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What is this love that all children yearn for? What do children mean when they talk about love? I can only suggest some of the things that children need
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The report's findings on the importance of parental love, especially in the early years, confirm the accepted wisdom that Bowlby and Ainsworth postulated more than 50 years ago about the importance for young children of secure attachment. Secure parental love enables the young child to have an experience of loving and being loved in a way that will stand him in good stead in all subsequent relationships. However, the converse must also be true. A child who has not had the chance to develop socially and emotionally and to build self-esteem during the early years in the family will find it much harder to integrate into school and will not be emotionally equipped to cope with the challenges of romantic and sexual love when these come along later on. That is part of the reason for much of the insecurity, anger and hate in some of our young people today.
If early and secure parental love is so important to all children, why are we as a society not doing more to nurture and encourage it? Much could be done. This Government have said repeatedly from the Dispatch Box that they do not believe that Government should interfere in the way that adults choose to live their lives. In a sense they are right: you cannot make a law that parents must love their child. But that does not mean that you cannot try to persuade and encourage to nudge-all parents to do what is best for their child. I quote again from the most reverend Primate's afterword. It states:
We need to develop a culture in which people are not only interested in their right to have a child but in how they guarantee the conditions in which a child can be brought up in security and emotional confidence.
I suggest that three things are needed to persuade and assist parents: information, motivation and help. Information, emotional literacy and relationship education the noble Lord, Lord Layard, referred to this-should be a major element in the curriculum of every school, not just as something tacked on to sex and relationship education. It should be more important than that and comprise a major cross-curricular theme throughout the whole syllabus, because relationships are taught by example, practice and experience as much as in any other way. All young adults should learn about the social and emotional needs of young children, and that parents are crucially important in providing for those needs.
Fathers have been mentioned. Fathers must be made to understand that they are just as responsible as mothers for their child, including for its conception. In this context I refer to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, about bicycle sheds,
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As for motivation, tax and benefits policy should be revised to encourage parents to live together and to love and care for their children. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham mentioned that a new study by Care was released yesterday which indicated that the couple penalty in the tax and benefit system must be removed or reversed. Tax and benefit systems should take account of taxpayers' family responsibilities and transferable allowances for married couples should be reintroduced. Government housing policy should also be reviewed to ensure that every young couple has access to somewhere affordable to build a nest for their new family when they have their first baby, even if it is only a mobile home. Parents cannot fulfil their role if they do not have time to do so. Issues about flexible working are involved in that.
The report suggests a naming day for each child with a ceremony at which parents can commit themselves to one another. This kind of second-class marriage might help to crystallise commitment, but I am not entirely convinced about that. The Government have a number of excellent programmes to help parents. All that is really needed in that field is to ensure that the personnel are available to deliver it and that the funding is available on a long-term basis.
To summarise, we need parents at the centre of our policies for children. The report provides evidence that young children need, above all, parental love and commitment. We need to persuade parents that they have a key role in providing this stable, loving and supportive environment-this family life-for their children, and that it will involve some sacrifices. We have to convince them that this is a job that we as a society believe is very important, and that we are prepared to respect and empower-and perhaps to reward-them for doing this most important of all jobs.
Lord Parekh: My Lords, I begin by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for introducing this most impressive report with great wisdom and eloquence. This is the first time that 11 leading experts debated the subject among themselves, spoke to nearly 30,000 children, adults and professionals, and took three years to identify the problem, trace its causes and propose solutions. It is a great tribute to the Children's Society and the inquiry panel: the noble Lord, Lord Layard, Professor Judy Dunn, and, of course, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose spirit protected and informs the report.
Many of the report's 20-odd recommendations are persuasive and I hope the Government and other agencies will act on them. The current economic climate
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However, I have three or four reservations about the report. In my view, its diagnosis of the problem, its explanations and its solutions do not go far enough. First, it homogenises British society and ignores important differences between England, Scotland and Wales, as well as between the various communities that make up our multiethnic society. The problems relating to children and teenagers are not as acute or, rather, are of a different kind-within the Chinese and Indian communities. We might need to ask why that is the case.
Secondly, I find the report somewhat ahistorical. It does not explore how British society has developed since the 1950s, which it takes as its point of reference. It does not explain what important cultural, economic and political changes have taken place which explain the decline. When did excessive individualism enter our national life? Why was it not spotted? Why was it not arrested? Why was it not fought? Unless we understand when excessive individualism entered our national life, we will not be able to understand its nature or its causes. Noble Lords have talked about what happened in the 1980s and 1990s. The event which I recall happening in that period was the Thatcherite revolution and the idea that there is no such thing as society. It might be worth asking what profound changes it reflected and introduced into our society.
My third reservation is of a slightly different nature. The report rightly said that Britain comes out rather poorly on the indices of child well-being. UNICEF placed us 21st out of 25 industrialised countries. The Primary Review, a three-year Cambridge University study into primary education in England, pointed in the same direction. Since the problem is in some sense peculiar to us and the United States-and I am more interested in us than in the United States-the question is: what is it about our society, or our ways of bringing up children, that creates these problems? Why is it not found to the same degree in other western European countries, such as France, Italy or Spain, compared to which we do so badly? It cannot be capitalism, a competitive economy or individualism, all of which we share with other European countries. I would therefore like to see a comparative study that isolates uniquely British factors and tells us what lessons and good practices we can learn from other European countries.
Let me give one example. In France and Italy, for example, parents go out for meals with children and spend a lot of time with them, and children sit in on adult conversations. We tend not to do that here. We spend a lot of time with our children, but largely in children-related activities. We play with them and take them on holidays, but we do not let them enter our own worlds. When guests come for dinner, children either are put to bed or retire to their rooms. In other words, we do not integrate our children into adult life in the same way as other western European countries
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As an African proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child. That proverb needs to be updated to say that it takes a whole nation to raise a child. The principles of solidarity, community and responsibility that the report stresses cannot be limited to the family or acquired only within the framework of the family. They need to be embodied in our major economic and political institutions, and the conduct of our leaders. Politics sets the tone of society, and if it leaves something to be desired, as it currently does, wrong messages are sent out to society. In other words, we need a strong sense of national purpose and values. I would like to think that the way we cope with and resolve the current financial crisis would send out some important messages as to the kind of society we are and wish to be.
There is another small factor to consider: more women go out to work in Britain than in many other European countries. This has its obvious advantages, but it also has its disadvantages. The advantages are: it gives women a greater sense of self-worth and self fulfilment; they bring new ideas and experiences from work into the family; and their absence from home accentuates their appreciation of the importance of the family. But there are obvious disadvantages: children are sometimes left on their own, and women are tired and emotionally exhausted when they come home.
For all these reasons, families need far greater support than they currently have. We cannot wish for a situation where women do not go out to work-that is simply impossible for economic, moral, cultural and other reasons. What we need to do is cope with and find ways of dealing with the cost that this entails. Parents need more flexible working hours, greater maternity and paternity leave, more childcare facilities and better co-operation with schools than is currently the case. We also need to reduce economic inequality and child poverty. And this is where the state comes in. This is what has happened in Scandinavian countries. It is increasingly being taken on board by France, Germany and Italy, and we have much to learn from them. The report was right to stress this, and I suggest that we need to build on it and go beyond it.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I too am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for tabling this important and timely debate. I thank the authors of this landmark work, the noble Lord, Lord Layard-Professor Layard-and Professor Judy Dunn. I also thank Mr Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society, for facilitating this production and for his excellent preface. I was grateful to be consulted on the early findings of the inquiry, and note that Camilla Batmangeildjh, renowned for her outstanding work with children otherwise forgotten by society-she caters for 2,000 such children daily-was
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I am most grateful for this landmark report and its encouragement to parents and politicians to reforge their commitment to our children. I hope that the Minister will give thorough consideration to the report's recommendations, and I particularly look forward to her comments on these today. The report refers to the importance of sex and relationship education, and we have heard that the Government have now made PSHE statutory. That seems to me to be a very welcome step forward, and it may be important in meeting some of the concerns raised by the report. The investment that the Government have made in teachers over the past 10 years and in raising the status of the teaching profession may also be very important in helping us to meet some of the concerns raised in the report. I declare my non-pecuniary interests as a trustee of the Michael Sieff Foundation and of TACT, the Adolescent and Children's Trust, a not-forprofit foster care organisation.
Of all the striking insights that this report provides about the state of childhood in the UK, I was struck most by what Mr Reitemeier says in his preface about the importance to children of parental commitment, which was repeated by the right reverend Prelate in his opening speech. There was the story of Adam, the young man in foster care, residential placements and then in the criminal justice system and the importance to this young man of meeting an independent visitor who stuck by him through thick and thin over many years, and who rebuilt his faith in society and in the possibility of making a contribution to society. All my experience with young people supports what Mr Reitemeier says. Each child needs the full commitment of, ideally, two parents and of society as a whole. This is the point that my noble friend Lord Northbourne has sought to impress on your Lordships year after year.
I welcome the attention that the report gives to childcare for young children. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury drew our attention to this matter. I quote from page 30 of the report:
At the same time, for parents who are both at work, there is an urgent need for higher-quality child-care. Research has consistently shown the link between high-quality pre-school provision and good child outcomes at later ages. This requires well-educated staff who are well paid.
While Her Majesty's Government have introduced the first childcare legislation, invested heavily in early years staff development, provided the early years framework to direct early years workers and introduced the first national strategy for childcare, we are still 30 years behind the best countries in this area. Nursery workers still tend to be young, poorly educated women, who are poorly paid and working on a short-term basis. Turnover of staff can be high, and this can be aggravated by poor investment in the development of staff. This high turnover of staff, the low status of the work and shift patterns can give rise to poor-quality, impersonal care, where children have little opportunity to build warm relationships with individual staff members.
Jay Belsky in his research in the United States finds that prolonged exposure to poor quality childcare at an early age gives rise to a small but significant increase in behavioural difficulties on entering school. He expresses concern that if large numbers of children experience this early poor-quality care, the social impact may be significant and harmful. The Good Childhood Inquiry acknowledges the benefit to cognitive development of nursery care in the early years and the lack of research in the UK with similar results to Belsky. It refers, I think, to research finding that children with experience of nursery care can be more sociable when they enter school and can get along better with other children. It points out that research in the UK indicates that adverse aggressive behaviour resulting from childcare tends to disappear after the age of 10. It calls for more research into the impact of childcare.
I share the report's desire for further research. In particular, I am concerned about the long-term impact of prolonged exposure to poor-quality childcare in a child's earliest years. John Bowlby, the clinician writing in the 1960s whose work on attachment theory-which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has referred to-has become so influential in recent years and is referred to by the Good Childhood Inquiry, took the view that the earliest relationships set the pattern for later relationships. For example, the first romance with the parents and the love of the parents set the pattern for the later romance with the child's lifetime partner. It may be that experience of early poor-quality childcare hinders the formation of strong, committed adult relationships. Poor-quality early childcare may contribute to the problem identified by the authors as at the core of decline in the quality of childhood and to the decline in the ability of parents to fully commit to one another and their children. Therefore, I would particularly welcome evidence from longitudinal studies relating early attachment experiences to later adult relationships with partners and children. The research that I have seen cited so far goes at the furthest to the age of 18.
I am glad that the report highlights the need to go far further in developing nursery staff and childminders. The noble Lord, Lord Layard, finished by saying that we show our commitment to our children by our commitment to the people who care for those children. I entirely agree, and I welcome the steps that Her Majesty's Government are taking to develop such work. I ask the Minister and her colleagues to proceed slowly and modestly with regard to childcare provision. We start from a low base. We do not know the harm that may be caused by advancing too quickly with insufficient attention to quality of childcare. At the same time, I acknowledge the importance to parents of access to childcare, particularly for those wishing to escape from poverty.
I would be grateful for answers from the Minister to the following questions. I regret not having been able to give her much notice of these, and I quite understand if she would prefer to write to me in reply. What percentage of nursery settings provide regular-once a month or more frequently-staff work discussion groups, when staff have an opportunity to present their experience of individual children for discussion among colleagues, a senior practitioner being present to offer advice? What are Her Majesty's Government doing to encourage
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Again, I understand if the Minister will need to write to me in reply. I conclude by repeating my gratitude to the Children's Society for this very helpful report and to the Government for their continuing interest in and concern for the welfare of children. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, and I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and the Children's Society on the report and this debate. I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF, to the work of which a number of noble Lords have referred.
The report set out to identify what is important to children. I am pleased to say that the researchers did the right thing and asked thousands of children. It is a very important report, because while it addressed the problems of children in the 21st century, it emphasised what children have always needed and always will need-love and happiness. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was correct in predicting that I would mention that. It concluded that we need to change our culture to bring about a more positive attitude to children who are, as the right reverend Prelate said, the responsibility of us all, so we should set them a good example. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, it takes a village to bring up a child, or perhaps a whole nation.
The report, which was not well served by its media coverage, appears to identify too much individualism as the cause of the problems of today's children. This is blamed for family break-up, teenage unkindness-does that mean bullying?-commercial pressures towards premature sexualisation, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and acceptance of income inequality. While I agree that all these things are bad for children, I fail, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, to see the connection with individualism in all cases-it would be too simplistic a generalisation. These negative elements in our children's lives have many different causes; many families break up for reasons other than too much individualism on the part of one or other parent. I do not see what it has to do with little girls being persuaded to wear make-up and to dress like their mothers. Advertising does that. I do not think that any of us accepts income inequality, but it has become a very hard nut to crack, despite the best efforts of Governments and charities such as the Children's Society, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham explained.
I agree with the report that loving, nurturing families in which children observe and feel love and learn how to love others are the best environment for a growing
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Children thrive in loving families because it is in such an environment that they will experience the least stress and the most positive feedback. Stress is extremely damaging to growing children, as I elaborated in my speech last Thursday about domestic violence. It affects their brain development, growth, current and future health, intellectual ability and emotional maturity and is to be avoided if possible.
As the report points out, there have been two major changes in family life in recent years: more women going out to work and more families breaking up. However, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, the stress on the child can be reduced if they are consulted, if grown-ups behave like grown-ups, not like children, and if they put the children's well-being first in all their arrangements, offsetting the cost, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury put it.
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