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The report is clear. Families vary greatly in their structure but the principles of loving care are the same in any family in any culture—good physical care, unconditional love and clear boundaries for behaviour. I was particularly glad that that was included in the report. It also stated that 60 per cent of women giving birth are married, 25 per cent are cohabiting and 15 per cent are on their own. Lone mothers are perfectly

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well able to love and care for their children but it is more difficult and more tiring without a partner to help. Above all, children who are daily exposed to a loving, caring relationship between mother and father will absorb the values of sharing, forbearance, support, loyalty and many others.

To make matters even more complicated, there are sizeable numbers of young adults who want a family of their own but lack the knowledge to create a family atmosphere for their children. This fact has long existed and been recognised by a variety of communities that have worked to assist young parents. I am reminded of Margaret Harrison who, many years ago, founded Home-Start in Leicester, whose cause went on to be taken up elsewhere. One family befriended another to ensure a ration of shared play in addition to the daily chores, which was a help to the struggling family. It is equally true that families that live in poor housing often have poor health and additional problems. The report recognises that:

“Children, above all, need to be loved. Unless they are loved they will not feel good about themselves and will, in turn, find it difficult to love others”.

Support from the extended family can be an enormous help. Relationships with other children and their grandparents and interaction with cousins and siblings can add profoundly to a lifelong sense of well-being.

The section on friends struck a chord with me. I am sure that we all have memories of friends we met in our early lives and an awareness of the impact they had on us. Many families today are heavily influenced by the national emphasis on child safety and are consequently concerned about the degree of freedom they ought to allow their young children. As the report states, we should ensure that there are adequate places for children to play safely or make friends for themselves in the wider community. In that connection, I should declare an interest as president of the Leicestershire Clubs for Young People and take the opportunity to pay tribute to the thousands of volunteers and professionals who run youth clubs, and there are many like them throughout the country. Through these clubs, young people find new friends, gain confidence, progress to further education and training.

Schools affect all children. I believe that for the overwhelming majority they provide a positive experience. Some of them stand in loco parentis for up to 12 hours a day offering, as they do, breakfast clubs, homework clubs and a range of after-school activities. All of these may be crucial to the well-being of some children, and I am extremely grateful for the dedication of teachers, other school staff and governors. I fear, however, that we are approaching the point where schools cannot and must not be expected to take on responsibilities that should be undertaken by families. In particular, we cannot expect them to compensate for the lack of a family life, the break-up of marriages or regular discord at home. Indeed, the right reverend Prelate referred to the effect that seeing parents getting on well has on children. I do not know whether the survey analysed how many mothers and fathers disagreed with the statement. However, I suspect that some of the dissenters were expressing their own lack of self-esteem. Nonetheless, the discrepancy indicates that parents are too often unaware of the effect that their behaviour

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has on their children and that the ideas and attitudes that children absorb in their youth are often carried with them for the rest of their life.

I cannot finish without mentioning those inspiring young children who care for other members of their family on a long-term basis. Children as young as seven and up to those studying for A-levels look after parents or siblings who are disabled, long-term sick, suffering from alcohol or drug addiction or terminally ill. They cook, shop, clean, give encouragement and take on responsibilities way beyond their years. They need to be appreciated and helped. They do not need to be patronised, told what to do or bureaucratised.

In some respects they could, I suppose, be accused of being too close to their families, while at the other end of the spectrum there are those who no longer live with their family but are fostered. Families who are foster carers are very special. The parents take in youngsters whose attitude is very often not one of gratitude, and the children of the family accept them and share with strangers not only their favourite toys and the family pets but their parents too. Those taken in may move to live in with strangers twice or 10 times in a relatively short life. They may have abandoned all attempts to adjust to a new set of values, a new way of living and a whole new menu.

Yet it is those precarious ventures that often succeed. It may be that success at school eludes foster children, but there are countless examples of grown men and women living a happy, useful and fulfilled life today who are a real credit to those foster mums and dads. I agree that we should help those young people in every way possible; that we should support foster parents in the service that they give; and that we should assist our schools to provide any extras that may be necessary. I question the statement in the report that we should condemn them because their exam pass rate at 16 does not meet some arbitrary target.

The report is an outstanding piece of work. It makes 41 recommendations. In an ideal world, we would expect every child to have a good upbringing, a good start. I fear that it is not possible to achieve that and the report’s recommendations should be studied in that light. Our challenge is to take on board some of the recommendations and to make it work for children and the overall benefit of society.

12.21 pm

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on initiating this debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Layard, on his part in producing the report A Good Childhood. It comes at a time of other relevant thought and activity about children’s well-being. UNICEF is urging the UK to incorporate into UK law the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has started the Rights Respecting Schools award, which has had some good results, as the noble Baroness mentioned. There has also been the launch of Family Week. From all sides, voices are speaking up for children and becoming more insistent.

Professor Judy Dunn, who chaired the inquiry, made clear at the launch that the book was intentionally short so that more people would read it. It has succeeded

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in that, but its findings are given great authority by the expertise and standing of the individuals and organisations that contributed to the final report and the extensive contributions from children themselves. Noble Lords will raise many different aspects of the report, but I shall restrict my remarks to a few of its findings. The first is the matter of family relationships—complex indeed. It refers to the golden days that never existed. One such stereotype was to be found in the Ladybird Early Reader books, where Peter and his father tinkered with the car in the garage while Jane and her mother baked cakes in the kitchen. Then they all went for a healthy walk with Pat the dog.

Fifty years ago, there were families that fell constantly into those conventions: the father the breadwinner, the mother the homemaker. Social pressures and employment practices made it harder not to conform, but for many in those days they were far from perfect circumstances and the conventions were deeply uncomfortable. In the past century, there were many examples of single-parent families. The two world wars left women bringing up children on their own where they had no choice in the matter, often combining parenting with work out of necessity, social demand or choice. If they had not been married to the father, they may also have contended with social disdain and lack of support from the community. However, that generation of children was not notably dysfunctional.

Today single parents are an accepted part of society. As the report indicates, we are much more tolerant of diverse lifestyles, and there are certainly benefits in that tolerance but, at the same time, many of the conventional strengths of community have been eroded, leading to the lack of respect and the damaging excessive individualism set out in the report, where people become more self-centred in the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment rather than for the greater good and the good of their children.

The term “working mother” has seemed to me tautologous ever since my days as a non-working mother, when the joy of parenthood also meant days of 24-hour responsibility. It was perhaps inevitable that the media would pick up those parts of the report that appeared critical of mothers who go back to work. I was pleased to see that yesterday Professor Dunn responded in a letter to the Guardian. She emphasised that the report did not suggest that mothers ought not to go out to work. Indeed, the report places emphasis on love and care. It states:

“Crucial are the warmth, understanding, interest and firmness which parents bring to their relationship with their child”.

In order to help parents of the future, there are some excellent recommendations, which start in school. We on these Benches have argued the case for personal, social and health education to be a key part of the school curriculum. It is encouraging that this is now accepted as it provides material for children to learn, to understand themselves and their relationship with others, to build confidence in their ability to make a positive contribution to society and to feel good about it. It is hoped that in due course that will spill through into the children themselves becoming parents. We would encourage the Government to promote the training and appointment of specialist PSHE teachers as rapidly as possible.

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Learning should be exciting, and testing is part of ensuring that young people have learnt; but league tables have moved testing into costly and damaging areas. Some years ago, I was at a presentation by the head of a school for pupils with severe learning difficulties. He talked of the dedication of the staff, the efforts of the pupils and the small achievements which meant so much. He said that the worst day of the year was the day of the publication of the league tables. With grim inevitability, his school would be at the bottom. The morale of staff and parents plummeted.

I was reminded of this yesterday on a visit to Treloars school and college, which provides for 300 severely physically disabled young people. It is inspirational to see dedicated staff and positive young people determined to achieve against immense challenges. Many will go on to gain GCSEs and NVQs, and will go on to college and university. But for many, success will lie in mastering some form of non-verbal communication and manipulating their wheelchairs around the corridors. What possible relevance are league tables to schools like this?

Not everything of value can be measured. The amount of time and money currently spent on formal, external tests and assessments has seriously undermined resources which could be better spent on motivating and encouraging young people. How heartily we support the report’s assertion:

“Education should never be synonymous with teaching to the test”.

This report has gathered immense amounts of evidence and has subjected it to intense analysis. The difficult financial times ahead may give an impetus to review what really matters in life and how the next generation can best be taught to manage changing circumstances. Adjusting to having fewer belongings will pose more of a problem to this generation, who often confuse having material possessions with being a worthwhile person.

The inquiry concludes:

“This ought to be a time of hope for children in Britain”.

The recommendations make thought-provoking reading and give clear and simple guidance to different target groups. We hope that each of those groups, and the Government, will consider the matters that refer to them and will take action.

12.28 pm

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am very happy to declare an interest both as vice-president of the Children’s Society and as patron of this inquiry. I am delighted that my right reverend brother has secured this debate.

The report paints a very sobering picture of a society that has become clumsy and neglectful in the priority it gives to the central task of civilised humanity: the task of inducting children into responsible and fulfilling life. That being said, however, the report is not an apocalyptic document. It does not simply paint a picture of a society ravaged by feral youngsters, and it does not, despite some versions of it in the press, seek to find scapegoats for all problems. The aim of its analysis is not to find one simple root cause for the

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problems currently surrounding childhood in our society but to identify a “climate” in very broad terms—specifically a climate, as we heard, of individualism, but not only that. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that simply to speak of individualism is a simplistic strategy in this context. However, I think that we need to take into consideration, alongside issues around our attitudes to the individual, attitudes that also have to do with our short-term perspective on decision-making. This is perhaps a rather timely observation given our financial straits, but I pass hastily over that.

When we make choices, we make choices that have a cost. We like to avoid the awareness of that cost; none the less, it will not go away. No choice fails to bring some sort of cost, and if cultural and economic factors press us towards certain choices rather than others, the costs remain. And that, I believe, is the essence of what is being said about patterns of work among parents. Cultural factors make it desirable and natural for women to seek fulfilling work. Economic factors, as we have been reminded, make it desirable and sometimes necessary for a family to think of two working parents. Those are moral and reputable choices but their moral and reputable character does not remove the cost. The question, therefore, is not where we apportion blame but how we are to look long and hard at those things that offset the cost. The report suggests that we have barely begun to do this effectively in terms both of our attitudes to paid work in our society and our attitudes to the professionalism demanded in childcare.

Attitudes to working practices are a very significant and troubling dimension of our life in society today. We all know how heavily work presses upon those in employment, and we know the demands that can be made on working mothers and fathers in ways that are deeply detrimental to family life. But we also have a deficit in many of our attitudes to the status of those who work specifically with children. I wish to pass on briefly to think about some of the issues that surround this question. The report notes the undeniable fact that those working in education and in mental health care with the young are often poorly paid, inadequately resourced and seriously undervalued in our society overall. Perhaps I may be permitted to spend a little time on these two areas.

Chapter 7 of the report repeats the now quite familiar statistics on the levels of young people’s mental health, the decline of those levels during the 1980s and 1990s, the relative stasis since then, but the lack of any improvement. The point is not the trivial one that one in 10 young people is unhappy but the far more serious point that this significant percentage suffers from serious, diagnosable, treatable mental health problems. The report also notes that only 25 per cent of them gain the right kind of specialised help. The report calls for an integrated approach to the mental health of young people involving both schools and the care system. It calls for training in the recognition of mental health problems, for professional assessment as a priority and, therefore, for evidence-based treatment as the way forward. All of these points seem to me to be of the greatest importance as we look at what children’s mental health requires in our society.

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There is an implied point here about the professionalism of those who work in this area—not that it is poor at the moment, but that it could be better and more extensive—and the urgent need for more workers. A specific call is made for a five-year programme to train 1,000 more child therapists. I hope to hear from the government Benches their sympathy for this proposal. I also underline the need for a fair and proper regional spread of such provision, and I do so having in mind a painful conversation last weekend with a friend from west Wales who described the dire situation of mental health care for young people in the area.

This of course spills over into the broader area of issues around schooling and the causes of stress in our schools. I note another specific recommendation here, already mentioned by a previous speaker, which has to do with testing in schools. The report observes that, sadly, testing is frequently oriented towards what we might unkindly call PR and marketing rather than to feedback for those most deeply involved: the children themselves. The demand made in the report that testing should always have a strictly educational purpose through feedback is one that I hope will be weighed very carefully. There is also some significant material about the payment of teachers and also about apprenticeship schemes as a way of releasing the energy and creativity of young people. A request is made for government guarantees about apprenticeship schemes, and once again I shall be delighted to hear a response to this. Already some schools are running imaginative projects in this area. Some months ago I was privileged to visit a church secondary school on the south coast, in a deprived area of Eastbourne, which had devised an extremely imaginative project whereby early school leavers were encouraged to return to the school part-time to study for their A-levels while being trained in various IT skills at the same time.

Mental health and education are just a couple of aspects of a very rich report, and to focus on them illustrates the level of failure in our society to give value and priority to the work of forming adult personalities by the way in which we engage with our children. But to form adult personalities means that we must first take children seriously as children, not simply as embryo adults. That means listening to them and taking very seriously their own account of their needs and their problems. One of the great strengths of this report is that it seeks to do just that.

The dimension of religious faith and spirituality has already been mentioned in this debate. To develop a sensible, creative, celebratory attitude to our children requires at the very least a vision of what human maturity looks like, and a sense of the absolute imperative of creative care, not merely protective care, for the growing and the vulnerable. Religious faith may not be the only source from which such a vision comes but it is a crucially important one both individually and socially. Above all, if I may speak here as a Christian, the Gospels’ injunction to take example from children is one of the strongest possible cultural incentives to look with pleasure, with gratitude and with eagerness towards our young people. Very little except such a perspective can break through the mixed climate of fear and dislike which sadly seems to surround so

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much of our perception of young people, at least as reflected in the media. This report is a crucial step towards breaking through that sad stereotype, towards a more celebratory and more creative approach.

12.37 pm

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, it is extremely difficult to follow immediately on from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on initiating this debate, and particularly on his devoted service to the Children’s Society. I would also like to thank him for giving me a copy of the excellent report and his instruction that I was to speak today—so I have obeyed. It is sad that this report echoes and amplifies in an authoritative way the report of the four United Kingdom Children’s Commissioners to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the report last year of the UNCRC itself. I would like to make three points from my own experience as a former judge, and I declare an interest as a patron, governor or other similar position in a considerable number of charities, notably Coram, One Plus One, Childhood First and the NSPCC.

The first point concerns the value of marriage, and I think it is time that that is said. I am biased in favour of marriage, having just had 50 years of it and still surviving. Statistics show that marriages, despite the high divorce rate, last longer than other relationships. Cohabitation has a poor track record from the point of view of its sticking ability. The best for children, as is said in the report, is to be part of a stable, secure, loving family with preferably two parents offering two role models, male and female. This is not to decry the single-parent family, two parents of the same sex, or indeed step-parents. Many children blossom in such family upbringings, but it is not the best. The points made in the report about love, moral values, the respect of parents for their children and the respect of children for their parents and other adults, and the importance of authoritative parenting are crucial aspects of a good family.

My second point is about the effects of the separation of parents upon their children. Children are not concerned about the marriage lines; they usually love and want both their parents. When parents separate, most of them are concerned about the welfare arrangements for their children but often overlook the children themselves as people with worries who need to be given the facts, and with the right at least to know what is going on. Often children have no idea what is going on when their parents separate and after their parents have separated. There is a widespread lack of knowledge, which is totally unacceptable for children.

Children also have the right in many situations at least to be consulted about their future, although not, of course, for that to be determinative. I make a small but important point for parents: do not arrange access at the time of football practice or matches unless the non-residential parent is going to attend them.

Changes are inevitable—home, parents, siblings, school, loss of friends—and this all leads to a degree of insecurity. In a small but significant minority of parents, all too well known to me when I was a judge,

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the corrosion of a broken relationship and the acrimony between them results in endless court proceedings, where the parents fight their unresolved conflicts in battles over the children. I sometimes think that the last person who ought to be allowed to care for the children is one of the parents in this conflict. Anyone else would be better for them.

But even without parental disputes there can, none the less, be adverse effects on the children which can be short, medium and sometimes long term. Where there are disputes between the parents, the effect can be very damaging and long lasting. Adults whose parents have divorced sometimes have a fear of making long-term commitments and enter into the danger of repeating the mistakes of their parents, with the inevitable unhappy consequences for the next generation of children.

On the issue of instruction in parenting, particularly before having children, which is mentioned in the report, it is important to have mediation between parents intending to separate and conciliation at the door of the court where their applications for residence and contact is to be heard. All of this can be extremely successful. There also needs to be a widespread recognition by mothers—I speak as a mother and a grandmother—of the love and need of the children for the father as well as the mother. Fathers remain seriously underestimated.

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