Friday, 13 February 2015

The charities who think they make Scotland the best place to grow up

Putting the baby IN the bathwater is a coalition of some 80 organisations and individuals who think they know how to make Scotland the best place to grow up. It includes Action for Children, Barnardo`s, NSPCC, Children 1st and others on the list of usual suspects.

Their first annual report Social Justice Begins with Babies was brought out in November 2014 in which they claim that 40 percent of public expenditure is spent on problems that could have been prevented. They do outline some of the problems - the mess that has to be cleaned up - in the document.  Lower life expectancy, criminality, drug addiction, alcoholism, poor educational attainment and mental health issues are some of the enduring negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences. So they say.

According to them: "Too many babies and toddlers have their immediate wellbeing compromised (and their life chances diminished) by being `dealt a bad hand` during the crucial developmental period from conception through age two." Anyone now suffering the intrusive interrogations of the midwife or health visitor has this group to thank for it:  "The Children and Young People Act now contains a statutory duty for all children`s services` plans to include a prevention element. The Act was amended by adding: `Part 12 - Services to children at risk of becoming looked after, etc. By explicitly beginning with pregnancy, the new section added a much more preventative, earliest years focus."  The coalition is proud to have achieved this amendment to the Act.

As far as the coalition of charities and their associates are concerned, it is the first 1,001 days of a child`s life that are the most important for its development and this is where the focus of attention should be. Of course that does mean that the spotlight will be on families, particularly mothers, who must prove that by cooperating with services they are no risk to the future of their children. Or the future of society for that matter.

The documentary Kids Behind Bars examines the experiences of children in different parts of the world who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Some might say they are part of the mess that has to be cleaned up, but that is why juxtapositions can be revealing.  It is a crass way to think. The simplistic notion that there are 1,001 crucial days to fix children and their future problems, jars with the harsh realities of life for many of these children.

One thing comes across clearly: they are not bad kids and yet they are prepared to find fault with themselves. Some of them are well aware of the trap they find themselves in, and can only fantasize that next time is going to be different. It is not that love can break the cycle - the youngsters do love their mothers and are disappointed if she does not show up when they are incarcerated - but outside nature dictates they must pull away, drugs numb the bad feelings. Anybody who believes these problems could have been prevented by early interventions within the family, starting pre-birth, must be wearing the thickest of blinkers.

The documentary shows that each country has its unique approach with varying degrees of success in dealing with wayward children. North America has its bootcamps, the south has its Hell holes. Surprisingly, the country that turned out to have been the most successful in terms of the lowest rate of recidivism was Turkey. It neither used a punitive approach, nor a `naval-gazing look at life` approach. It simply distracted children and filled their time with activities. So enriching was this experience for children that they just wanted it to go on. But thinking about it, what else do children need other than a life to live?

The early naval- gazing pre-birth approach in Scotland

Kids are brought up within societies. Even if the charities - despite their claimed expertise -  are clueless, surely social workers should be aware that society is more than the sum of its families and the first 1,001 days. After all, they are the lead agents in children`s services and they do bear the title `SOCIAL worker`. They should know that problems in society have social factors too and cannot be predicted by assessing pregnant women. Well you would think so.

But then social workers are experiencing their own crisis:
What this inevitably implies is that there is no universal body of knowledge for social workers. What is seen to be valid knowledge or indeed the function of social work is defined by many others outwith the profession including academics, educators, professionals, administrators, politicians, users, carers and the media.

And the third sector !

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