Category Archives: Opinion

“Home Truths” about the struggle for survival of children’s homes

Jonathan Stanley, the Chief Executive Officer for the Independent Children’s Homes and of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child care has written to us about a new report which Children’s homes providers have published, ‘Home Truths – The state of independent residential child care 2014.
He suggests, “No other report has ever contained such a level of concern for the present and future of Residential Child Care.  It looks at the current situation, records experiences and charts the potential futures of what the authors see as an ‘unprecedented culture of anti-residential feeling.’”
In launching the report Jonathan  said, “The sector meets extraordinary needs with extraordinary responses yet is under-estimated, under-valued and under-funded.  Though providers have embraced reform, the report shows our nation’s homes do not have the necessary firm foundation for their future.  To change this situation will require Government-led clear strategic direction, commitment, creativity and courage.  We need people to step up for Residential Child Care.”
He believes “Alarm bells must start ringing. It has to be of major concern that this vital sector is experiencing demoralisation and fears irrevocable damage through its further diminution and contraction, even collapse, as providers disappear.  We are very far away from the one common shared future for Residential Child Care that is needed, to ensure the continuation of the specialism, safety and choice our young people need.”
The report sees children’s homes as necessary and needed, highly regulated, with a workforce of experienced, knowledgeable and committed professionals offering versatility, diversity and flexibility, in the very complex and difficult task of meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and challenging group of young people in the UK.
Providers report fees from local authorities being driven down to unsustainable levels, regardless of the quality of the provision and call for an end to what they call local authorities ‘in-house-ism’, where their own resources are used first often leading to increased moves for a young person.  The report makes the call for new thinking, collaborative work between local authorities and providers to get the ‘right child in the right place – first time!’  The providers see costs frequently being prioritised over care considerations.  They also see that standardised benchmarking for needs/behaviours across all local authorities will assist in giving an accurate indication of the needs of the young person.
The providers seek a new partnership with Ofsted away from what is reported as a ‘toxic environment,’ arising from experiences of individual inspector interpretation and adversarial and attritional inspection.  One result given in the report is of providers acting to maintain good or outstanding ratings, by reducing the level of needs they previously admitted, resulting in some young people not having access to the services they need.  The report calls for inspections directed to improvement.
The providers call for an ambitious review of qualifications, radically changing the current requirements and delivery, and look to something similar to the professional teacher’s qualification.
____________________________

Goodbye, Mr Gove

It is a relief of sorts that Michael Gove has become the former Secretary for Education. Mr. Gove may have talents in a number of  fields but surely most with a thoughtful approach to how children might be reared and educated would not see his talents as lying in the field of children’s growth and learning. The post of government Chief Whip seems more suited to him.  Mr Gove has presided over many cuts to children’s services and driven through such reactionary changes to the education system as the free schools and the academy programmes. It is evident these last two have tended to be anything but free and are there only to support the needs of special interest groups, to provide fat profits for private companies and to serve those who have a vested interest in maintaining privilege and wealth for the powerful few.
Freedom has not been served by Mr. Gove’s  support for “conned by rote” learning, a method free of imagination and creativity which serves  to dull the mind and rear more zombies for an economic system which pays them just enough to keep quiet about the gravitation of undue wealth towards less than 10% of the world population while an increasing number live in abject poverty in an environment which is all too often “free” of education.
Perhaps, in relation to education in England, as we say “Goodbye,Mr. Gove,” we should not forget, that though he may have been one of the most divisive and destructive of education ministers, the seeds of what he allowed to grow were planted by the previous Labour government. It is to be hoped that with Mr.Gove’s departure  those in all political parties with a responsibility for the education and nurture of our children will now heed more considered, better informed counsel and that soon all our children services will truly meet the needs of each child, encourage imagination and creativity rather than serve the threats of a selfish discredited economic system.

Another View on the Intentions of Scotland’s 16 and 17 years old voters

 

More High School Wins For Yes

Yes Scotland continued to notch up more high school debate wins, with a trio of successes, including victories in Scotland’s biggest cities.

A debate at St Mungo’s Academy in Glasgow  saw the Yes side win 59% of the vote, with No on 23% and 18% undecided.

Michael Gray, an activist from the city emphasised Scotland’s firm financial foundations at the Bridgeton school, including how we’re the 14th wealthiest country, ahead of the UK, France and Japan.

Alison Johnstone MSP and Kenny MacAskill MSP led Yes Scotland to overturn a pre-poll shortfall of 17 points into a 56% victory.

Ms Johnstone told her audience that an independent Scotland could create a written constitution, enshrining many of the country’s values and fundamental policies.

Alison Johnstone, Lothian’s Green MSP said: ‘I was delighted to speak at Gracemount High. The pupils had clearly done their preparation so it was a lively and engaged debate, just as it should be.

“The speakers for No kept repeating that we don’t have to change the UK’s constitution to see progress, but I argued that one of the big opportunities from independence for young people was to enshrine values like free education in a modern, written constitution. More and more young people are realising that they can be part of a generation that votes Yes to take control of Scotland’s future.”

This morning, Gavin Lundy, a member of Generation Yes, defeated local MSP Margaret McDougall at Garnock Academy in North Ayrshire.

Gavin increased the Yes vote by 24% to see the pro-independence side win the post-debate poll by 54% for Yes and 46% for No.

Sarah-Jane Walls, Yes Scotland’s Operations Manager said: “David Cameron blundered by saying that Yes hasn’t won a single school debate, which simply isn’t true. These comprehensive victories add to the steady flow of young moving over to Yes.

“Many of Scotland’s young people are realising that we can continue with free higher education and secure the powers needed to grow the economy and create more jobs with a Yes vote.”

 

Source http://www.yesscotland.net/news/more-high-school-debate-wins-yes

Matters of opinion : Scots teenagers and their voting intentions in the coming referendum on Scottish independence.

On May 20th, 2014 a Daily Telegraph sponsored blog was posted online by the Daily Telegraph columnist, Jenny Djul about the voting intentions of Scottish teenagers in September’s referendum on Scottish independence . This would not have concerned us except that the blog was reproduced as a feed on the news page of a widely read, highly respected and influential network site which is concerned with the care and welfare of children and young people. The problem with news feeds like these is that they can be random and there is no guarantee that there will be a subsequent more balanced feed on any given topic from another source.

The teenage vote carries more influence in the upcoming referendum because the Scottish Government decided to lower the minimum age at which an individual might vote from 18 years to 16 years of age.

At goodenoughcaring there is not an official or indeed a collective view about what the voting intentions of teenager in the referendum should be. We welcome people’s different views on this. Our general approach is that any view related to the care and education of children and young people is valid as long as it is thoughtful and is not abusive or unfairly prejudiced toward children and young people, the adults who look after them, and the communities from which they come.

We are interested in a balanced discussion about this issue and we have posted a copy of the blog here together with some responses to it. We would welcome further comments.



If Scottish teens are backing the Union, in whose name are the Nats fighting.

By Jenny Hjul

Alex Salmond must be regretting his push for a change in the voting rules to get young people on board for his independence referendum. The SNP’s cynical ploy to extend the suffrage to 16- and 17-year-olds, based on a mistaken belief that youngsters would vote Yes, has backfired spectacularly as enfranchised teenagers across Scotland endorse the Union.

David Cameron said on the Today programme that in the school debates he’d been to, the No campaign had triumphed, and his experience is borne out in the latest polls. Almost two-thirds of voters under 18 are worried about the economic future of a separate Scotland.

The Carrington Dean survey of teens aged 15-17 found that 41 per cent believe their parents would be worse off, compared to 21 per cent who think that they’d be better off. The survey also found that 64 per cent worry about the economic outlook post-independence, while only 17 per cent said they weren’t concerned.

School referendums since March this year show the SNP has an impossible task ahead with young voters: 84 per cent No, 16 per cent Yes in Craigmount High in Edinburgh; 70 per cent No, 30 per cent Yes at Hazelhead Academy in Aberdeen; 72 per cent No, 28 per cent Yes in Forres Academy in Moray; and 75 per cent No, 25 per cent Yes in Orkney High Schools, according to Better Together. In Lockerbie, 70 per cent voted in favour of remaining in the UK.

In Aberdeenshire, where the SNP won every seat in the last Scottish parliamentary elections, a mock referendum of more than 11,000 schoolchildren eligible to vote on 18 September found that almost 9,000 wanted to stay in the UK.

The Nationalists say that many young people have open minds on the issue and could be persuaded to change their opinions before September. But they should be careful not to sound too patronising. The fact that so many youngsters have rejected the separatists’ spin is not a reflection of a politicised generation but a sign that parochial nationalism has not captured the imagination of today’s youth.

A Better Together rep said after a debate in his school: “A lot of my friends went in undecided but after listening to both sides, they understood that being part of the UK means we have so many more opportunities than we would if we went it alone. “I think nationalism is a thing of the past. When we live in such an interconnected world and can speak face to face with our friends across the world at the touch of a button, why would we want to shut ourselves off from our neighbours just down the road?”,/p>

Another youngster, writing in a national newspaper, said: “Ultimately, I can’t help but ask what the purpose of independence is? Why fix something that isn’t broken?”

University students are also predominantly in favour of the status quo. A student referendum at the University of Strathclyde was won by the Unionists with 55 per cent of the vote, against 45 per cent for the Nationalists.

And when more than 1,500 students from Glasgow Caledonian University were asked how they would vote, 63 per cent said No and 37 per cent said Yes. In February last year, more than 2,500 students at Glasgow University took part in a similar event and 62 per cent voted to stay in the UK, compared to 38 per cent against.

Young people today are the products of a social media revolution and their cultural context is global. They do not see their future in terms of shrinking horizons; they are children of the universe and their outlook is boundless.

It might be convenient for the Nationalists to dismiss young voters if they don’t toe the secessionist line, and say they represent a tiny part of the electorate. But their resounding No saps energy from the separatists, and gives their elders pause for thought.

If tomorrow’s student radicals – as well as its leaders, legislators, policy makers and law enforcers – are committed to the United Kingdom, then the Nationalists have to ask themselves: in whose name are they fighting?

Jenny Hjul, 
20 May, 2014.

Comments

Stuart Russon writes,

I fully support lowering the voting age.  I can only go by my own experience and I reckon 13 or 14 would have been about the age I feel I could be trusted to vote properly and not just put an Andy Gray panini sticker (I was then and am now an Aston Villa supporter) over the ballot sheet.
 
I think I probably would’ve been more to the right at that age though. I still had the same instinctive desire for fairness that I do now but I had yet to learn how unfair and unbalanced society could be. I wasn’t particularly well informed about the news and it is only recently (last 10 years or so) that I’ve realised how much of the news that was reported to me was biased. Miners were thugs, football fans were thugs, socialism/communism was to be feared etc. etc. I could go on for yonks.
 
So I suppose if I do have a view on this aside from ‘yes, lower the voting age’ it would be to be cautious and aware of the propaganda machines that would be set-off to chase the young vote as perhaps younger people are more susceptible to direct marketing. I’ve no reason to make this sweeping statement except that I think I probably was more easily swayed and paid less attention to the detail when I was young which often means missing out on the truth I think.

Cynthia Cross observes,

Over the years I have pondered what I think about 16 year olds having the vote and on balance I think “Why not?”
I can’t think that their reasons for voting a particular way would be any worse than that of the average adult (who ever they are)  As John Stein says,” they will have to live with the outcome longer.”
I remember in 1951, when I was 16,  standing as Labour candidate in mock elections at school and think that issues were taken very seriously, and most people read the party manifestos.
Better education in critical thinking and problem solving would be helpful. Instead of mugging up facts to remember for exams and then forget, exams could be taken in reference libraries with access to the internet, so children could be given questions to solve, that involved finding information, verifying it is authentic, and showing that they know how to use it. Have we got the teachers to teach this, or the examiners to mark it?
About Scottish Independence, any sort of nationalism is worrying.  I cross out nationality on any forms I fill in and write born in England – it has caused problems on occasions.
Having said that I understand that Scottish, child care, justice education and  welfare law is better than that of England and of course I applaud the Scots wanting to get rid of nuclear weapons.

Jack Colhoun remarks,

From all the radio and television programmes I have heard and seen about this it seems to me these new 16 and 17 years old voters in Scotland think about their politics with more consideration than their elders.

John Stein writes,

What the right age for enfranchisement is, requires me to really think. Here in the USA I had not known 17-year-olds were allowed to vote, until I went to Wikipedia, which says that currently, 19 states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 in time to vote in the general election. My thoughts are that the voting age should be based on whatever age the majority of the people of that age have the maturity to make an informed decision, and the responsibility to inform themselves. 16 seems reasonable. Many at that age are still in school, and therefore likely to be exposed to issues in class. More, in class there should be a mix of people with different views, so that healthy discussions could take place, beginning in class and continuing after class. The rest of us tend not to have that opportunity, with people, at least in this country, tending to associate with those with similar views, and refraining from expressing their views on political matters when associating with others whose views they do not know. I remember first becoming interest in politics as a high school student. John F. Kennedy was campaigning in our home town (Reading, PA), and we were to leave school to attend. My best friend was most interested in politics and watched the nominating conventions on tv religiously, so he convinced me to go with him and got me interested. He was quite liberal. (He has since become so conservative that he refuses discuss politics with me). My final point, on the issue of independence, the younger voters will have to live with the outcome longer than the older voters, and should be allowed to vote.

Jeremy Millar comments

I completely agree with Mark’s analysis of the Telegraph piece. As if David Cameron would ever visit a school in an area affected by his party’s ‘welfare reforms’. The YES campaign are vibrant and putting forward a positive message. People of all ages and social class are debating the issues. I believe that on the day people will take the leap of faith despite the fear factor being peddled persistently through the London controlled media.

Mark Smith observes

This certainly is biased – but perhaps no more or less than we might expect from the Telegraph – it epitomises a metropolitan arrogance that we’re too wee, too poor, too stupid to govern ourselves. It’s interesting even to look at the examples cited. At a very quick glance they’re very middle class schools (but even here I’d question the results). There are other examples out there. Have a look at the futureukandscotland website for more academic analysis watch and listen to the Queen Margaret University debate here.

My reading of the situation is somewhat ironic in that under 18s have actually experienced competent government under the SNP and do not have the sense of grievance that previous generations have experienced.

Having said that, for what it’s worth my own kids tell me that there’s a definite move towards a Yes vote amongst their pals.

Take the money and run : big organisations and child care ethics

Jeremy Millar writes :

I begin to wonder if for the sake of financial expedience we compartmentalise our core ethics as child care workers and as child care providers when we allow the care of vulnerable children to be in the hands of large companies and organisations whose track record on human rights has been condemned by institutions like Amnesty International. I draw readers attention to the following links about G4S running children’s homes and Barnardos running detention facilities for young asylum seekers.

GS4

Barnardos

I think these instances of questionable care provision for children – and sadly I believe there will be others – deserve wider coverage and debate. As a teacher in this field it seems to me the ethical message being forced upon me is to invite the students to “Take the money and run.”

Love and Education : Something for us all and Michael Gove to think about ?

The Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire suggested,

‘It is impossible to teach without the courage to love, without the courage to try a thousand times before giving up …We must dare, in the full sense of the word, to speak of love without the fear of being called ridiculous, mawkish, or unscientific, if not antiscientific.’

Ref : Freire, P.(2005) Teachers as Cultural Workers, Cambridge Massachusetts: Westview Press, 2005, page 5.

More Comment on Richard Webster and his book, Bryn Estyn : the making of a modern witch hunt

The issues of alleged child abuse in residential child care and alleged false accusations  of child care workers continue to create deep concern for all who have been involved in this field : for children and young people who are placed  in residential care settings, for adults who experienced residential care during their childhood as well as for those who in a variety of roles are or were providers of residential child care. The sadness and anguish we feel as these issues cast a shadow over residential child care is surely because the latter is a human endeavour which springs from an altruistic desire to give unfortunate children a better chance in life. Richard Webster’s book continues to be a focal point for the tensions that these matters inevitably create.

Rory Connors has written to us commenting on John Molloy’s article about Richard Webster’s book. John’s article has been re-published in the goodenoughcaring blog in order to give context to Rory’s comments and the others that were sent to us at the time of Richard Webster’s death. The article was originally published here in the goodenoughcaring Journal.

A link to Rory’s wider writing about these issues can be found at Irish Salem.

The discussion and comments which took place in this blog about Richard Webster as both a man and an author at the time of his death can be found on the goodenoughcaring blog along with Mark Smith’s tribute to him.

Mark Smith’s article “Two book reviews : Kathy’s Real Story by Hermann Kelly and The Secret of Bryn Estyn by Richard Webster can be found in the goodenoughcaring Journal.

More to ponder : some observations about home life and schooling from a Scottish dominie

“In the unhappy home, discipline is used as a weapon of hate. Obedience becomes a virtue. Children are chattels, things owned, and they must be a credit to their owners”.

“I believe that in state schools it’s all wrong. It’s based on fear. The mere fact that children who should be moving all the time are sitting on their arses for about six hours a day is all against human nature. It’s against child nature.”

A.S.Neill

Alexander Sutherland Neill (1883-1973) was a Scottish progressive educator, author and the founder of Summerhill School. Established in 1923, Summerhill School was first situated in Lyme Regis in Dorset, England and was later moved in 1927 to its present site at Leiston in Suffolk. The school continues to follow and develop his educational philosophy. In the 1960s Neill’s ideas about education were influential throughout the world and they remain so among those who believe children learn best when in the main they are supported to make their own discoveries rather than being compelled to follow a prescribed and narrow curriculum based more on the needs of the state and less on the needs of a child.

“Dominie” is a Scots word for a male school teacher. In their time both Neill and his father were dominies. Neill was born in the town of Forfar and lived there before his family moved to Kingsmuir, a nearby village when his father was appointed to the post of head teacher at the local school.

Roger Lewis comments,

In the late 1960s whilst still at college a few of us arranged to visit Summerhill. We had read the Penguin book Summerhill and were keen to meet the man and his school. This was like no other school we had visited before or taught at during teaching practice. The young people we met on arrival seemed calm and self-assured and showed us around. The tour was completed with a question and answer session held by Neill in his study. It was crowded and the day was very warm as he sat comfortably in his armchair and patiently answered the our questions -no doubt the same questions he had answered on Saturday visiting days done for years. One such question was how could we take his ideas on child-led education into the State school system. His answer gave us a mixture of disappointment and hope. Michael Duane, the headteacher of a secondary school in Islington, London, had tried the Summerhill approach. Unfortunately the powers that be didn’t support him and he resigned. However Neill also persuaded us not to give up because of this and to do small things that would help to put the child first.

Link : A. S. Neill Summerhill film

Austerity and the Tragic Triumph of Academic Ideology over Reflected Experience

Charles Sharpe writes :

I noticed recently that a welcome contributor of articles to the goodenoughcaring Journal felt moved to write an apology in the preamble to an essay he had written about residential child care for an academic journal. His regret was that his essay was based solely on observations and reflections from his own long experience. Fortunately the journal’s editor knew an excellent piece of writing when he read it and published the piece. No sooner was I beginning to wonder why the author’s regret had been necessary when the answer came in a different kind of apology received by the goodenoughcaring Journal from another generous contributor. He wrote, “In the age of austerity measures, rising tuition fees and falling university applications, I’m currently trying to get as many peer-reviewed publications as possible in as many ‘high impact’ journals as possible. Seemingly in this era of the Research Exercise Framework (REF)*, the ‘impact’ of academic work is measured by how many citations the work receives in other academic journals as opposed to how many people actually read it. For this reason I’ve been unable to contribute an article to the Journal lately and hope that you understand my reasons and accept my apologies.”

Another contributor writes, “I am a ‘pure social scientist’ by background but the whole thrust of my teaching and research over the years has, until very recently, always been focused on the life experiences of young people growing up in care. I now find that I am directed to study the inner mechanisms of the human mind in a purely psychological way, and to forget about what happens to these processes when they work upon the real lives of children. There seems to be no place any more for qualitative research.”

Of course academic research and writing importantly inform the field of interest which goodenoughcaring is concerned with and we prize the significant number of excellent academic pieces which have been published in our Journal. However academic writing is only a part of our story and the care of children and young people has been equally enriched by the writing, speaking and performing of those who have been in care, of those who have been practitioners, as well as all the poets, songwriters, composers, performers, novelists, playwrights and others who have helped us gain further insight of the human predicament.

* http//www.ref.ac.uk

Comments

 

Cynthia Cross comments : I so agree with you. I look at some of these research papers and say to myself ‘so what’ or you have not thought about some factor which would change it all. We are always trying to avoid the complexity of things with disastrous results. Also we are keeping out of further education the very people who could really help the next batch of workers to do the job!

Michael Davidson writes : we should recognise that the scholar/researcher/scientist has a valid role and that it is different from the practitioner’s but it is regrettable that their important relationship breaks down very often because they do not speak the same language.

Jeremy Millar comments : I sympathise hugely with those academic colleagues who are being badgered and ‘bullied’ to chalk up citation ‘hits’. Coming from practice relatively recently without being ‘socialised’ into the academic culture I have found it interesting that there is an apparent lack of critical thinking surrounding this whole evidenced based approach. It appears that some buy into the academic status and dutifully churn stuff out. I tend to refer to this, as research into the bleeding obvious. Others contribute genuinely new takes on the workings of our field and within that do critique many of the policies, generally ideologically rather than evidence driven, that conspire to thwart, divert and distract us from addressing the self evident truths regarding children and families that come to the attention of the state’s mechanisms of oppression. It seems to me, in my regressive idealistic youthful state, that academics need to take a lead in highlighting the paradox that determines that as global corporate interests supported by ideological political opportunism create ever more ‘complex problems’ for them to ‘solve’ using the ‘neutral research evidence base’, they are in fact furthering the abject conditions of poor and vulnerable people when the evidence base exists, and has for many years, to actually take steps to end social injustice.

Thankfully the REF fascists don’t loom as large at the school of social studies at the Robert Gordon University and we have our in-house social scientist to offset the burden.

John Stein writes : thought on having one’s work cited. I remember how thrilled I was when I found someone had cited my book in her work. Then I looked up where she had cited it. It was in a paragraph in which virtually every sentence had at least one citation, and often two or more. The sentence for which my work was cited contained two other references, if memory serves me right. Thing is, I don’t remember ever expressing that thought, or even having had that thought. It looked to me as if she had not read my book, but rather only cited it, along with many other books and articles, in a lengthy bibliography to impress people with how well read and informed she was. But perhaps it was just an error.

Thoughts on quantitative research : I have learned much from quantitative research. Writing my book on residential treatment in the early 1990’s, I spent months in university libraries reviewing years worth of every journal they had on psychology, sociology, social work, and anything else that might be relevant. Sadly, I found surprisingly few articles that were relevant to what I wanted to write. Because of the need to quantify and measure and control variables, articles were so case-specific or situation-specific as to have limited applicability to practice. Then, I figured out the reason for my frustration. In the residential setting, it is extremely difficult to control all other variables while you study just one. For example, shortly before taking a new position in a small group home, I had read an article about the positive effects on elementary school children from replacing standard fluorescent light bulbs with natural or daylight fluorescent bulbs. My new boss allowed me to make the change shortly after my arrival. It was expensive. I would have loved to do a study to document whether there were, indeed, any positive changes, but that would have been counterproductive for the program. First, I would have had to leave things as they were in the home for sufficient time to collect baseline data. Unfortunately, changes were needed immediately. We had to hire two new staff. Staff scheduling had to be changed because of low staff morale. The punitive point system needed to be changed. Older boys who served as a role models were ready to be discharged back to their own homes. New boys who needed placement would pose challenges for the milieu. Behaviour improved dramatically during my first few months, but there was no way to attribute improvement to any one specific change. Qualitative research might have been more meaningful, but no one had the time.The priority was treating children, not publishing research.

Thoughts on evidence-based practice : who can argue with evidence-based practice? Well, for one thing, evidence-based studies are often either so case- or situation-specific as to have limited relevance to other cases or situations. That is, they don’t readily generalize to other people or other settings. It is much more effective, in my opinion, to use one’s knowledge about child development, developmental psychology, sociology, social psychology, group dynamics behavioural psychology, to be creative and flexible in developing programs and interventions to meet the needs of real, unique people in real and unique settings. Too often, I have seen an over-reliance on evidence-based practice serve to limit practice rather than to inform and expand practice.

While I recognize the importance of quantitative studies in developing one’s knowledge and understanding, including my own, in my opinion, essays and articles based on observation, reflection, and experience can do more to inform practice than quantitative studies.