NSPCC Part 3: anti child?
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:
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:
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.
- 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:
(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."
- "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."
[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.]
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:
- "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.