Posts Tagged 'Children'

Challenging the politics of early intervention

Nicola Horsley

Ros Edwards

Val Gillies

The past decade has seen a rash of early intervention programmes targeting mothers of young children.

Reports by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, and early years policy and service provision in the UK and internationally, are now characterised by an emphasis on early intervention in the belief that pregnancy and the earliest years of life are most important for development. It has become the orthodoxy in a whole range of professional practice fields.

The idea of being able to intervene in parenting to ensure better life chances for children feels constructive and positive, but there is little evidence to suggest that it works. Moreover, early intervention doctrine ultimately holds mothers accountable for poverty and other social ills.

“…there is little evidence to suggest that it works.”

Pressure on mothers

Early intervention is directed at mothers as the core mediators of their children’s development. The significance of mother-child relationships in the early years often is underlined through reference to the developing brain. For example, the website of the influential Harvard Center on the Developing Child refers to mothers as ‘buffers’ between their children and adversity. As buffers, they are held personally responsible for inculcating what the Harvard Center terms ‘a biological resistance to adversity’ in their children.

The quality of mother-child relationships is posed as a decisive lever in building children’s brains, and is a core principle structuring the everyday work of many early years intervention programmes. In one UK early years intervention initiative that targets young and marginalised first time mothers, the Family Nurse Partnership programme, practitioners provide mothers with a sheet headed ‘How to build your baby’s brain’ featuring a list of activities claimed to enrich neural connectivity, such as reading books, singing rhymes, and playing on the floor.

“The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering.”

The responsibility loaded onto mothers is especially pronounced in relation to low income, working class mothers and Black and minority ethnic mothers, as both cause of and solution to their children’s marginalisation and poverty.

The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering and consequently the stunted brains of their offspring, at the same time as they are positioned as buffers who can mitigate against and overcome the effects of a harsh wider environment for their children. Early intervention programmes such as the UK’s Family Nurse Partnership, the Solihull Approach, and Parent-Infant Partnerships, overwhelmingly are delivered in areas of deprivation to poor mothers.

Ideas about brain science are used to legitimise interventions in the child rearing habits of working class families, protecting children brought up in poverty from any effects of their disadvantage and promote their social mobility. The social and structural causes of hardship and need that are being experienced by these families in the present are effectively masked, placing mothers as hidden buffers against the effects of privation on their children.

The developing world

Globally, UNICEF brings together early years development and parenting to offset children experiencing war and hunger on the basis of the speed of new neural connections formed in the brain in the early years, asserting that good parenting will help children overcome multiple adversities such as violence, disaster, and poverty. Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world, in the belief that improved mothering will surely benefit the state of the nation.

For example, the ‘Fine Brains’ (Family-Inclusive Early Brain Stimulation) programme seeks to promote parental stimulation and interaction to improve children’s brain architecture in sub-Sahara. It asserts that mothers in these countries are ill-equipped to maximise the benefits of interaction, need to be trained, and then to train their husbands to parent properly. The complex and diverse historical, economic, political, social and religious contexts of sub-Saharan Africa are obscured in favour of a focus on individual mothers as able to overcome poverty, conflict and post-conflict, engrained gendered inequalities, and so on, through improving their knowledge of child development and home engagement practices.

“Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world.”

 

A meritocratic construction

The policy and practice preoccupation with how poor mothers and deprived families bring up and nurture their children relies on a meritocratic construction of the wealthy and privileged as having better developed brains. This is a statement that many of us might find offensive. But within the confluence of brain science and early years intervention, success is naturalised and unproblematically correlated with brain structure and intelligence. From this perspective, the solution to poverty is to make people smarter. Working class mothers, black and minority ethnic mothers, and mothers in the global South can enable their children to think their way out of their predicament.

The idea that hardship and discrimination is to do with how much attention of the right sort that mothers give to their children, and the notion of countering global traumas and inequalities through parenting, is jaw-dropping. It demonstrates why early intervention policy and practice deserves more critical scrutiny.

 

Challenging the politics of early intervention by Val Gillies, Rosalind Edwards and Nicola Horsley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £18.39.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

‘Baby P’ 10 years on and the devastation of child protection

The updated and expanded second edition of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’ by Ray Jones, was published by Policy Press in February. Here, Jones discusses the impact of the Baby P case 10 years on, especially the ineffectual regulations on abusive press behaviour and the devastating effect on the social work profession.

Ray Jones

“On 3 August 2017 it is the tenth anniversary of the terrible death of 17 month old Peter Connelly in Haringey, North London.

Abused within his family home, his death became a focus of national and international media coverage when his mother, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s brother were each found guilty of ‘causing or allowing’ Peter’s death.

Within the press, Peter was known as ‘Baby P’. One newspaper in particular, The Sun, and its editor, Rebekah Brooks, day-after-day, month-after-month, and year-after-year ran a campaign of harassment and hatred targeted at Peter’s social workers and their managers, and a paediatrician, who sought to help and protect children.

The Sun launched a ‘campaign for justice’ with a front page accusing those it was targeting as having ‘blood on their hands’. This notorious banner headlined front page is no longer to be found on The Sun’s website but is still accessible through other sites.

Much has happened since August 2007. David Cameron, who is now known to have been a close personal friend of Rebekah Brooks, wrote a column in The Sun demanding the sacking of the social workers and managers and that ‘professionals must pay with their jobs’. At the time he was leader of the opposition. He has subsequently come and gone as Prime Minister.

Mr Gove, who was the Shadow Secretary of State in 2008, joined in the targeting of Sharon Shoesmith, who was quickly (and the High Court in 2011 decided wrongly) dismissed from her post as Director of Children’s Services in Haringey. Mr Gove has also come and gone as a government minster … and has now recently come again.

Mr Gove has been a champion for Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Sun and The Times. Murdoch had also owned The News of the World. It closed amid the exposure of the long-standing criminality perpetrated by editors and reporters at the paper in hacking phones, including the phones of bereaved parents and a murdered school girl.

It took several years for the Metropolitan Police to conduct an appropriate and proper investigation into the criminal activities rampant within Mr Murdoch’s British press.

“At last acknowledged that the… threat and harassment of Sharon Shoesmith was “cruel, harsh and over top””

The self-serving parasitic relationships between the Murdoch press, Metropolitan police and politicians was exposed through the Leveson inquiry. At the inquiry Rebekah Brooks at last acknowledged several years late that her paper’s threat and harassment of Sharon Shoesmith was “cruel, harsh and over top” and that “balance went right out of the window”.

Mrs Brooks, who was found not guilty of charges at the phone hacking trial, claimed that she knew nothing about the wide-spread criminality in the organisation she led, even though this criminality also included the actions of her deputy editor, Andy Coulson. Mr Cameron had appointed Mr Coulson as his media advisor, an appointment which ended when Coulson was convicted and then imprisoned.

Politicians have come and gone. So have senior police officers. The hacking investigations and trial led to the closure of a newspaper, prison sentences for newspaper editors, and a major public inquiry. That inquiry, however, has been cut short.

Its major recommendations on regulating abusive press behaviour are not being enacted and the press continues to intrude, bully, and abuse much as before. The Sun, for example, recently and remarkably used its ‘blood on their hands’ banner headline, this time to target Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonald and Diane Abbot during the 2017 general election campaign.

And Mr Murdoch and Mrs Brooks have had their down times but are now again both flourishing.

“None of the social workers or managers targeted by The Sun have been able to regain employment as social workers.”

But what of the social workers and social work? None of the social workers or managers targeted by The Sun have been able to regain employment as social workers, despite those whose cases were heard by the social work regulator allowing them to continue their registration as social workers.

Sharon Shoesmith has completed a PhD and written a book about child and familial homicide but has not been able to get paid employment since being dismissed by Haringey Council at the instigation of Ed Balls (another politician who has come and gone).

Not surprisingly, it is now difficult to recruit and retain social workers (and specialist doctors working in child protection) to work in statutory children’s services with the continuous threat that they too could be a focus of vilification and vengeance by the media. There is now a dependency in most local authorities on short-term interim agency social workers and managers with services no longer having the stability, continuity and experience which is needed to provide good children’s and family social work and child protection.

There has also been a dramatic shift in social work and social services practice from helping children and families to an emphasis on surveillance, assessment, risk management and child protection.

Since 2008 there has been a 90% increase in England in child protection investigations (now running at over 170,000 a year) and a 130% (and still rising month-by-month) increase in court proceedings to remove children from families. In part, this reflects more defensive practice by professionals and agencies fearful of media attacks.

But it also reflects big cuts in government funding to local authorities (a 40% reduction since 2010 and still to be reduced further) with the closure of Sure Start programmes, children’s centres and youth services. This is at the same time as draconian cuts in social security and housing benefits are moving more families into severe poverty and destitution and making it harder for stressed and overwhelmed parents to care well for their children.

The response of the Conservative-led governments has been to see this all as an opportunity to say that social work is not good enough and the answer is to take children’s social services outside of local councils. They have sought to create a commercial and competitive market place open to all comers who can now be contracted to provide these services, and to favour fast-track social work education outside of universities provided by independent companies and shaped by management consultancy and international accountancy firms.

‘Child protection services in many areas are now at the point, and for some beyond the point, of breakdown’

Who would have anticipated in 2007 that within ten years one of the safest child protection systems in the world, based on 40 years of learning and development, would have been churned up and undermined by politicians using the ammunition provided by the tabloid press whipping up public hostility and in the context of politically-chosen austerity?

In the book, ‘The Story of Baby P’, I comment that “my greatest horror is what happened to a little child, Peter Connelly, and my concern is that the campaigning by The Sun and others has done nothing to make it safer for children like Peter”.

It certainly has not made it safer. Child protection services in many areas are now at the point, and for some beyond the point, of breakdown. This is today’s story which the media choose not to cover – unless of course every so often they skew the story and focus on another child death and find new social workers to abuse and attack.

Dr Ray Jones is a registered social worker, a former director of social services, and an emeritus professor of social work and frequent media commentator and columnist.

 

2017_The story of Baby P_NEW FC 4 webThe Story of Baby P by Ray Jones is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £11.99

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Family migration: Re-uniting across international borders

Why have so many Polish families chosen to make the UK their home? In this blog post, Anne White discusses some of the motivations for and complexities of family migration to the UK, as explored in her book, Polish families and migration since EU accession, out today in paperback. 

Anne White

British society has been changed beyond recognition by the recent influx of people from Central and Eastern Europe, and particularly from Poland.

To everyone’s surprise, within a few years Poles have become the largest group of foreign nationals and the largest foreign-born population in the UK. The evidence suggests that many Polish people now consider themselves settled in Britain, at least for the medium term.

The fact that so many Poles are with their families does a great deal to explain why they feel at home in the UK, even if just ten years ago parents shared the general ‘wait and see’, ‘let’s give it a go’ attitude of the tens of thousands of other young Poles who experimented with migration to the West around the time their country joined the EU.

How did it happen?

The Brexit campaign centred on the slogan of ‘taking back control over our borders’, but migration research has demonstrated time and time again that controlling immigration in a democracy is an unrealisable ambition. As Castles and Miller (2009) famously observed, immigration cannot simply be ‘turned on and off like a tap’.

Continue reading ‘Family migration: Re-uniting across international borders’

Attitudes to social security in Britain today

As new welfare reforms come into effect this month the editors of a special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice explore attitudes to and experiences of welfare. 

Image copyright: Dole Animators

Authors: John Hudson, Ruth Patrick and Emma Wincup

In his first budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond was notably silent on the topical issue of ‘welfare’.

Unlike his predecessor, Hammond announced no new tightening of the social security budget nor any extra mechanisms to address what is so often (however erroneously) described as the ‘lifestyle choice’ of ‘welfare dependency’.

However, the welfare reforms already timetabled by Osborne and Cameron are proceeding apace.

April 2017 sees several new measures implemented that will further reduce social security support and make it more conditional. These include extensions to the welfare conditionality faced by parents and carers of young children and reductions in the financial support available to disabled people. May’s government is also overseeing the removal of child-related financial support via tax credits and Universal Credits for third and subsequent children in the same family.

“Attitudes to ‘welfare’ are much more complex and nuanced than often presumed.”

These welfare reforms are typically presented as being in tune with a ‘hardening’ of public attitudes to ‘welfare’ over time. This picture is challenged in a recently published special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice which draws together research exploring attitudes and experiences of ‘welfare’.

What this research shows is that attitudes to ‘welfare’ are much more complex and nuanced than often presumed. Further, it illustrates the reach and extent of benefits stigma and the ways in which this stigma impacts upon how those in receipt of out-of-work benefits see themselves, see others and are seen by others.

Key findings from the special issue were debated at a policy roundtable in the House of Lords in December 2016, organised by the Social Policy Association (SPA), Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, and jointly chaired by Baroness Lister of Burtersett (representing the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice’s editorial board) and Alison Garnham (Chief Executive of CPAG).

Contributors to the special issue were joined by experts from Parliament, central and local government, the media, the third sector and think tanks. The roundtable debate unpacked some of the very real political challenges faced by those looking to make the case for a more expansive vision for social security in the UK today.

Much campaigning activity in recent years has focused on fact-checking based ‘mythbusting’ but participants made a number of suggestions for shifting attitudes which go beyond this approach,  including a greater focus on individual stories and using social media to engage specific groups in discussion and debate.

“…need to focus political debate more fully on the human costs of ‘welfare reform’…”

Indeed, the efficacy of ‘mythbusting’ was subject to much comment and Baumberg Geiger and Meuleman offer a critical evaluation of the approach in the special issue. Some argued there was a need to focus political debate more fully on the human costs of ‘welfare reform’; for example, in terms of poor mental health or people living in poverty and increasingly destitution. Several of the papers in the special issue explore lived experiences of ‘welfare reform’, including papers by Patrick, who reports findings from qualitative longitudinal research with out-of-work benefit claimants, and Garthwaite, who reports findings from ethnographic research undertaken in foodbanks.

Others suggested there was a need to move away from making the case for social security and to focus instead on the reasons why individuals may become reliant on it: for example, significant numbers of people engaged in low paid, precarious work or underlying stigma to groups typically excluded from the labour market. Many papers in the special issue explore such debates, for instance Wincup and Monaghan focus on dependent drug users and the ways in which stigma often acts as a barrier to recovery.

Finally, there was also much discussion about the extent to which contemporary attitudes really are ‘harder’ than those in the past, with significant continuities in discourse and attitudes being identified. Hudson, Lunt et al explore these themes in their contribution to the special issue, tracing the continuities in pejorative attitudes to ‘welfare’ from the ‘golden age’ of welfare through to today’s debates.


The ‘Exploring ‘welfare’ attitudes and experiences’ special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice was guest edited by John Hudson (University of York), Ruth Patrick (University of Liverpool) and Emma Wincup (University of Leeds) and published in the Autumn 2016 volume of the journal.

You may also be interested in The truth about benefits sanctions by Ruth Patrick

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Blinded by science: when biology meets policy

Sue White and David Wastell, authors of Blinded by science out today, explain the rise of neuroscience and genetics and their influence and impact on social policy.

David Wastell

Sue White

“Biological sciences, particularly neuroscience and genomics, are currently in the ascent. These new ‘techno-sciences’ are increasingly seen to promise a theory of everything in the psychosocial realm.

Social policy has not been slow to conscript technological biology, and is making significant use of neuroscientific evidence to support particular claims about both the soaring potentialities and irreversible vulnerabilities of early childhood, and the proper responses of the state.

The far reaching implications of epigenetics

The last decades have also seen a profound shift in our understanding of biological processes and life itself.

Whereas genetics has conventionally focused on examining the DNA sequence (the genotype), the burgeoning field of epigenetics examines additional mechanisms for modifying gene expression in manifest behaviours, physical features, health status and so on (the phenotype).

It provides a conduit mediating the interaction of the environment on an otherwise immutable DNA blueprint, and invites a natural interest in the impact of adverse conditions, such as deprivation or ‘suboptimal’ parenting. The implications of this for social policy are far reaching.

Continue reading ‘Blinded by science: when biology meets policy’

Telling the truth about Baby P: Ray Jones on the impact of his book

Ray

Ray Jones

As part of our focus on impact for Academic Book Week, author Ray Jones talks about the terrible and tragic death of Peter Connelly, the devastating fallout for the social work profession, and how his book, The Story of Baby P, has made a difference.

The terrible and tragic death of 17 month old Peter Connelly in Haringey, North London, in August 2007 became a major media story in November 2008 when his mother and two men were found guilty of ‘causing or allowing’ Peter’s death.

To avoid prejudicing a further trial, when one of the men was convicted of raping a little girl, the media was not allowed to publish Peter’s real name so he became known as ‘Baby P’. The press, politicians and police worked together on shaping the ‘Baby P story’ so that it targeted social workers and their managers who were described by The Sun newspaper as having ‘blood on their hands’.

The police and health services faded unseen and uncriticised to the margins of the media coverage, although it is now known that there were significant failings and omissions in their contacts with the Connelly family.

‘A campaign for justice’

It was The Sun newspaper and its editor, Rebekah Brooks, who had full page ‘Baby P’ stories day-after-day as she ran ‘a campaign for justice’ demanding the sackings of the social workers, their managers and, in particular, Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey Council’s director of children’s services.

“A shameful and sordid bullying use of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid power.”

Continue reading ‘Telling the truth about Baby P: Ray Jones on the impact of his book’


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