secure accommodation is said to be coming down, which is good news. There are still too many young people (legally still children) locked up, and it is a blot on the reputation of Britain.

We see it as an example, in part, of the best of intentions gone wrong. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”, as Robert Burns put it.

Go back thirty years and more, and there was virtually no secure accommodation as we now know it. Remand homes had locked front doors to dissuade absconders, but they were not fully secure, and they were largely sited in big old houses. Some approved schools had secure rooms, which were used from time to time, but most of the 8,000 children in the schools were not locked in. There was some absconding, but most of the children and young people committed to approved schools “did their time” as was expected of them.

This scenario changed in four stages:

1          First it was decided that no child should be locked up without Court authorisation, the legislation being mindful of children’s rights and the need to protect them from professionals who might incarcerate them without good reason or public accountability.

2          The next stage was the conclusion that if children were to be locked up they had to be in places built for the purpose, designed so that children could not get out, could be controlled if they became violent, and had no way of harming themselves. The result was premises that were distinctly different from anything domestic.

3          The approved schools had by now been turned into community homes with education and then most of them had been closed, on the grounds that they were institutional and isolated, sited out in the countryside, a long way from where the young people lived.

4          As a consequence, the young people with the most challenging behaviour had to be placed in family group homes, often sited on council estates where there were social problems already. The outcome was not only exacerbated problems for the neighbourhood but also the subsequent removal of the young people to secure accommodation when their behaviour became unmanageable.

With the best of intentions, we have ended up by locking up thousands of young people who would previously have been held in open accommodation. This argument is, of course, oversimplified to fit in as a minor item in News Views, but do you have another explanation? You might wish to argue, for instance, that in part the numbers are the outcome of the policy of successive Home Secretaries / Ministers of Justice of, “Incarceration, incarceration, incarceration”…..

Mittel Appenzell Shows the Way

Burgomeister Niemann has been in touch as usual at this time of the year from the canton of Mittel Appenzell. He says that, to keep people of all ages interested in politics, the parties have put their policies into songs, and instead of pushing leaflets into every letterbox the party supporters are going round the streets singing. Everyone comes out to listen to them, and instead of polls they are using clapometers to measure the support they receive.

“The Grey Vote have taken on a quartet of yodellers. They sing in harmony like the barbers, though they are in fact cow farmers”, says Herr Niemann, “and their voices can be heard clearly ringing round the little valleys of Mittel Appenzell. The Satchel Vote (Schulmappestimme) do not have such loud voices, and they use amplifiers, but this does not go down well with the voters - except for the children - as they feel that their Canton should reflect nature and they think that electronic amplification is unnatural and does harm to the eardrums”.

Herr Niemann says that the Satchel Vote claim that the Grey Vote are out of date, and their songs are rude about their candidates, likening them to something popping out of a cuckoo-clock, and they clap in time with a loud chorus of “Kuhenglock und alpenstock”. The Grey Vote are cleverer, and speak warmly of the little ones, while hinting that they are too young to be competent.

Still, as the Burgomeister is quick to point out, in Mittel Appenzell everyone can have their say, everyone can vote, the polling system is scrupulously accurate, everyone accepts the outcome, and they are all friends afterwards. “What more could you desire?” asks Niemann.

From the Case Files

Father had made several attempts to contact his sins.

Bound to catch up with him in the end. Better for him to face them head on, or go and live with his laughter.

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