|We are forgetting our advances in child care
ON my 101st birthday, last Saturday, my great-grand-daughter informed me she’ll be four in July, then she’s “going to have a baby!”
Clearly she hasn’t read UNICEF’s report judging Britain bottom of the league of what we complacently call 21 ‘advanced’ countries, for children to grow up in.
Now it’s not just one old lady moaning. It’s the UN!
On almost every criterion, happiness, family, friendships, education, health, safety, poverty, inequality, sex, drink and drugs, British children fare worst.
The headline figures condemn how little our society cares, masking the tragic truth of millions of young lives being destroyed; 16 per cent of children living in poverty, 35 per cent bullied, 35 per cent aspiring to low-paid work, 30 per cent drunk twice or more.
And this report was compiled long before last month’s teenage shootings.
How can our society still be failing children and young people in so many ways? Where has our acquired knowledge gone? Fifty years after my first major book on sex and personal relationships Britain still has the highest teenage pregnancy rates.
When I wrote ‘Telling The Teenagers’ in 1956, Miss Maw, a childcare inspector from County Hall encouraged me to write a paperback for young people.
Recognising them as people, she wanted something youngsters could read for themselves because so many were in care where staff were mainly single women, unable to talk about growing up and sex.
‘The Opposite Sex’, published in 1960, sold quarter of a million copies and helped change people’s perceptions of relationships.
However, the book was not just sex education. A diagram could do that. It was about education for personal relationships as developed by the Marriage Guidance Council. Yet today many children still receive just sex instruction!
Holland (my book was published there) emerged as the best county for young people to grow up.
Interviewed on the UNICEF report, the Dutch Minister for Children said all legislation in the Netherlands has to be assessed for its impact on children.
Dutch children are fully recognised by legislators as valid people having rights. British children are not.
If we had any sense at all, no mother of young children should be working unless the factory or office provides a crèche as in early Soviet Russia or Holland and Scandinavia now, with time off the feed the baby.
Every school should have an after school playgroup to coincide with the mother’s hours of work. Yet childcare today costs more than many mothers can earn.
So much of what we were doing right has been subverted by the cult of the individual, competitive consumer.
Our society recognises children’s rights to material possessions but not to the respect essential for them to develop into worthwhile citizens.
Knowledge of how to treat children with respect is not new. An exhibition running until April at the Jewish Museum, Camden Town, highlights the work of children’s rights pioneer Janusz Korczak a century and more ago.
For many years he was best known as a popular children’s author, a kind of Polish Barrie, whose hero, child-king Matt, is as well known as Peter Pan here. Every Pole has read him.
Only recently is his children’s rights work being recognised.
A progressive doctor, paediatrician psychiatrist, teacher and children’s writer in Poland, he not only wrote about children’s rights, he battled to make them a reality.
Among his writings was a charter of children’s rights (1909) which nearly 80 years later became the basis for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
To me Korczak was a true saint who practiced what he preached.
He founded progressive Jewish and Catholic orphanages in Warsaw, doing everything he could to make them truly democratic institutions.
They ran their own children’s courts which he hoped to make universal. Adults provided administrative assistance.
Every week, he testified in the Warsaw courts on behalf of street children by whom he was taught so much about poverty and deprivation and for whom he envisaged a new and better world.
He launched a national weekly newspaper, The Little Review, produced by and for children across Poland. Special mailboxes allowed them to deposit their articles and correspondence.
As ‘The Old Doctor’ he hosted a popular radio show tackling all issues of his day, especially children’s problems.
When Warsaw’s Jews and his Jewish orphanage were forced into the ghetto, despite the terrible deprivations he rescued and cared for children whose parents had gone to the gas chambers.
When his last 200 orphans were rounded up and sent to an extermination camp, he was given every opportunity to abandon them and escape himself. He refused.
His progressive ideas and ideals were not unique. Some of his inspiration even came from England.
There were many parallels in progressive education here, about which I intend to write more soon.
Although I have decried the erosion of positive changes I’ve seen and helped bring about, I still hold out hope they can be rebuilt in the future. Sadly, I doubt I can achieve that before July when my four-year-old great-grand-daughter intends to have her baby.
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