News Views - October 2007

Monday, October 1st, 2007

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including the DNA data base, an NCMA survey of parents’ knowledge about services, sport for children with disabilities, foreign food, drink, truancy, poverty, boarding schools, CEIEC, Interconnections Electronic Bulletin, and advice on nutrition and children’s behaviour.

1984

We know that 1984 was 23 years ago, but the date is still synonymous with the era of the police state. Now, Lord Justice Sedley, a Court of Appeal Judge, wants everyone’s DNA to be put on a register. (It’s one of the possible developments for the future we did not list in the Editorial.) The argument is that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to worry about, and police have cleared up quite a few old crimes by checking DNA samples on items of evidence that had been kept. So why not?

The danger is the insidious creeping loss of freedoms which George Orwell described in 1984, which may grow until the state controls everything. The powers that be already hold huge amounts of data on us, and their use of it borders on the questionable at times. We are fortunate in having politicians, civil servants etc. who are on the whole keen to protect our rights and who maintain high standards. Humans being what they are, those standards may be breached if someone less scrupulous wants to use such data to make money or hang on to power. Since knowledge is power, it might be dangerous to put too much knowledge in the hands of some people.

There are said to be 883,888 children and young people between 10 and 17 (plus 108 under 10) on the data-base. Is it really necessary to hold so much information? Is such a high proportion of the juvenile population a threat to society such that these records need to be kept? Our view is that the shadow of 1984 is a bigger danger.

What Parents Know

The National Childminding Association has published its annual Parental Awareness Survey, and the results are encouraging. Parents are now more aware of the childcare options open to them. Without prompting, 83 per cent of parents were able to name childminding as a form of childcare (compared with 39 per cent in 2006) and 85 per cent mentioned nurseries. Some way behind, 31 per cent mentioned pre-school play groups and 30 per cent out-of-school clubs. Nine per cent of the sample of 1,000 parents with children up to the age of 14 said they used childminders (a 2.1% increase) and 19.8 used nurseries (a 7.6% increase).

Beverley Hughes, Children, Young People and Families Minister, welcomed the report, and pointed out that the Government had invested over £21 billion in expanding early years and childcare provision since 1997, with £3 million per day being provided to parents through Tax Credits.

Sport for Children with Disabilities

We’ve had a press release encouraging children with disabilities to register with WheelPower, the governing body for people involved in wheelchair sport. Dame Tanni Grey Thompson has pointed out that with more disabled children in mainstream education, it is proving more challenging to provide them with sporting opportunities. Although she herself attended a mainstream school, she had to go to a sports day at a nearby special school, and this ignited her passion for sport. So WheelPower want to be able to contact disabled children and their families, so that they can inform them of events in their localities.

Email – info@wheelpower.org.uk Tel – 01296 395995

Foreign Food

An interesting bit of research carried out by Nick Jr shows that despite their reputations as fussy eaters, British kids are in fact adventurous in their tastes, with parents claiming that by the age of five, children have tried everything from Chinese to Spanish and even Sushi.

Chicken tikka masala is still most popular, with 45% of children sampling Indian food. A quarter of under fives have tried Spanish dishes and over one in five have tasted French cuisine. Scots leading the way on Chinese food - 70% of Scottish under fives have eaten it, well above the national average of 58%. Welsh respondents prefer Italian with 69% opting for it, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Midlands under fives are the biggest fans of Indian food with over half trying a curry.

The report also revealed just how much tastes have changed over the years, with parents aged 16-24 five times than parents aged 55 plus more likely to feed their little ones Mexican fahitas or Thai dishes, ensuring these cuisines are the fastest growing food choices in the UK today. Bottom of the table is Sushi with an average of 3%, indicating that no matter how fashionable a cuisine might be amongst parents, kids are rarely tempted by the offer of raw fish.

One in five parents claim their kids haven’t tried any of the foreign cuisines listed, particularly in Yorkshire where a quarter of parents surveyed claim their little ones stick to British fare.

Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums.com comments on the study findings, “The results of this survey prove that today’s parents are doing a great job of introducing their kids to international flavours at a young age and encouraging them to be adventurous with their food choices”.

And have you noticed when you travel that you never see English restaurants in other countries? British and Irish pubs maybe, but never a restaurant, though the quality of English restaurant food is now as good as, or better than, that in other countries.

Drink

The NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care has reported that one in five secondary school pupils admits to having been drunk in the week before the survey - ranging from mildly tipsy to fully inebriated. From the pictures shown in the media, this is probably no surprise.

However, the number of 11 to 15-year-olds who said they had never drunk alcohol at all has risen from 39 per cent in 2003 to 45 per cent in 2006, and the number who had drunk alcohol in the previous week to the survey was also down from 26 per cent to 21 per cent. The image of binge-drinking young people is now so well established with the public that the latter figures would probably amaze a lot of people.

The statistics certainly raise questions. Why are young people drinking less and starting to drink later? Are they appalled by the impact of drink on health, or by the images on television of young people under the influence? Are teachers having an influence? Is moral teaching becoming firmer? Do the figures indicate a general trend towards a more controlled life-style?

Truancy: 1

Truancy in primary schools has gone up from 2.6% to 3.0%, counting truancy as unauthorised absences. Apparently 10% of absences are accounted for by family holidays. Kevin Brennan, Schools Minister, pointed out that even missing a couple of days’ schooling could have an impact on a child’s chance of academic success. We missed learning about Latin subjunctives because of suffering a bout of Asian Flu in the mid-1950s, so he must be right.

The fundamental question about truancy, though, is why school attendance should be treated differently from adults working. What about the model which adults offer to children when they have their monthly ration of sickies? And why should unemployed people be allowed to sit at home or wander the streets? If they can, why can’t kids?

Truancy : 2

The Government has been accused of dropping truancy sweeps because they did not get children back into school. They should learn from history. In the late nineteenth century Truant Schools were set up, and any loose child was hoovered up by kiddy-catchers and placed in these schools, leaving the streets free for peace-loving adults.

Poverty

Reducing Inequalities: Realising the Talents of Allhas beenpublished by the National Children’s Bureau, the Institute of Education and the Family and Parenting Institute. It says that inequalities in Britain are entrenched and that social mobility is a myth. It shows that a child who is born to a labourer is six times more likely to be living in extreme poverty by the age of 30 than one born to a lawyer.

Identity in Britain – A Cradle to Grave Atlas, published by Policy Press and based on work undertaken by Sheffield University, gives the same message. People tend to mix with their own class, and success depends upon where you live and who you mix with.

These findings are endorsed by a recent Child Poverty Action Group report Chicken and Egg : Child Poverty and Educational Inequality, in which they show that children from poor backgrounds start schooling at a disadvantage and fall back steadily thereafter.

We recall Sir Keith Joseph (later Lord Joseph) talking in the early 1970s about the need to break the cycle of deprivation, and let children and families escape from being trapped in the underclass. Even more depressing, there was talk at that time of historical research in Bristol which showed that the same families could be traced back through Poor Law records as receiving out-relief over many generations and literally hundreds of years.

If so, to described inequalities as entrenched is no overstatement, and the challenge presented is massive. Presumably some do escape and succeed. If so, how do they do it? For the others, what do they actually want? And how can we enable them to achieve their goals?

Boarding School Opportunities

A scheme set up to enable children in care to have the chance to go to boarding school has so far only had three takers, and bureaucratic red tape has been blamed by Sir Cyril Taylor, who set a target of 5,000 children.

The scheme’s low take-up does not surprise us. There is such pressure to maintain children with their families that before children are placed in foster care or residential homes, they are likely to have suffered severe disruption in their home lives and possibly abuse as well. Very few of them will be unaffected by their experiences, and they will be unlikely to be able to make good use of placements in boarding schools – other than those set up to provide for children with special needs. Even for those whose lives have stabilised, it may be better to stay on in the places where they have experienced stability to complete their schooling, rather than to move again.

For the few who can benefit from the scheme, we hope it will continue and that they do well. But Sir Cyril’s target sounds quite unrealistic, and we trust that young people will not be shoe-horned into boarding schools just because he exerts pressure.

Transforming Connections – Local and Global Possibilities

From 15-17 November 2007 CEIEC will be holding a conference in Melbourne, Australia (not the village near Derby). The key themes to be explored are :

- How do issues of diversity and identity intersect with the possibilities of honouring the child?
- What linkages can inspire new possibilities for children’s rights?
- How can we transform relationships with children to create greater reciprocity and respect?
If you fancy a trip to Oz with some professional interest thrown in, or if you want to know what CEIEC stands for, you can find out more on : http://www.edfac.unimelb.edu.au/ceiec/

Interconnections Electronic Bulletin

If you want to know about future events, one place to go is the Bulletin. The issue which we have seen lists nearly thirty events and is issue 45. To put material on it, the person to contact is p.limbrick@virgin.net.

Advice for Parents : 1 : Food

First, three booklets focusing on food. We have not seen them, and the comments below come from the publishers, and are not Webmag reviews. SMA Nutrition has developed the booklets to offer practical advice on pregnancy, feeding newborn babies and weaning toddlers.

Nine wonderful months! is a step-by-step guide to pregnancy, helping mum (and dad) prepare for the birth, ensuring there are no unexpected surprises along the way, including a dedicated section on healthy eating for two and a comprehensive list of foods to avoid to help keep mum and baby healthy

Nutrition for your newborn covers every aspect of feeding, providing helpful hints and tips, covering everything from the first few days of breast feeding to expressing and storing breast milk. For those who choose to bottle feed, there is also a complete guide to feeding, including information on making up feeds and how often to feed babies.

From first tastes to family foods is a guide to weaning, answering questions such as ‘When?’, ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ The guide contains recipes and handy hints and tips.
There are more booklets on the way, so parents can build a library. For the first three of the series, call the SMA Careline 0845 776 2900.

Advice for Parents : 2 : Managing Children’s Behaviour

Finally, we’d like to commend another website to parents and others who care for children - (www.kidsbehaviour.co.uk/home.html). The website offers straightforward advice on ways to handle children’s behaviour problems. It is nicely designed and laid out. The advice is sensible and straightforward. And there are good internal links to help readers move from one issue to others which may be linked.

The same organisation runs other advice websites such as such as www.kidsandcooking.co.uk, www.kidsdevelopment.co.uk, and www.kidsallergies.co.uk, all using the same basic design and approach. If you need advice about children’s problems, they’re a good place to start.

From the Case Files

Mrs S. has a urinary track infection.

Made hurdling embarrassing?

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