Thursday, March 19, 2009

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.


Anonymous Ruth J said...

So, if the "tabloid bandwagon" is such a powerful tool, wielded so lethally by the NSPCC, how do we get hold of it? How do we get the Daily Mail to go all out for the protection of individuals and families against the victimisation of the NSPCC. That actually sounds like something they could go for - the assumption that their readers are committed, responsible parents, whose right to parent is under government/NSPCC attack. How do we harness them? Would it help if we did?

8:35 am, March 20, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Gill

Another great piece.

I've written to the ASA complaining about the NSPCC's current campaign on the internet version of the Guardian. I can only assume they've thought it a good idea to raise their profile while the cover of Josef Fritzl's trial is going on. Their mini horror films (how do they get a child to act like they're being abused?) have been showing on the family pages. I think it's despicable.

8:39 am, March 20, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

Wow wow wow, Gill! Excellent post! Sums it all up, doesn't it? Off to order those books, to read them and then to pass them around on a wide scale.
Big confirming but unfortunately only virtual hug!

9:42 am, March 20, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know if Frank Furedi is aware of the review and if he has an opinion on it?

5:59 pm, March 20, 2009  
Blogger Young Mr. Brown said...

Thanks for that. I've had doubts about the NSPCC for some years, based on their own utterances.

A few months ago I started looking around on the internet for more info on them, and found a little of what you found - and was alarmed.

And yet, they are still very much respected, and very much part of the establishment. Maybe the message will get out.

I've posted on the subject here, and have acknowledged your contribution.

9:26 pm, March 20, 2009  
Blogger Young Mr. Brown said...

p.s. I was interested to notice the following quotation on the Every Child Matters site:

"Wherever a child is educated, local authorities need to be assured that each child is safe, well and receiving a full time education, suitable to their needs and abilities."

When I read that sort of thing, I ask "Really? What business is it of local authorities? Do they own the children?"

In modern Britain, I suppose they probably do. Sigh.

10:49 pm, March 20, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Ruth, I don't know - come up with stories that sell headlines and also work with the newspaper owners' politics? Um... then have enough contacts in the press to get them through? I don't know if we're all that well positioned to do that, to be honest. I don't know whether it would help either! I think the problem goes deeper than the manipulation of public opinion though: it's the way what they laughingly call 'public service' increasingly works now, with everything being contracted out to either business or 3rd sector orgs, so there'd presumably be a queue behind the NSPCC.

Thanks Trixie. I hadn't seen that. Will go and check it out.

Mieke, thanks :-)

Jo, that's a very good question. I have no contact details for him but with any luck he or someone he knows will google his name from time to time. I guess if he then supports what we're doing, he'll say so.

Mr Brown, they do seem to be sailing close to the wind, don't they? Maybe they're working on the principle that any commentary is good commentary because it means they're being noticed..? I dunno, it's a mystery to me but it will all come down to money in the end no doubt. As for local authorities owning children - some of them certainly think they do, yes, and the government seems to be encouraging that kind of thinking. I liked your post :-)

7:24 am, March 21, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Gill-there's a lot here to take in; and I'm being slow this morning.
I wonder about the money thing and the NSPCC: they have indeed hit the "tabloid bandwagon" and are essentially making up problems and claiming abuse where none exists.
But the fact is there is plenty of very real abuse going on in all sorts of places; schools being a major source of abuse-and the NSPCC is nowhere to be seen.
They have CLOSED drop in centres that worked for families seeking support.

I used to 'teach' or 'facilitate' whatever buzz word they used- a couple of parenting groups. Mostly it was mothers who attended and they all had problems with their children's behaviour or with how their children were coping in schools. Both the groups I worked in were in 'sink estates'. One of the biggest problems I saw these mums having was lack of confidence in their ability to be a mum. They had read too many experts and it didn't fit their way of working.

All this official interference has damaged families leaving too many parents thinking they are useless because they are not following the 'expert' view!
Sorry I'll stop there before this becomes a whole blog post.

11:06 am, March 21, 2009  
Blogger lotusbirther said...

NSPCC are linked to ELC (Early Learning Centre) through the "your family" magazine)
Shan't be buying from them again and nor will my family!

8:54 pm, March 21, 2009  
Anonymous Renegade Parent said...

Hi Gill,

I saw Frank Furedi on GMTV a little while ago talking about how parent/child relationships are disintegrating because of "expert" intervention. He received standard mainstream media treatment: the GMTV interviewers and the other interviewee deliberately misconstrued what he was saying, making him out to be some kind of proponent of laissez faire/neglectful parenting who was contributing to the serious social problems of today. Sigh.

I researched him a little bit at the time (so relieved was I that someone like him existed) and he has his own website with contact details:
He does write critically about academic authoritarianism, examinations etc. too from what I can recall, so I can imagine he would have an opinion about the "consultation".

It is so easy for the majority to automatically dismiss or distrust the POV of anyone who questions organisations like the NSPCC or child protection agencies ("but they are only there for the poor, vulnerable children!!") without digging any deeper... This is the big challenge that all of us face - whatever aspects of parental freedom and responsibilities we desire. Thanks for the hard work work on this, both of you. It's been a great, sobering read.


11:04 pm, March 21, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Mum6kids, yes it has changed families. Do you think that was deliberate, or not?

LotusBirther, thanks for the heads up. I never bought it anyway, but now I doubly never will! ;-)

Lisa, you've convinced me. I'm going to email him.

9:41 am, March 22, 2009  
Blogger Gordon Brown-Nose said...

I found you guys after a link on Twitter - and having read everything I am concerned about the NSPCC and the power it now appears to be weilding.

Our children's welfare MUST be the top priority however I am now wondering if there isn't some big business / political bent to what they (the NSPCC) are now up to.

Can I make a suggestion?

1 - Get On Twitter
It's where I found out about you and this post, so it must be working.

2 - Create An Account
I would suggest a name like NSPCCWorry and have a description like "Worries about the NSPCC).

3 - Search for NSPCC and message anyone mentioning it linking back to this article.

4 - Tag comments with #NSPCC to make it easier to search.

It doesn't look like the NSPCC are on there yet so you could have a jump on them.

Partly thanks to Twitter there are 2 political bloggers appearing on TV soon (Derek Draper and Guido Fawkes).

If they can do it for having a spate together, think what you could achieve!!

I do not want to see the NSPCC go - but I want it back doing GOOD for kids instead of giving a few people some nice expense accounts.

1:05 pm, March 22, 2009  
Blogger Dick Puddlecote said...

Brilliant series Gill.

The NSPCC are amongst a variety of 'charities' that have ceased to be anything more than cash-generating businesses free of taxation.

Thanks for pointing this out to a wider audience.

8:20 pm, March 22, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



9:05 pm, March 22, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

And your point, Fiona?

11:35 am, March 23, 2009  
Blogger basementcat said...

I really identify with your points surrounding the natural human instinct to help being curbed by fear of being slapped down by a heavy handed and misguided state, egged on by so-called 'charities'.

It feels a lot like what we are told to believe is that men are all paedophiles and any physical contact with a child who isn't theirs is to be questioned. Tag on to that if they happen to be gay, and they *must* be out to molest the kid.

It is a sorry state of affairs, but it's not just with children these days - as you alluded to; health and safety regulations seem to be more of a hindrance than help in an increasingly litigious society. Save someone's life without the right certificate and they might well sue you for it. One could argue that Natasha Richardson died because the Doctors were so busy testing to cover their own backs that they failed to act soon enough - for that precise fear.

I remember when I was in the Cadets we used to joke that it was easier if one of us died while on an activity - only one bit of paper to fill in, rather than the reams required for a broken leg.

12:17 pm, March 24, 2009  
Blogger Gavin and Eliza said...

I used to think that several charities in the same sector (e.g. NSPCC, Barnardo's, etc) meant donation revenue was wasted on the cost of sustaining the infrastructure of these several charities, and that a single (children's, for example) charity made more sense. But reading your blog has made me realise big charity = bad charity.

I've been donating £10/month to the NSPCC, through GAYE, for about 10 years, but it is about to go elsewhere.

Thank you.

10:19 pm, March 26, 2009  
Blogger Ruth Moss said...

Excellent, though disturbing, series on the NSPCC. I'm really starting to re-evaluate my thoughts on the whole "child protection industry". I used to be something of a "CRB check everyone! If you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to hide!" type person but the more I see, the more I'm questioning that, to the point where I'm not completely sure I see the point in them at all right now.

I've a lot of unformed thoughts on the entire thing about taking community and replacing it with legislation. I sure as hell don't believe children belong to the state. (I'm not convinced they belong to anyone, parents included.)

Personally, I think it might be time for another look at the way we in Western culture view children. At the moment, we seem to see children in a similar way to the way women were seen about a century or more ago; innocent little delicate creatures who need protecting from themselves, mainly by denying them the vote and the right to earn money and own property.

I linked to a round up of your posts in my latest blog post btw, hope that was okay.

9:02 am, October 19, 2009  

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