Wednesday, April 1, 2009

NSPCC series

I'm putting all three parts of my NSPCC series:

NSPCC part 1: anti HE?;
NSPCC part 2: anti family?; and
NSPCC Part 3: anti child?

- here in one post, for linking purposes.


NSPCC part 1: anti HE?

When I was a child, the NSPCC had such a positive image. It was the guardian angel of abused children, propounder of such a laudible aim as saving them from injury and distress. There was no reason to question the existence or activities of such a body: it was accepted that they were the good guys. But in preparation for this three-part series of posts, Tech (my co-author on this project) and I have been doing a lot of reading about the NSPCC and have discovered completely changed situation. So, what went wrong? In the next three posts, we'll try to find out: starting here and now, with a close look at its recent involvement with home educators; we'll then pan out tomorrow to consider the wider picture; and culminate in the third post with an evaluation of its effects on children.

The first we knew of the NSPCC's opinions of Home Education appeared in the initial DCSF press release about the Home Education review on January 19th this year, in which:

Head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, Diana Sutton, said:

“We welcome the Government’s decision to review the guidance on home education. We believe the existing legislation and guidance on elective home education is outdated. We support the view set out by the London (LA) Children’s Safeguarding Leads network that the government should review the legislation to balance the parents’ rights to home educate their children, the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We welcome the fact that this review will look at where local authorities have concerns about the safety and welfare, or education, of a home educated child and what systems are in place to deal with those concerns.”

This was followed the very next day by the appearance on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show of Vijay Patel, the NSPCC’s Child Protection Policy Advisor who admitted, when asked about statistical evidence of child abuse in elective home education, that: "We.. the inf.. We don’t have the evidence there statistically, no."

Home educators were stunned by the slur, especially given that there was no logical reason to associate elective home education with child abuse. We started to wonder about the motives behind it, which I think was the first time many of us had ever had cause to question the NSPCC's motives about anything.

Despite the outcry, Mr Patel then compounded the insult in an interview with the Independent by implying that Victoria Climbie had been home educated: "Some people use home education to hide. Look at the Victoria Climbié case. No one asked where she was at school. We have no view about home education, but we do know that to find out about abuse someone has to know about the child."

The home education movement's response now quickly moved from shock to anger. The pressure group AHEd wrote to the NSPCC, objecting "in the strongest terms possible to these comments. It is our view," the letter continued, "That the comments demonstrate a clear prejudice against home educators and a deliberate attempt to implicate home education with false evidence and scandal in order to prejudice the outcome of the government Review into Home Education."

Some bloggers, like Mum6kids, called for Mr Patel to be sacked. Others, like Pete Darby, wrote powerful letters to the Independent in complaint: "Vijay Patel is robbing the grave of a child that the NSPCC failed to save. He is doing this in order to make a grab for power for his organisation in an attack on a minority group, a group for which there is no evidence of a problem concerning child abuse or neglect."

The political party UKIP even joined in with the call for Mr Patel to be sacked, and other blogs such as Children Are People asked for a full retraction of the comments, at least. Working Dad at Panoptican said: "The NSPCC's message has to be 'children are at risk'. To put it at its baldest, the NSPCC needs cruelty to children to be seen to occur because, without that, it has no raison d'etre," and Firebird said that the NSPCC "Should be ashamed of themselves." *Headdesk* found it "..fairly disgusting that the leadership of a charity that should be beyond reproach should be so ill-informed and in the position of being able to cause so much damage to home educating children and their families."

Jem Dowse, at Doing it our way wrote to his MP, including the sentiment: "For Mr. Patel to use this tragic case to further his agenda against the legal rights of parents to educate their children at home is abusive and extraordinarily disrespectful to the memory of that murdered child. This is emphatically not something that I would expect from a senior person in an organisation that exists to promote child welfare." Lotusbirther questioned the charity's independent status and Maire in Staffordshire commented that, "In order to extend its remit, possibly to get more money from the government or at least keep what it has, [the NSPCC's] policy adviser Mr Vijay Patel is shamelessly spreading false rumour in support of the government’s spurious review into the possibility of home education being a hot bed of child abuse." Even the Victoria Climbié Foundation became involved, as reported by Carlotta at Dare to Know, saying: "The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK is genuinely concerned about the link being made between Victoria Climbié and home education, and Victoria as a hidden child. Victoria was neither home-educated nor hidden.".

But it was on Facebook that the reaction was perhaps most vehemently expressed. A viral campaign developed on the NSPCC's page there, with many home educators' messages now having been mysteriously removed. Eventually, the charity was forced to respond as follows:

The NSPCC would like to clarify its position regarding home education. The statement issued by the NSPCC when the review of home education was announced made iit clear that the NSPCC wishes the review to balance parents’ rights to home educate their children with the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We sincerely regret any misunderstanding caused by the quote attributed to Vijay Patel in the Independent. The reference to Victoria Climbie was meant to illustrate the point that she was killed at home out of sight of the authorities. It was not intended to imply that Victoria was educated at home or that home education was in any way connected to what happened to her. We are writing to the Independent to clarify our position on this important point. Thank you.

- but many remained unsatisfied.

One home educating mother, Sarita, managed to secure an interview with Mr Patel, which - like the rest of the links in this post - really needs to be followed and read in full, to get the proper context. It's this interview that I satirised in my cartoon at the top of my post. Apologies to Sarita - I'm no Da Vinci and I probably didn't do the back of your head justice, but having never seen it, I can perhaps be forgiven. The following excerpts are taken from Sarita's immediate and detailed recollections of the meeting and may not, therefore, be definitive quotes of what was actually said.

During his meeting with Sarita, Vijay Patel stated again that "the NSPCC do not have any specific research or evidence linking home education to child abuse or neglect."

Sarita "asked him why he would - after all the complaints he received in January - do it again last week in the Independent. What was he thinking? He tried to say it was taken out of context but admits to the harm that it caused. I did say that it was unacceptable that a person used to talking to the press and knowing from experience how they work could not take sufficent care in ensuring it didn't happen again. I said he and the NSPCC have to rectify the image of home education that they have created. I asked him if when he met with Baroness Morgan, this was an intended campaign. I asked him how he could say these things without evidence. He couldn't really respond. I told him he needs to apologise publicly and make good the damage he has caused. He said that he couldn't do it publicly. He did say that there would not be any more cases quoted in the press with respect to home education."

- which was, in my opinion, a crucial point that he didn't really answer satisfatorily on that occasion, though I suspect his earlier half-question to her:

"So what about an independent agency that home educators could access..."

- spoke volumes, by way of a possible explanation. Has the NSPCC been promised the contract on elective home education, if they manage to publicly generate some kind of justification for one, on the back of the DCSF review? It certainly looks, from the orchestrated nature of the attacks, as if some collaboration has been going on behind the scenes.

Sarita said: "We then came back to the issue of public perception of home ed, the general feeling of measurement and monitoring needing to be compulsory, but mostly that home ed children could not be deemed safe in a way that school children are. By this stage, I felt he had grasped the major points of our arguments and I asked him again about the perception that he and the NSPCC were fuelling with regard to home education and child protection. I asked why he thought it appropriate that even without evidence he could talk about home education and give the impression that he knew what he was talking about? I asked him whether after listening to what I had to say, he felt that a public apology should be forthcoming. I said that the NSPCC now had an obligation to protect children who were home educated from being branded as being abused. He said he could not commit to me that he will make a public apology and put right what he has done, but he said that given that he understood more about the issues that he would talk to his managers about it."

- and the NSPCC appears to be using its lawyers to talk to the press now, instead of Mr Patel, which leaves us all wondering what his instructions were and to what extent - if any - he breached them in those two interviews. Shockingly, in his meeting with Sarita, he admitted that the NSPCC "had no real knowledge of home education other than information they had gained from LAs and LA responses to previous guidance," and, perhaps even more alarmingly, "He said he wasn't familiar with the ins and outs of ECM!"

Sarita's gut reaction was that Mr Patel was telling the truth in her meeting with him, but if so, it's astounding that the government can be working hand-in-glove with such a careless, ill-informed organisation. To give power to such people over children's lives is surely a highly dangerous strategy.

The spotlight is now on the NSPCC and many of us have been investigating the charity's other activities over the years - as well as its business connections - as a result of the events set out above to see whether home educators have been the only minority to group to be picked on by the organisation in this way. In part 2 of our NSPCC series, we'll look at what we found.


NSPCC part 2: anti family?

I've just caught up with cross-referencing the posts on my blog and it occurred to me that perhaps the NSPCC warranted its own drop-down menu in the sidebar, because I'd surely written two or three posts about them now. When the job got underway, I was amazed to find that I've written nine NSPCC-related posts. Or actually ten, including this one. Now why would a home education blog warrant as many as ten posts about the NSPCC, an organisation that's supposed to prevent cruelty to children? Something's badly wrong there, isn't it? That jars in the logic part of my brain, causing a traffic pile up and setting off all the sirens. It's not right.

So, today's post is about looking at the wider picture. On Friday we ascertained (as if we didn't know before) that the NSPCC has recently been running a vendetta against elective home educators, for reasons best known to itself but possibly suggested at in that little cartoon there. (I did think about doing another one of those today, but my artistic bravado has left me now.) Today I'm going to make some attempt to pull together all the reams of information I've been given about the NSPCC's other questionable antics, the idea being to try to find out whether it's just picking on us out of the blue, or whether this is its normal modus operandi. And if it is the latter - why?

Once I'd got over being bewildered about the NSPCC repeatedly suggesting home educators might be child abusers, the next thing that raised NSPCC-related alarm bells with me was when AHEd was writing its letter to their Chief Executive. Barbara (Chair of AHEd) asked onlist for someone to find out who that was, so I googled 'NSPCC Chief Executive', expecting to find a long list of pages about someone who'd spent his or her life devoted to the issue of child protection. Instead, I found this:

Children's charity gets media savvy

The article states:

Andrew Flanagan, who takes over from Mary Marsh in January, was chief executive of Scotland's biggest media firm, STV (previously SMG), for 10 years until he resigned in 2006. ... He left SMG in the wake of shareholder pressure and subsequently took up the post of chair at Heritage House, a private publishing investment company. He has also worked for PA Consulting, the IT and telecoms company Nynex, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.


A spokesman for the NSPCC says that while Flanagan has no track record in the voluntary sector, his "experience of leading large-scale organisations through growth and change" will be a valuable addition to the organisation.

"No track record in the voluntary sector.."??? Why does a children's charity need a media man for its Chief Executive? What does a media man know about the needs of children? This information in itself, coupled with the bizarre and apparently out-of-the-blue attack on home educators, made me start to think that things are not what they seem to be, with this organisation. And that maybe.. things are not what they should be.

It doesn't feel good to dig deeper. Believe it or not, digging the dirt on people and organisations is not my thing. Taking care of my children, my house and my land is my thing but when something threatens my freedom to do that, action must be taken. The first time I became aware that anything might ever have the power to threaten that, was around the time of the South Ronaldsay child abuse scandal of 1991, when:

social workers and police removed nine children belonging to four families from their homes on the remote Orkney, Scotland island South Ronaldsay in dawn raids, following suspicions of ritualistic Satanic child abuse. The nine children were placed into foster homes and barred from any contact from their parents. During lengthy interviews the nine children denied that any abuse had occurred, and medical examinations did not reveal any evidence of abuse.

In 1991 I was just starting my family, with sons of one and two years old, and the thought that someone had the power to come and forcibly remove them from me on the strength of rumour and hearsay, as had happened to the Orkney parents, was terrifying.

There were similar cases around the same time in Rochdale and Nottingham, and the culmination of the three generated a deep mistrust of social workers and a fundamental feeling of family insecurity in myself other young parents I knew at the time. Those cases didn't just do damage to the victims involved: they damaged society for everyone else in a way that's hard to explain now, nearly twenty years later.

So in researching the NSPCC for this series, I was horrified to discover their part in those terrible witch hunts. From this site:

We kept up detailed correspondence with Dr Alan Gilmour, director of the NSPCC, providing him with statistical information and background data about occultism in the U.K. well before their public support of the satanic abuse myth. Whilst engaged in correspondence with the NSPCC they, without warning, published a critical and sensational press-release supporting the idea of satanic child sexual abuse. The NSPCC did this without ever once asking to see our documented evidence to the contrary. When we sent them a dossier, containing suspicious background on people and groups from whom they had been accepting 'evidence' they ignored the dossier entirely and when we persisted the NSPCC took legal advice and subsequently refused to comment on our evidence. The NSPCC never once telephoned or visited us to review our evidence. They knew that had they done so, they would have had to retract publicly and admit a mistake over a pronouncement which they were already incorporating into a fundraising appeal. Instead they sent a questionnaire to their branches asking their inspectors if they believed that satanic abuse existed. It was this unethical and unprofessional 'research' that prompted the public statements in their annual report in which the NSPCC said that they had 'evidence' of satanic child abuse occurring. Upon sight of this we immediately prepared a condemnatory press-release showing the NSPCC'S inaccuracies. We sent this to the influential people on various NSPCC standing committees, including Princess Margaret, The Queen Mother; Various Bishops and others. We asked SOMEONE to telephone or write to us BUT NOT ONE DID. We then mailed out the same press release to our general mailing file (all MPs; Newspaper Editors and Police & Social Services). We got only ONE reply, a courageous journalist from the London WEEKENDER Magazine who contacted the NSPCC. A spokesperson for the NSPCC backtracked immediately and blamed the sensational publicity on the media response, denying that the NSPCC had said that satanic child abuse existed. When we wrote to the NSPCC and asked them to issue a press release to the effect that their stance on satanic child abuse had been misinterpreted by the media the NSPCC point blank refused. "It is not for the society to comment upon statements published in the popular press". The NSPCC were basically saying that even if their dishonourable handling of the situation had resulted in a jeopardising of religious freedom or victimisation of innocent occultists it was not in their interests to put the matter right under the hysteria which reigned. [My italics]

I don't know if that sounds at all familiar to anyone, but in the first part of this series on Friday, we saw a similar array of half-apologies and half-retractions from the NSPCC regarding its vilification of home educators - but the same fundamental refusal to make any effort to publicly correct the eroneous message it had put out.

The problem is, people assume (like I did) that the NSPCC is a reputable group of child abuse experts and not a mob of professional fundraisers and media men who are actually running it as a very profitable business. A good business creates its own markets, everyone knows that. But if everyone knew that the NSPCC appears to fall into that bracket, they would all cancel their Standing Orders and Direct Debits to the organisation. I know of quite a few home educators who already have.

So, what has the NSPCC been doing between Orkney and the campaign against home education? Demonising men, according to Angry Harry, who wrote the following in 2004:

The National Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Children in the UK spends millions of pounds every year manufacturing advertisements and propaganda which portray men and fathers as paedophiles and child abusers. These portrayals are displayed all over the country - on TV, in the radio, in the newspapers and on posters. The idea behind them is to induce the public and businesses to donate money to the NSPCC so that its staff can help to protect children from these allegedly-abusive men. Indeed, their campaigns have been so successful that the NSPCC rakes in about £100 million per year in donations. However, in my view, the NSPCC has done a great deal of damage to our society. Indeed, my belief is that it has inflicted far more damage and harm on to the nation's children than all the paedophiles and child abusers put together. What follows demonstrates that the NSPCC has damaged everyone - including all our children.

- and he proceeds to demonstrate exactly how, with such eloquence that I'm not even going to try to reproduce it here.

So in its pursuit of funding and prominence amongst children's charities, the NSPCC has so far turned against pagans, fathers and home educators, causing untold damage along the way. Who's next? The Internet, according to The Devil's Kitchen in this scathing piece which includes:

The NSPCC, it may be remembered, had been pretty vocal in helping stir up the, quite literal, witch-hunt. Since, at the time, I regularly contributed to the NSPCC, I thought I’d drop them a line asking why they’d been using my money to such mischievous effect. This was, I recall noting to them, particularly galling at a time when systematic abuse in various children’s homes was coming to light. It was, I reasoned, inconceivable that the NSPCC hadn’t received complaints from any of the children on the receiving end of this abuse, so how come they were apparently ignoring actual abuse and, instead, starting up wild-goose chases to disastrous effect?

The reply I received was so breath-taking in its cynicism that it shook even me. Yes, apparently they’d had their doubts about this ritual abuse malarkey but I had to realise that they did an awful lot of very necessary work for children, this costs money, and tabloid bandwagons are a very good way of raising much-needed funds. They rather ducked the question about why they’d failed to spot what was going on in various children’s homes over the years, and hoped they could count on my continued support. [Again, my italics.]

In its campaign against Internet freedom, the NSPCC is working with Becta, our Mr Badman's new employers. (See the editorial down the left hand side of this page [opens pdf].)

Also, as pointed out by Elaine, next in the NSPCC tabloid child abuse bandwagon queue might be, according to their latest publications, women. Put it all together, and you have the blanket assumption (paranoia?) that parents aren't safe and homes aren't safe, but of course schools are, and anyone who's been CRB-checked is. Except - we know that's not true, don't we?

I think it's safe to summarise today that the NSPCC's recent treatment of home educators was nothing personal: it is its modus operandi. In the third and final part of this series, we're going to look at some research Tech has been doing, amongst other things, to try to ascertain whether all of this child protection hype actually does make children safer - or more vulnerable.


NSPCC Part 3: anti child?

Last Friday, we began our three-part series on the NSPCC with an analytical overview of that organisation's involvement in the government's Independent review of home education and the reaction of home educators. Then on Sunday, we looked further back in the NSPCC's history to find out whether we were the only section of society to have been subjected to this kind of treatment by them, and learned that we were not. In fact, the NSPCC seems to have made an art form over the years of using "tabloid bandwagons [as] a very good way of raising much-needed funds".

So today we're finishing the trilogy with an investigation into the actual effects of the child protection culture. We're going to try to work out whether people think children are safer, as a result of it, or in fact more vulnerable.

Before I go on, I'd like to thank everyone who has provided information and encouragement for this series - especially my series co-author Tech, who has ordered books and searched tirelessly for quotes and contexts for me to string together. But other people have been generous too: I printed it all out and have been carrying a thick wodge of NSPCC-based text around with me all week, to which I just hope I can do justice. I probably won't manage to cover absolutely anything: if you notice anything missing, please feel free to add it in the comments section.

We'll start with this article by Jay Rayner from the Guardian archives:

Guardian NSPCC

The article quotes June McKerrow, director of the Mental Health Foundation which has conducted research on children's well-being:

"We do not need any more of these messages. If anything, the whole thing has already been taken too far."

- and it neatly sums up our own conclusion from part 2:

To put it at its baldest, the NSPCC needs cruelty to children to be seen to occur because, without that, it has no raison d'etre.

But the key point of the piece I think is this paragraph:

Of more concern to experts is what impact the NSPCC's constant stream of warnings will have upon child development. Raising children to be fully rounded individuals is about teaching them to deal with risk for themselves. When is it safe to take the stabilisers off the bike? When is it safe to let them play in the park alone? If the NSPCC's warnings delay that process it can only be detrimental. Professor [Colin] Pritchard, [a professor of psychiatric social work at the University of Southampton who has been researching child murders for 10 years] is prepared to go further. 'While 50 children are murdered each year over 250 are killed in motor accidents,' he says. 'If, as a result of the NSPCC advice, more children ride in cars because their parents won't allow them to walk on the streets then statistically more children will end up being killed in car crashes.'

A few years later in the Guardian again, Patrick Butler in an article called: Full stop missing on child abuse:

Guardian NSPCC 2

analyses a report published by the New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) called Not Seen and Not Heard: Child Abuse - A Guide for Donors and Funders by Emilie Goodall and Tristan Lumley, which contains, he says:

an intriguing and potentially explosive challenge to .. the NSPCC's Full Stop campaign.

While it doesn't go so far as to say, like the earlier article, that the campaign actually makes children more vulnerable, it does say:

Campaigning to change public attitudes and keep abuse on the radar, as NSPCC does with some success, has its place, but there is zero evidence that this leads to fewer beatings.

And now I want to talk about Frank Furedi.

Frank Furedi

- Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of the two books that Tech's been reviewing: Licensed to Hug: How Child Protection Policies Are Poisoning the Relationship Between the Generations and Damaging the Voluntary Sector (co-written with Jennie Bristow) and Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child, amongst others.

As well as those, he wrote this article for Spiked: 'A danger to the nation's children', in which he explains how The NSPCC's campaigns could poison family relations. First, he covers the ground we covered last Sunday:

In recent decades the NSPCC has become a lobby group devoted to publicising its peculiar brand of anti-parent propaganda and promoting itself.

But here's where he hits the nail right on the head, in my opinion:

There is nothing particularly novel about childhood insecurity; what is new is the attempt to turn it into a disease and a social problem. What is also new is the mendacious project of turning childhood anxiety into a justification for the predatory activity of a publicity-hungry media machine. Even worse is the message transmitted by this campaign - that the NSPCC understands children far better than their mums and dads do.

The implication that parenting under pressure is an invitation to abuse is an insult to the integrity of millions of hardworking mums and dads. It also helps to create a poisonous atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust.

And he so eloquently describes here the problem that's been chewing away at me for the past few weeks, while I've been thinking about all of these campaigns:

The problem with targeting children in this way is that it distracts youngsters from working out ways of communicating problems to family members and friends. It encourages the belief that problems are something you take to a professional or disclose to an NSPCC helpline rather than share with people you know. For children, communicating problems is difficult at the best of times; displacing parents with the NSPCC will only make it more difficult to develop an intergenerational dialogue. Its effect will be to disconnect children from their parents.

Can this be an accident? Can the policy-makers be unaware of this effect? Hmmm. I don't think so.

I'm quite keen to get hold of some of this man's books myself now, but luckily Tech has done this already, and pulled out the following relevant quotes:

From Licensed to Hug: How Child Protection Policies Are Poisoning the Relationship Between the Generations and Damaging the Voluntary Sector, by Frank Furedi and Jennie Bristow:

Licensed to Hug

(Amazon product description: "Since the establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau in 2002, more than a third of British adults have had to get a certificate to say they are safe to be near children, and the numbers affected are increasing. Frank Furedi and Jennie Bristow argue that the growth of police vetting has created a sense of mistrust. Communities are forged through the joint commitment of adults to the socialisation of children. Now, adults are afraid to interact with any child not their own. The generations are becoming distant, as adults suspect each other and children are taught to suspect adults. The vetting culture encourages risk aversion: there is a feeling that it is better to ignore young people, even if they are behaving in an anti-social manner, and even if they are in trouble and need help, rather than risk accusations of improper conduct.Vetting also gives a false sense of security as it can only identify those who have offended in the past and been caught - not what people will do after they are passed as fit to be near children. "Licensed to Hug" argues for a more common-sense approach to adult/child relations, based on the assumption that the vast majority of adults can be relied on to help and support children, and that the healthy interaction between generations enriches children's lives.")

  • "Piper and Stronach call for 'a more ethical practice':

    ... one that encourages professionals not to slavishly follow 'no touch' guidelines, but to put touch back into context (ie relationships), and take account of trust and friendships. It is argued that we need to think through notions of 'free touch' just as much as we would 'free speech'. This is no call for license, but it is a call for recognition that any system that prioritises bureaucratic constraint over 'freedom' introduces a regime of unfreedoms that then develop - through a series of 'ratchet effects' - a kind of creeping totalitarianism, not to mention a galloping fatuity."

    Piper, H. and Stronach, I., Don't Touch! The educational story of a panic, London: Routledge, in press (2008)

  • "The policy of attempting to prevent paedophiles from getting in contact with children through a mass system of vetting may well unintentionally make the situation more complicated. One regrettable outcome of such policies is to estrange children from all adults - the very people who are likely to protect them from paedophiles and other dangers they may face. The adult qualities of spontaneous compassion and commitment are, we argue, far more effective safeguarding methods than pieces of paper that promote the messages 'Keep Out' and 'Watch Your Back'."

  • "During the course of our discussion it became evident that the application of formal procedures to the conduct of human relations threatens to deskill adults. Many adults often feel at a loss about how they should relate to youngsters who are not their children. When formal rules replace the exercise of compassion and initiative, adults become discouraged from developing the kind of skills that help them to relate, interact and socialise with children."

  • "Individuals who talked to us about the 'hassle of paperwork' also hinted that they were not sure that working with kids was'worth the effort'. And if adults are not to be trusted to be near children, is it any surprise that at least some of them draw the conclusion that they really are not expected to take responsibility for the well-being of children in their community?"

  • "Alongside the growing policy concern about the impact excessive risk-aversion on childhood experience, there is now an increasing realisation that an obsessive focus on risk and procedure can actually make society more dangerous. When adults become paralysed by the injunction to follow rules at the expense of their instincts, tragic consequences may follow."

  • [News stories about The coastguard who saved a girl twice quitting over a health and safety row and Abby Rae, a two-year old who went missing from nursery and was later found dead in a pond are cited at this point.]

  • "This disturbing story, of a child disappearing because the adult who saw her thought twice and chose to cover his back rather than help her out, has attained the status of an urban myth, and is used as the backdrop to discussions about whether you might help a child climb down from a climbing frame, whether you would intervene in a nasty fight between children, whether you would help a child find her way home, whether you would pick up and cuddle a toddler who had fallen over, whether you would administer first aid on a child you did not know in a public playground if you did not hold a certificate..."

  • "People worry about these things because of the sense that 'everyone knows' that it is right to help and comfort a lost, hurt, or frightened child - but at the same time, 'in this day and age', to do so is foolhardy. Thus a human response that was once spontaneous has been interupted by warning bells, making people think twice about something that, in the recent past, they would simply have done."

  • "The principle outcome of these trends for intergenerational relations is not simply an aversion to risk but to responsibility. Adults who used to absorb some of the risks faced by children are often not inclined to continue to do so, in case their behaviour is misinterpreted. Is it any surprise that there is now a generation of adults who have aquired the habit of distancing themselves from children and young people? From their perspective, intergenerational relations are experienced as an inconvenience from which they would rather be exempt. Even professionals who work with children are under pressure to avoid taking responsibility. Their career depends more on ticking the right boxes than exercising professional judgement."

There's much more, but for brevity and etiquette's sake I've got to stop quoting from that book. The problem is that I can't paraphrase what he's saying, without diluting it beyond meaning. We need to all go and buy it! Tech says this quote from Child Protection expert Eileen Munro in the executive summary sums up the whole issue:

"In October 2007, a survey by Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People found that 48% of adults said fear of being falsely accused of causing harm was a barrier to contact with children and young people, and that this would make them less likely to help when they saw a young person in danger or distress."

And finally, a few excerpts from Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child, again by Frank Furedi:

Paranoid Parenting

  • "Fear of adults victimising children is fueled by a child-protection industry obsessed with the issue of abuse."

  • "The depreciation of adulthood coincides with the idealisation of childhood and childishness, positing adults as morally inferior. In a secular variant of the religious theme fo humanity's fall from grace, innocent children are said to be ruined by toxic parents in a toxic society. Campaigners promoting the idea of stranger danger contribute to a climate where the stranger - that is, the vast majority of adults inhabiting this planet - is not worthy of a child's trust."

  • "The term *support* is often a euphemism for prescriptive advice about how parents should behave. Parenting education is primarily oriented toward altering adult behaviour and providing mothers and fathers with skills they allegedly lack. Unfortunately, projects that aim to transform incompetent adults into skilled parents tend to disempower mothers and fathers and empower professionals."

After reading all that, I'm fairly convinced of the argument that the child protection hype does nothing to help children be safer and actually does quite a lot to make them more vulnerable and isolated. So why doesn't the government listen to real experts like Frank Furedi, instead of just throwing more taxpayers' money at the NSPCC? And why is the NSPCC still in a position that enables it to repeatedly pick off target groups in its media campaigns, which - at least in the case of this review - seems to conveniently fit with the direction of government policy? We can only assume that they must work hand in glove, but I'd love to know more about this relationship and the meetings that take place between government and this so-called charity and I might do some more digging at a later date about that.

Meanwhile, I have Becta in my sights, as well as the omnipresent Capita, though I'm aware that others are miles ahead of me on this already. I'll be standing on the shoulders of giants, then. But first, it seems, something called The Tasmanian Model. Deep sigh.


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