Message from Pat of @patspetition

I got this e-mail today from Pat of @patspetition

“Pat’s Petition closes on Thursday 1st Nov @10.21.

Can’t believe it has run for 12 months. What a year. It has been a huge success as far as more and more people are now aware of what this Coalition is doing to us – almost 58 ,000 signatures.

BUT the gov is laughing at us saying is that all? Millions of disabled people and carers and PP can’t even get 100,000 needed for possible debate. They don’t know the half f what goes on. They really have no idea. far too many people who will be affected believe the propaganda they put out and think they will be OK. They won’t.”

I don’t know what else to do, or who else to contact. I know many of you tweetmates have signed the petition over the months, but if you haven’t got round to it yet, please do so now, before it closes.

Thank you.

Imw

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968

On Feeling Empathy

A traditional Indian story (I believe) told to me by my yoga teacher:

A young woman hates her mother-in-law with a passion. The feeling seems to be mutual. She resents the older woman’s domineering ways and the fact that her husband still panders to his mother far more than she thinks he should.

She goes to a traditional apothecary and asks to buy poison with which she can kill her mother-in-law. The potion-seller agrees, but points out the flaws in her plot. The enmity between the two women is so well known that if the mother-in-law dies suddenly the daughter-in-law will surely be immediately suspected of foul play. The poison must be slow acting and gradual, and in the meantime, the daughter-in-law should pretend to seek a rapprochement with her mother-in-law.

The apothecary suggests that the poison should be administered by the daughter-in-law through the mother-in-law’s skin via a daily massage with fragrant oils.

He despatches the daughter-in-law to do her dreadful work with a massage oil of wonderful fragrance.

Over the weeks that follow as the daughter-in-law massages her mother-in-law daily, they find time to chat. They share stories and memories, they find things they have in common and differences between them that fascinate rather than divide them. Their understanding deepens until the younger woman realises she is in the process of poisoning a woman who has become her friend.

She returns to the apothecary and begs for an antidote to the poison, which he smilingly gives her in the form of an oil with a new fragrance.

And as she leaves, full of gratitude that she has a chance to put right the devastating harm she nearly caused, only the apothecary knows that there was only ever perfume, never poison, in the massage oil.

Empathy can grow – even in a heart bent on destruction – if only that person can make the time and the peace to listen.

The link between low pay and abuse.

As 11 former Winterbourne View staff are sentenced (many would say, far too lightly) for their abuse of the vulnerable people in their “care”, commentators are rightly hostile to the idea that the low pay and long hours culture that afflicts much of the residential social care workforce is any kind of excuse for the behaviour that went on there.

They are entirely right.

Many people enter residential care after years of being cared for at home 24 hours a day by unpaid carers who are family members.

Tweetmate @mrsnickyclark made this point well when she tweeted:

“@mrsnickyclark: Also that twat excusing his torture from 12 hour days of paid work? I “worked” 24 hours a day & I didn’t pour mouth wash into anyone’s eyes”

Likewise Tweetmate @ouryve

“@ouryve: @mrsnickyclark after almost 9 years of 24 hours days, it’s never occurred to me to torture my boys.”

For family carers who may have resisted and resisted their loved-one entering a residential care setting but in the end may agree because they are at the end of their own resilience and capacity, the Winterbourne View story may be devastating. Who can we trust to care for the people we love when we cannot do it ourselves?

The abuse is incomprehensible and completely unjustifiable.

The Winterbourne View staff may have worked long hours and been low paid, but one thing’s for sure, their hours were shorter and their pay higher than unpaid carers within families.

At the same time as recognising this, it has to be said that there IS a link between a culture of low pay, long hours and abuse, and it is this:

For as long as rate of pay is strongly associated with personal status (and in our society, it is), the long hours, low pay culture is a statement that this work doesn’t matter; that we don’t value it as a society. It says that we aren’t interested in recruiting and retaining people with the skills and personal attributes to do caring work well. It says that the people who are employed to do it won’t be invested in – whether as individuals who may need to be trained, equipped, supported, supervised, or as parts of a “system” which needs to be human-shaped and to have embedded within it the time to build relationships and understanding.

It says we are content to have workers who get a session of advice that tells them which ‘restraint’ techniques they can probably get away with, but not committed to finding workers who are capable of developing a deep understanding of the things that make the people they care for ‘tick’ and which will mean that those people feel happy and safe and don’t ‘need’ restraint – with its potential for a speedy slide into abuse.

It’s an attitude which sees no need to create working environments which encourage and enable people to do their best, to manage their own behaviour, to hold their colleagues to account. It’s a culture which sees the financial viability of an organisation (in this case Castlebeck) as more important than its values, principles or ethos and which prizes and praises senior managers and leaders for focusing on the financial bottom line and NOT for showing in word and deed that the needs and well-being of the residents being cared for are at the centre of their thinking and practice.

In short, it’s a business model which takes two of the features of family member care – long hours and little or no financial reward – and makes them the entire basis for service provision.

This is incomprehensible and unjustifiable in its own way too.

People who work long hours and low pay have no absolutely no excuse for abusive behaviour. But the fact that family carers never get a chance to switch off and don’t get paid is absolutely no excuse for running residential care along similar lines.

It’s time to support carers and to attach real value (including financial value) to caring work whether it’s carried out in our own homes or in residential care homes.

Sadly, I have no faith at all that the current policy-makers in Government recognise this.

Establishing Respect for Children’s Boundaries

This is an experimental blog. I’m not sure how I feel about it because it can’t possibly cover every eventuality, and I don’t want it to seem like a reason NOT to report a serious allegation to the police or to child protection agencies. The answer to the question “What should I do if I am worried about a child?” should be to report to the relevant organisation/agency to make sure the child is safe. 

This blog contains suggestions about what people may consider doing when the alternative action they are thinking about is disbelieving children and doing nothing. If there is concern that these suggestions muddy the waters, I’ll take them down.   

I’ve blogged elsewhere about how we can help children to understand their bodily autonomy and learn to negotiate consent safely:

http://itsmotherswork.posterous.com/when-can-i-start-to-teach-my-children-about-c

I’ve also lightly touched on the cultures of complicity we can create (usually unintentionally) within organisations, where even people who are responsible for keeping children safe find themselves unable or unwilling to challenge suspected abuse.

http://itsmotherswork-bitesize.posterous.com/cultures-of-complicity

One of the ways we create conditions in which abuse can flourish is by choosing not to confront small issues that make us feel uncomfortable, but which fall short of actual provable abuse. However, when we do this, we make it harder to challenge actual abuse when it occurs. This is because we have blurred the lines about what is and is not acceptable, we have become complicit (perhaps) in some behaviours which we are not proud of ourselves, and we have created a situation in which the only challenge we are likely to make is one of actual criminal wrong-doing, which we know can be career-ending, and which we are therefore very reluctant to level at anyone without cast-iron evidence. It’s in the nature of abuse that cast-iron evidence is quite hard to come by.

Wise Tweetmate @A_BoxOfRain noted:

If our culture had better models of constructive criticism, lets say, for smaller stuff, the very idea of being challenged to improve might not feel so charged. (And the expectation that people can and want to improve how they act in the world would be a good starting point).

I agree with this point of view. However, this can be hard to do because we don’t always know how to challenge without being confrontational. In workplaces (as @A_BoxOfRain also notes)

Any challenge around really inappropriate behaviour can very quickly escalate to diciplinary procedures.

In other words, this is a ‘high stakes’ situation which we are ill-equipped to deal with.

It occurred to me that it might be worth blogging some suggestions about how we could have have direct and purposeful conversations which establish respect for children’s boundaries and which don’t automatically lead to accusation and confrontation. The underlying purpose of these conversations is not to prove abuse; it is to keep children safe and to confirm to both children and the adults around them that children’s boundaries matter. This helps to create safe cultures that make abuse less likely. It is perhaps the equivalent of those signs that light up to tell you to slow down when you’re driving. The intention is not to catch and criminalise, but to change behaviour.

For readers who are already practiced at these kind of conversations, what follows may seem condescending or patronising. I am sorry. It’s not intended to be. The suggestions reflect my own learning about how to improve my courage and ability to have difficult conversations; about the power of ‘affective statements’; and about how having a clear idea of what to say in a range of circumstances can make it easier to overcome the hurdle of saying anything at all. I am still learning and practising these skills.

I am using as Case Studies two stories I have heard in the past week as part of the discussion of the Jimmy Savile allegations. I’m not trying to prove, or disprove, whether these stories are true; nor am levelling criticism at any of the parents/carers involved in these situations. As the “Cultures of Complicity” blog shows, I recognise it can be difficult to take action.

Unwelcome touching at the table on a family day out.

A boy is on a family day out. A celebrity comes over and sits with the family. The celebrity rubs the boy’s leg under the table and then moves up to his crotch. When the boy later tells his family, they don’t take it seriously. They say the boy is exaggerating or imagining and that the celebrity is ‘a good man’.

What to do?

If you are already teaching your child about consent (see previous blog); demonstrating to them that you don’t expect them to tolerate unwelcome touch and that you are committed to letting them define their own touch boundaries, they may possibly make their own remarks affirming their personal space. If they do so, support them, clearly and politely. “I respect my son’s boundaries when he says he’s uncomfortable. Please move / please let me sit between you.”

It’s more likely though that if a child ‘tells’ at all while the incident is happening, they will quietly let you know. Then you have a responsibility to make your child safe and to let the other person know that they have transgressed a boundary. I would suggest moving between your child and the person that is making them feel uncomfortable, and if questioned about why, say clearly “My son / my daughter felt uncomfortable sitting next to you, and I have moved to sit between you so that he / she can relax. It’s important to me that my son / my daughter enjoys our day out” A statement like this makes no direct accusation but tells your child that you will help them to police their boundaries and tells the transgressor that a boundary has been crossed. If the touching was accidental, the person may well be mortified, but that’s a small price to pay for establishing a safe boundary clearly, and if the touching was deliberate, you have sent a clear “zero tolerance” signal.

If challenged as part of this conversation – “are you accusing me of molesting your child!?”, re-state the boundary: “I am making sure my child is comfortable and can enjoy our day”. If the touching is denied. “How dare you!? I didn’t touch your child!”, confirm that your move is a protection for the adult against a false accusation too. “I know that if I sit between you there’s no opportunity for such an accusation to be made.”

Finally, if your child doesn’t tell until after the incident. a) Listen – hear your child out. Don’t try to minimise or deny their experience. b) Tell your child clearly “I believe you.” c) Confirm to them that you will keep them safe in future “I will never make you sit next to that man again”. d) Let them know that if anything similar happens in future, it’s fine for them to tell you while it is happening, so that you can act there and then, and that you know how to act confidently. e) Tell other people what you are doing and why. “I won’t be inviting X to any future family gatherings because he / she made my child feel very uncomfortable by the way they behaved. f) Tell the transgressor what you are doing and why. “I will always sit between you and my son / daughter at these events so my child feels safe and comfortable.” g) Consider whether you ought to report what has happened to a child protection agency (LA / NSPCC / police) 

You may not have clear evidence that abuse has occurred, so you may be in no position to make an allegation of abuse. Alternatively you or your child may not want to take the route of a formal allegation because you fear that further harm will come by taking it further. What is most important is that you make your child safe. (Although – to be absolutely clear – if you take the view that you do have such evidence or want to make an allegation with or without evidence, the suggestions above should not stop you, they are designed to help you make sure your child is safe while you work out what else, if anything, you ought to do).

The Hairdresser who molests

A girl is taken to the hairdresser by her mum, who leaves her alone there while she has her haircut. During the haircut the hairdresser molests the girl. When afterwards the girl tells her mother, her mother hits her (presumably for telling a terrible lie) and refuses to deal with the issue at all.

What to do?

I hope that this one is really clear. First, and most obviously, punishing children for a disclosure will definitely contribute to a culture of abuse. So, don’t punish a child for saying they were molested. Follow points a – g as outlined before, re-designed slightly for the new scenario.

Being realistic, it’s  not possible, or sensible to advise: “Don’t ever leave your child alone at the hairdresser.” Despite recent publicity our starting point should be that most adults most of the time can be trusted. But if your priority is keeping your child safe, and making sure they feel safe, you will certainly need to make sure you don’t use that hairdresser again; check with your child about how safe they feel and make sure you don’t leave your child alone with an adult that they don’t feel comfortable with (even if you have many other pressing shopping tasks to do) and make sure that you tell the hairdresser why you are not coming back.

“I won’t be using you for my children’s haircuts any more because X touched my daughter in a way she didn’t like while she was with you. I won’t be using you for my own haircuts any more because I want my daughter to know that I respect her boundaries and will always support her in making those boundaries clear to other people.”       

Once again, even if you don’t feel you have the evidence, or inclination to take the incident forward to a formal allegation, you have carried out two priority tasks – making your own child safe and making sure that the transgressor or the transgressor’s employer has the information they need to make their behaviour safer too.

 

When people are told that they have behaved in a way that hurts, upsets or makes someone else uncomfortable, they have an opportunity to change their behaviour to make sure that doesn’t happen again. If they are a decent person, who has crossed a line unintentionally or accidentally, they will want to put this right.

 

This is the benefit of “respectful uncertainty”. Perhaps we don’t know, or can’t prove that abuse has taken place, but do know that something has happened to damage a child’s trust in an adult.. And we can take steps to put that right.

 

Don’t forget though, that keeping children safe is everyone’s responsibility. Here is some clear guidance from NSPCC about what to do if you are concerned about the safety of a child:

 

 

And here is some advice for parents / carers which examines potentially risky situations (from the Child Protection in Sport Unit, but which are applicable to other situations in which adults come into unsupervised contact with children):

 

 

I hope these suggestions are helpful. I am interested in other people’s experiences of successfully (or unsuccessfully) dealing with these kinds of situations.

Cultures of Complicity

It’s easy, with the allegations now surfacing about Jimmy Savile, to rage against the culture of complicity that appears to have allowed a serial abuser to assault teenage girls with impunity for years, perhaps decades.

We like to believe that we – I know I like to believe that I – would have the courage and determination to act on suspicions, to risk the anger of the powerful, the embarrassment of being wrong in front of our peers, in the interests of protecting a child or children from harm.

And yet – as recent press coverage of other abuse allegations has shown – some of us (including sometimes those with a specific child-protection responsibility) are often all too ready to create excuses for adults who exploit children. We do this sometimes by disbelieving what we are told, or even what we see; by attributing agency to children; by suggesting that children deliberately or willingly attract sexual attention and engage in consensual sexual activity, even when we know that they are under the age of consent.

If you’re thinking “speak for yourself!”; if you’re thinking that the word “we” couldn’t ever, possibly, include you, I urge you to read the Plymouth and North Somerset serious case reviews.

Here they are:

Plymouth:

http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/serious_case_review_nursery_z.pdf

(read especially paras 6.9 and 6.10) and

North Somerset:

http://www.northsomersetlscb.org.uk/uploads/files/283.pdf

(read especially paras 24 to 42)

This Nursery and First School respectively were staffed by people who cared about children, wanted to keep them safe, understood what abuse was and knew enough to make them feel uncomfortable when they encountered practice that seemed risky or potentially dangerous. But they lacked the professional confidence to take action and were working within cultures which inhibited their willingness to express their concerns.

And these were settings where the children hadn’t yet reached puberty, an age where some adults start to conveniently equivocate about whether children are ‘responsible’ for making their own sexual choices.

If you take one phrase away from the North Somerset SCR, make it the concept of ‘respectful uncertainty’ and use it to help you create a culture where unsafe behaviour towards children can always be challenged. And where that challenge is accepted and welcomed.

Let’s not waste time being surprised or angry that it was possible to abuse with impunity at the BBC in the 1970s. It’s easier than we might like to think for such a culture to persist. Let’s just make sure we are not part of such a culture in our own workplace in the here and now.

The Best Place in the World to be a Child? (#PAS12)

On Wednesday this week the Scottish Government launches its National Parenting Strategy, and over the next few days tweeting parents across Scotland and beyond are invited to comment on the #PAS12 hashtag about what we think should be in such a strategy. What support is needed for parents to make Scotland the  best place in the world to be a child? 

At the risk of being controversial or unhelpful, my first thought is to wonder whether we're hanging rather too many hopes and expectations off the peg marked "parenthood". Sometimes as a parent, I feel like the donkey in Buckaroo. Loaded with ever more requirements and rules, criticisms and exhortations. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Where the hell did the rest of my village go? 

Of course for any child our parent(s) – whether present or absent – are a huge and powerful influence, shining a light or casting a shadow over our lives. But children are children in a wider family context – siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and the helpful-hangers-on-that-no-one-can-quite-categorise are all part of that context and shape us too. As do kindly neighbours, inspirational schoolteachers, chatty lollipop-people, eagle-eyed shopkeepers, reassuring nurses, creative playworkers….

You get the picture. 

If I wanted to make a country the best place in the world to grow up, I might not start with a Parenting Strategy at all. I might start with a Strategy for Rediscovering Childhood. I'd start by remembering the thing that the DCSF policy team chose to ignore when they developed the Every Child Matters outcomes nearly a decade ago. 

Here's their publication of young people's input into the consultation: 

https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/CYPUECM.pdf

On page 5 you'll see that where the Government wanted to prioritise "having enough money" within the Every Child Matters framework, children and young people thought "family and friends were more important". Naturally this vital childhood perspective was omitted from the finished framework in favour of the adults' priority "Economic Wellbeing". 

In the same way that I understand that parents are obviously important to childhood, I understand that having enough money is important too. But there's a risk that this knowledge plays out in ways which mean that we prioritise getting parents into the workplace sooner, and working them ever longer and harder, in order to provide economic security for their children at the expense of what really matters – building good, loving relationships with family and friends which create the stability that children need; the safe base from which our children can learn and grow. 

In my "Rediscovering Childhood Strategy" I would want to prioritise:

Keeping all children safe. Everything from keeping toddler fingers out of open fires to keeping teenage sex consensual and protected. With a role for those working in every service to recognise AND RESPOND TO children and young people at risk of harm through abuse and neglect.

Enabling all children to learn. From picture books in every baby's home to great early years settings; inclusive schools which value diversity in their students and their curriculum; out of school activities which create opportunities for children of every class and income level to find the talent at which they will shine; opportunities to learn through work without being exploited. 

Helping all children to stay well. Making the community a place where breastfeeding is welcomed and encouraged everywhere, but bottle-feeding mums aren't made to feel inadequate; vaccination programmes that come out to babies and children, enabling primary care providers to see how their home environment may impact on their health; links between health and housing strategies so damp, overcrowded, unsanitary facilities don't expose children to ill-health; swift counselling responses to bereavement, separation and other trauma to rebuild chuldren's damaged resilience; professional recognition of the multiple mental health conditions that can affect children. 

Creating space that belongs to childhood. Ball games on the green instead of "NO BALLGAMES ON THE GREEN". Streets that close for games in the long summer holidays (I'd keep those). Play equipment which doesnt separate children by age group so that siblings can play together, and older children can practice the vital skill of taking responsibility. Benches and shelters in parks and playgrounds so young people with no money can gather together in a space that costs nothing and where they aren't chased off by people who fear them, but engaged by youth workers who haven't forgotten what it's like to be young.

Sharing pride in customs and cultures from acros the globe (so long as they don't cause harm to children), so that children don't have to conform in order to fit in. "Mother tongues" are so-called for a reason. Our basic nurturing is steeped in the language and lullabies, the games and traditions, the smells and sensations of our own childhood. Where parents sadly find that the "best place to grow up" is a land that's now lost to them – they need support to create and maintain elements of that lost land in their new home. 

Listening to children about the things that matter to them – like when they say friends and family are more important to them than having enough money – and shaping our policy to accommodate both adults and children's wisdom.

Believing that ALL children deserve to grow up in "the best place in the world to be a child" and understanding that that means not their country, not their city, but their home, their family, their neighbourhood. And that our Parenting Strategy needs find ways to close the gap for those children for whom this is not yet true. 

<takes a deep breath>

But that's just a few of my ideas.

What would you do?

Get on the #PAS12 hashtag and let us know.