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Children need care, control and continuitywhich is another way of expressing the noble Lords comments. It is like flying a kite. If children are too indulgedtoo lovedthe kite falls down. But too little control or supervision is equally damaging. The early work by Harriet Wilson at the Child Poverty Action Group looked at families on a very difficult housing estate in Birmingham. How did some of those mothersmany of them single parentsensure that their children did not lead lives of delinquency and crime? The answer was simple but difficult for the mothers involved. It was about supervision. It was about watching the children and knowing where they were.
For so many young people, who apart from their families knows them throughout their liveswhere is that continuity? The person who can best rebuke a 14 year-old is a person who knew them when they
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It cannot, however, be down to parents alone. As the noble Baroness beautifully said, it takes a village to bring up a child. I endorse that. I speak particularly highly of youth groups such as the Scouts, the Brownies and the Boys Brigade. I remember when uniformed organisations were frowned on because they were thought very oppressive or authoritarian. But for young children who are feeling turbulent, unsettled or unsure of their identity, putting on that uniform is often the making of themmarching up and down, working for badges and being involved in a group activity. None of us can praise too highly the volunteers who give of their time, often unpaid, to run those organisations. We give time off for people to serve in the TA and as magistrates, but we do not give time off for those who help in youth organisations. Perhaps the Minister will take that on board.
When children are fed up with their parentswith one or both of them, and children are always fed up with their parentswhere do they go? Who can they run away to within the family? It is the people who provide the ongoing relationships who are so important. The church and all faith groups understand that. Following a birth, you have the affirmation of that new life and you have godparents. I do not mind whether that happens in the Church of England or any other faith group; the message is that young people need stakeholderschampions and others who will be there for them particularly when they are revolting and disgusting. How can we build that in and stop children being isolated in this terrible teen culture of teen clothes, materials, bedrooms and music which locks them outside society?
Perhaps there is an unintended consequence in all the laws on child labour. Children used to work with adults on farms, in tourism and in the markets. They knew what adults were doing and they learnt to become adults. As for the continuity of relationships throughout life, I am sure that, like me, most noble Lords would champion the role of the grandparents who are there not only when the children are splendid but when they are impossible.
Have we become so risk averse that we do not allow children to take any risks? Children need to feel that they have been brave and courageous and have overcome the risk. The young people in my life are involved in sailing, a dangerous activity where I hope they will not be a danger to others and can manage the danger to themselves. By avoiding all sense of risk and adventure, we do our young people a disservice. We certainly do not help them on their way.
The popularity of the noble Lords debate, in which so many wish to speak, means that our time is sadly limited. I simply hope that, in this Parliament, we might give as much time to discussing the interests
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The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, I too join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his timely debate on the findings of the UNICEF report. While recognising the limitations of the report, it is still an apposite warning to us about the well-being of some of our children in our society, especially when we are one of the richest nations. Although the Government are attempting to address some of the concerns, this is a long-term project and will need considerable effort by successive Governments, whoever they are, to change things around. There is no quick fix.
It is obvious from the report and from other findings that we need to work on policies that take children out of poverty, and I acknowledge the attempts made in last weeks Budget to address this. However, important though that is, Governments, organisations, institutions, communities, families and individuals also need to work together to make sure that children and young people feel affirmed, included, encouraged, listened to and loved by their families, peers and the wider society. Here I should like to affirm the role of the voluntary sector and the faith groups in the work they are already doing to support family life and offer children the chance to relate to adult role models beyond their immediate family circle. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, for her reference to these groups.
The question which needs to be addressed urgently is this: how can we as adults create a society where children enjoy their childhood, have space to make mistakes, dream dreams and flourish? Some of the ways forward are addressed in the Every Child Matters agenda, but is there more we could be doing? The findings in the UNICEF report reaffirm the decision of the Childrens Society to establish the Good Childhood Inquiry, an independent inquiry into childhood which I commend to noble Lords. The society is looking to open an inclusive debate on what makes for a good childhood in the United Kingdom today that will shape future policy which is informed by children and young people themselves.
For example, preliminary research conducted by the Childrens Society to launch the inquiry with 8,000 young people showed that the two words most commonly mentioned by young people when asked, What makes a good childhood?, were family and friends. Their comments emphasised themes such as the importance of being loved and supported, and being treated with fairness and respect by others. An emerging theme from the evidence submitted to the inquiry so far is that families, whatever their form,
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Helping adults to grow up in order to let children flourish is not something which can be achieved by legislation or enforcement. We cannot force people to marry or stay together in unhappy relationships, even though we think that stability and commitment are important. To force adults to attend parenting courses via court orders and the threat of criminal sanction is to treat them in a childlike wayit infantilises themeven if in the end they benefit from such courses. Adults cannot keep see-sawing between viewing children and young people as vulnerable and needing our protection all the time, and seeing them as a threat to society or as competition for their own needs. Instead, in our government policies, our businesses, our institutions and our own actions, we need to support and encourage people to make choices that are about us and not mechoices that encourage responsibilities as well as rights, promote fidelity and commitment, and give children space just to be children.
I welcome the really important initiatives of the voluntary sector undertaken by bodies such as the Childrens Society and faith groups aimed at listening to and encouraging children and young people, particularly those whose childhood is most bleak. However, it might also mean business being prepared to take less profit so that employees have a better work/life balance so that they have the energy to give to relationships and children. It could mean increasing the minimum wage to a living wage so that those on low incomes have more choice and less worry. It might mean being more upfront about the importance of adults making stable and committed relationships such as marriage, and giving time to nurturing them. We could choose to fund adequately services that encourage emotional literacy and negotiation or that work alongside parents at an early stage.
The Childrens Societys research and the UNICEF report suggest that our wealth has not brought us the kind of childhood we want for all the United Kingdoms children. Here I support totally the sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, and ask that we do not squander our resources and wealth, but look to find the means not only to assist this generation, but also in finding ways that improve the well-being of future generations of our children.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I was tempted to scratch from this debate because a series of events meant that I have not been able to delve into the research that I would normally do before such an occasion. But the issues are so important and fundamental that they have to be addressed, and I wanted to spend a moment or two of your Lordships time in considering them myself. It is poignant to note that the table on page 41
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In the short time I have for this disorganised speech, I want to look ahead to the National Offender Management Service legislation coming to us and ask the Government not to be obsessed simply with the prevention of reoffending. This report directs our attention to the prevention of offending in the first place. That is immensely more important and cost-effective.
There are certain basic issues we have to address, but we tend to fall into the use of mantras without thinking about what they mean. Most people of my generation regret the lack of discipline in schools and families. For most people, the word discipline calls to mind the parade ground and the punishment block. That is not how it should be. As my noble friend Lady Bottomley said a few minutes ago, it is care and control which lie at the root of this. Care and love are expressed by control. For a child to know who he or she is, they have to discover where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie. Much bad behaviour is experimental to discover what can be got away with, and eventually what are the boundaries within which one must live. That applies right through education and needs to be taken account of by schools. In the family, discipline should be understood by the child as something rational and beneficial, while in the school it should be something that belongs to the children. Discipline should not be seen as a thing imposed by a vengeful hierarchy, but something worked out in a community for the benefit of its members. School councils and so on are the machinery for this. How many schools actually conduct themselves along those lines? They are enormously important to children who leave school thinking either that good manners and acceptable behaviour are something applied by them and they are always to be evaded, escaped or offended against, or they can belong to us, the community.
I remember vividly when I was researching for the report into discipline into schools that my colleagues and I did many years ago. Norway had been lecturing us not long before about how badly we taught our immigrants, and how easy it would be to absorb them. I was amused to find that we arrived in the middle of that countrys first wave of immigrants, and it was having a lot of difficultyexcept for one school, which stood out at once, because it had 17 flags on the front, all of different nations. Every time a refugee came to the school from a different country, he got his flag on the front of the building. The school discipline was worked out in consultation with the pupils, and if a child was so foolish as to start painting a graffito on the wall, he was set on by all the others and taken off to be dealt with by the staff because they were
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The report is a collection of averages set against averages. We have national averages of various criteria set against the averages of other countries. It is a very broad brush. Beware of averages, however, because they conceal as much as they reveal. Between these averages are chasms of far worse conditions, with a few shining pinnacles of better ones.
We need to be concerned not only with the tone of society, which is important, and an acceptance of good manners as being a necessary ingredient, as well as a vehicle, of acceptable social standardsI have lost the beginning of that sentence, but I will cast back. I was speaking of the chasms. I have mentioned in another debate, and I make no apology for mentioning again, a seminal work published by the CYPS, written by Shaun Bailey, called No Mans Land, which gives the most intimate, detailed, convincing and constructive analysis of what goes on in a sink estate and what can be done about it. I ask the Minister to spend 40 minutes on it. He will speed-read his way through it with great ease; it is a good read. It describes the ills of such a community, such as the very high percentage of single parents. Before we denigrate single-parent families altogether, the author was a product of one, and he is in my view a lay sainthe is a terrific battler for the underdog.
If you are a child and you are not in school, what are you going to do? You are frightened, for a start, because you are on your ownhence the beginnings of gang culture. Four years ago Diane Abbott had a conference in the Queen Elizabeth II Hall across the road, in which we were convinced that a great number of children in London actually feel safer on the streets in their gang than they do in schoolin some cases, safer than in the fortress flat they live in on their abandoned estate.
We have to give security and update those estates. We also need to look at children who are not in school through the summer holidays; they will get up to something, and if we do not give them something constructive to do, they will do a great deal that is destructive, get into trouble and, eventually, join the criminal treadmill. That applies in spades to children excluded from school during term time, who do not even have their colleagues to turn to.
I said this would be a disorganised speech, but I have voiced an important principle: discipline, to be effective, should be friendly and accepted by the people who generate it. If we can export that from schools into society, we will change this country enormously for the better.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Northbourne for obtaining this debate. Again, he has drawn our attention to families and the need for children in families to have stability. My noble friends Motion could not be more timely, with the publication of the UNICEF report and current concern about the violent attacks by children against children.
I shall concentrate my remarks on ensuring that every child has the right to the experience of a sustained loving relationship with at least one parent or parent substitute, to continue a theme of todays debate. In particular, I shall follow on from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and consider the experience of children of families caught in a cycle of low family achievement. As the joint Treasury and Department for Education and Skills discussion paper published in January, Policy Review of Children and Young People, says of such families:
It is essential to support them on a sustained basis, if services are ultimately to shift resources and focus to a more preventative approach. It is also important if the Government is to break the cycle of disadvantage across generations.
The theoretician of child development, Andre Green, writes of the British theoretician, DW Winicott, that the good enough mother is also the bad enough mother. There is a virtue in being a bad enough mother; one who does not frustrate her childs development by being too much present. At the same time, if she is too much absent, the consequences can be catastrophic and result in the childs disintegration.
It is striking that the two countries at the bottom of the UNICEF list are the United Kingdom and the United States; respectively, the founding father of liberalism and the child that has not only proved itself a chip off the old block, but has re-exported liberalism to the home country. The implication of the UNICEF reportand I recognise that reports shortcomingsis that in the constant tension between support for families and encouraging individual responsibility, between being the good enough mother and the bad enough motherwe have allowed liberalism to unbalance interventionism. Crucially, we have not done enough to ensure that one way or another, above all things, every child has the opportunity to enjoy stability of relationshipthe enduring love of a parent or parent substitute.
In recent history, we have failed to ensure an adequate supply of housing for our families, as my noble friend Lord Northbourne has observed, and more than 100,000 children are in temporary accommodation as a consequence. Until 1997, our health services were chronically underfunded, with especial shortages in adult mental health services and child and adolescent mental health services. The number of children in custody has been rising significantly over several years, and in February this year we had the highest number of children in custody in a February since records began. I hope your Lordships will not think it controversial to suggest that this custody record implies, at least in part, a failure on our part to ensure adequate family or surrogate family relationships.
Her Majestys Government have made the welfare of children and families a policy priority. The Minister has helpfully supplied many of us with the important document, Parenting Matters. It is immensely encouraging to learn of the Governments investment there, but I shall highlight one concern that must not be overlooked. The paper refers to the value of good-quality early-years childcare and the new duty on local authorities to secure sufficient childcare under the Childcare Act. It can be of great
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Poor-quality childcare may not manifest its harm until an individual seeks to make relationships in adulthood. Poor-quality early-years childcare may undermine the attachment of parent to child. The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, made the point about the importance in adolescence that parents commitment is still strong. That may put some threat in there.
Public discourse on this matter focuses primarily on access to childcare, and in particular its cost. Research indicates that parents are willing to trade off quality against cost. I recognise Her Majesty's Governments achievement in establishing a framework for care from zero to five to improve quality. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that he is constantly revisiting quality in early-years group care.
The introduction of the social work degree, Her Majesty's Governments success in recruiting applicants to that course and the creation of a professional registration are all important steps towards regenerating the social work profession. Despite these improvements, 49 per cent of local authorities find retaining social workers difficult or very difficult. Her Majesty's Government have proposed the introduction of protected status for newly qualified social workers.
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