Will Parenting Classes for Children Break the Poverty Cycle?

Posted on November 12th, 2010

Frank Field, the coalition’s poverty adviser is due to present a government commissioned review to the Prime Minister at the end of this year.

The review is based around “How to prevent poor children becoming poor adults”. It is aimed at moving away from the idea of tackling child poverty purely financially and recommends a strategy that focuses on the early years of childhood, primarily up to age 5 and on parenting.

The Sutton Trust charity produced a report last week, showing that poorer children are twice as likely to start school with behavioural problems.  They warned that this gap had widened over the past 10 years.

This, coupled with research showing how accurate predictions could be made on a child’s status during their 20’s simply by monitoring their ability at 22 months and 5 years, has prompted Field to construct his report.

Field said that the first five years of a child’s life could, “…become more powerful than class in determining where children will be at 10, 16 and where they will be at 20”.  He also stated that, “Part of the problem was a decline in people’s understanding of good parenting”.

Field’s research led him to meet a large amount of primary school teachers and head teachers who said that children are arriving at school unprepared and with few skills.  “I’ve met heads who say children are worse prepared for school now than they were 30 years ago.  Children should be able to sit still, they should know their own name, they should be able to take their coat off, they should understand the word ‘stop’, they have to be able to hold a crayon”, said Field.

Field suggested that this was more due to parenting than other factors, saying, “I think it is more difficult to parent than it was.  The pressures on you are greater.  It is expected that people, mothers, should work, and rather quickly after birth, even if they are on their own.  Post-war housing developments have split up communities.  You are bombarded with demands from television about the things that children should have.  It puts a much greater pressure on parents.  To add to that you may not have had a good role model yourself”.

The coalition government is committed to eradicating child poverty in the UK by 2020 – the same goal set out by Labour.  The government has increased child tax credits paid to families falling below the poverty line.  Field suggests that this money would be better spent on Sure Start projects.

Field was Director of the Child Poverty Action Group before moving into politics.


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Draconian Measures in the Playground

Posted on November 9th, 2010

If your son or daughter’s school invited you to donate some money for playground equipment, what images come to mind?  Are you thinking slides, climbing frame, sand pit or a bench your children can sit on during break times? What we would all hope is that the equipment is safe and stimulates our children’s minds and allows them to have fun.

If they’ve contributed five hundred pounds towards the equipment most parents would expect the structure to be fit for their child’s purpose.  The picture that may have come to your mind is probably similar to the one that parents of a child with learning difficulties had when they sought playground equipment for their son.

The reality for these parents on the Isle of Lewis with an eighteen year old son with a ‘severe form of autism’ was different to the picture they envisaged. Their son was provided with six foot high wire fencing and a wooden gate that segregated their son in a small corner of the playground.  Polly Tommey, founder of the Autism Trust said that she was sickened by the structure and asked, ‘What kind of person builds a cage for another person to be in?’ adding, ‘No child – with or without learning difficulties – should be caged’.

Western Isles Council has removed the structure and apologised for the ‘entirely inappropriate’ provision. The question to be asked his how did a facility catering for children, with professionals supposedly having the best interests of a child at the centre of their work; make such a visibly incorrect decision.  On viewing the structure it looks like a storage facility for a building material or machinery rather than an area used by a young adult to exercise and socialise.


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Children’s Minister Speaks Out About Adoption

Posted on November 9th, 2010

The Times newspaper on 2 November 2010 reports that the government were considering altering the guidance on interracial adoption.  Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton stated that there was no reason why white couples should not adopt black, Asian, and mixed-heritage children. The Times published interesting statics relating to children approved for adoption in the UK last years. Out of 2300 children approved for adoption approximately 500 were black or Asian.  The Times stated that experts say that children from ethnic minorities are ‘very overrepresented’ in the 20 % of children who will never be adopted.

Tim Loughton believes that race or culture should not be a reason for children not to be adopted by white families, if they are suitable. The practice of interracial adoption was widely used although The Times states that research for this period showed that nearly three quarters of children involved struggled to settle in with their new families.  However, Hugh Thornbery at Action for Children said that research suggests placing children with those who understand and can support the child in what leads to better outcomes.  Hugh Thornbery added that parents of a different ethnic background can give a child a happy family environment if their social network and where they live is reasonably diverse.

Tim Loughton feels that there is no sense of urgency in relation to numbers of children being adopted even though research shows that adoption of younger children is more successful.

The Times interviewed a family who stated that they were told by a social worker that they were ‘too white, middle class and heterosexual’ and that they would have difficulty adopting.  The family were rejected twice by two local authorities before travelling abroad for an intercountry adoption. The family have now written a book entitled, ‘Our son from afar’.

Should interracial adoption be assessed on an individual child’s needs and the ability for a child to have those needs met in a safe and loving manner, within a warm environment?  Is this a simplistic approach and the blanket rejection a way to safeguard children from developing a poor self-identity? We are aware of families with middle class backgrounds who adopt working class children and offer them lots of life opportunities. However, there are also children who reject their new families because of the unfamiliarity of the daily expectations of parents from a different cultural background.

If a child has a disability is it more important that their potential adoptive parents are from the same ethnic background or that they will love him or her, providing the child with a stimulating, warm home life? The child’s life maybe made easier if they live in a family with the same cultural background, but waiting for these people to appear could create lasting emotional scars associated with spending long periods of time in care thinking, ‘no one out there wants me’.


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