Archive for June 2015

Another thought! Can we ‘remove children’ from Government care and /or influence?   14 comments

Quite a lot of interest was shown in my previous blog about a random thought that I had.

I think readers know I am a reflective practitioner, and that I am constantly reflecting about my childminding practice.

Many people will know from this blog site that I also reflect about the things I campaign about.

Some will know that my volunteering roles are also informed by my reflections

But how many people realise that I have another more private side of my life that I also reflect about? I am referring to my role as a foster carer, which in itself will explain why I don’t do my reflecting publically or via this blog –as of course I have to maintain confidentially and show respect to the children I care for by not blogging about the things we do.

And that is not going to change, my fostering role remains private

HOWEVER

I do find all aspects of my professional and personal life are connected –not surprising really, as children are at the heart of everything I do.

So a couple of days after writing my ‘A random thought blog (if not read yet and want to CLICK HERE ), I had an email from our fostering agency about some children who had be removed from family care into Police protection and needed foster carers. (As it happens the children were found alternative care which is why I can mention in these vague terms)

Reading the information about this case set me off on another journey of reflection, and as a result asking some questions within my head which I am going to share.

Children can be removed from their families for a number of reasons, both as a planned action, and as an emergency action –in all cases it is to protect the children from harm – physical, sexual, neglect and emotional which of course all childcare practitioners and foster carers  know about, are trained in, and know their duty to make observations, to record and to report concerns.

NO If, BUT OR MAYBE –IT IS A MUST DO

The state, and every adult in this country, and particularly those whose professions are connected to working with children MUST ensure that all children are safeguarded from abuse, and that their well-being and development are considered as part of the holistic picture.

If parents do not meet their children’s needs or subject them to things which are harmful both in the long term and short term, then those children can be removed from their parents care and influence,  both in the short term and the long term.

In all cases, the experts in the fields of child protection, child development, health, education and so on are asked to help inform those who have to act in the best interests of the children.

And so it should be –we cannot allow one person or one organisation or one opinion to decide on such serious matters. It is far better to have several opinions and a range of expert views.

The courts are involved in this decision making process, again as they should be, because this is a very serious matter, deciding if children are safe in their parents care or not. Usually (but not always) the right decision is made because leaving the children in environments where their needs are not met can have a lifelong impact or even lead to death, as has been seen in the horrific cases such as Daniel, Victoria and Peter.

So my question is …..

…….. if every adult must act to safeguard children, does that also apply to safeguarding them from Government?

 I am of course referring to the things I campaign about;

Baseline testing that is only about gathering data for government

Formal, academically driven curriculum for children under 7

Two year olds in unsuitable environments

Parents ‘encouraged’ to work when they would prefer to stay at home with their young children

Narrow, academic based focus on what ‘success’ is

Constant changes in regulation and guidance

A tick box culture where a bit of paper with yes /no responses is seen as evidence of quality

Inconsistent inspections

Lack of consultation and involvement with those who work directly with the children

Cherry picking of data and research, and disregard of research and data that raises concerns about Government policy.

Summerborn children facing a postcode lottery of if they can start in reception at Compulsory School Age (CSA) or not

But also all those things that I do not directly campaign about but which have a direct impact on children’s well-being, and are therefore linked to my campaigning.

Living in poverty

Poor housing

Low wages

Cuts to support services

I could add more, but I think readers will have grasped that this is not just one thing, there are many things that in my opinion are not in the best interests of the children, and again in my opinion are failing to safeguard the children of this country.

Which brings me back to my question ‘Can we remove children from the governments care and influence?’

Further, Do we get an option to say NO, to all the things that we believe are damaging children’s well being?

If as a childcare practitioner, I fail to observe, record and report my concerns, I will be subject to investigation, maybe deregistration –and if it was found that I was ultimately responsible I could be imprisoned.

As it should be – provided of course there is a full and proper enquiry.

So;

As currently there is not a choice about a lot of things and more and more regulations set by government about what children are subject to..

.As currently more and more research is highlighting the negative impact of government policy on the children

As more and more professionals are now saying, these government policies are not in the best interests of children

As more and more data is showing that children’s well –being is being impacted on by the consequences of government policy.

Is it not our responsibility to safeguard the children, and remove them from government influence and directives that we believe are harming out children?

Do we actually have a ‘duty of care’ to speak up and say we cannot and will not let the children of this country be subjected to policies that we know will have both a short term and a long term negative impact on children?

Should we actually do a lot more than sign petitions, write letters to our MP’s, write blogs, and general express our concerns?

I have to wonder if people would be more proactive and be prepared to challenge the government, and to refuse to implement anything which they consider to be harmful to children.

An indicator could be how many people view this blog, how many share it, and how many leave a comment

Do people in this country take safeguarding children seriously enough to actually say to the government ENOUGH.

Are people concern enough about the well –being of the children of this country to stand together and bring about change?

The people of this country can make a difference, through peaceful means such as informed discussions, challenging, questioning and simply refusing to implement policies that are not in the best interests of the children.

So, let’s see, who cares enough to comment on this blog?

No one?, a couple? a handful? a hundred ? A thousand?

A thousand would be fantastic but would be a drop in the ocean.

If you care enough to challenge and say ENOUGH to the government, leave a comment (just your name will do) and share with everyone you know.

Just a random thought …. Will today’s children be able to sue the Government……   14 comments

….. for destroying their childhood?

……. for limiting their opportunities to play?

….. for damaging their mental health?

……. for limiting the time they spend with their family?

……. for limiting their educational attainment through a narrow vision of success?

……. for labelling them as failures because the goals set are not age appropriate?

…….. for insisting the Government way, is the only way despite the evidence from research and professionals

As I say I am just wondering, because as an early years practitioner;

I am very aware that I could be taken to court by the family of a child in my care now if my practice in any way causes harm to that child

I am very aware that a once a child who has been in my care is old enough they could sue me

I am very aware that I must keep detailed records to prove my case if I am sued

I am very aware that I must be able to prove that I followed the recommended standards of practice, and be able to justify any actions I take

I am very aware that I must always safeguard the children in my care in the widest sense of the word, to ensure their well-being and development at all times

So my thoughts are ‘Does the same apply to the Government and to the individuals who make up the Government?’

After all;

We all know about war crimes where individuals acted under orders but are held responsible for harming others

We all know about police officers who are held responsible for doing their best but harming others

We all know about companies and individuals who are held responsible for failing to follow guidance and advice.

So if the Government continues to ignore the advice of professionals, continue to implement policy which they think best but many disagree with, continue to have no regard to the well-being and development of children …..

……will those children be able to sue the Government and individuals within the Government, when there is proof that the Government failed to safeguard their well-being and development?

I find it worrying that I am thinking about such things, and that I can think of not one, but many Government policies that are not in the best interests of children.

Surely, I should not be having these thoughts?

Surely I should have faith in the Government of this country to ensure every child is safeguarded –not just from child protection issues, but from policies that damage their well-being and development.

I hope ‘common sense’ will prevail and the Government stop and think things through, because the cost to the country if these policies are continued to be implemented could be huge if people hold the Government responsible, the cost to the very heart of society will be immense, but the cost to the children of this country will be irreversible and no amount of compensation will bring back childhood and opportunities for family life, individual education journeys or mental well-being.

Government, do you really think you are right about education policy, especially that in the early years sector, that you are prepared to put your professional and personal future at risk of being held responsible for what I can only describe as crimes against humanity?

Of course I could be wrong but if I was in Government I would want to be sure –very sure that this would not come back and bite me.

Just as I and all the others entrusted with the care and education of our children do every day by ensuring that we safeguard the children’s well-being and development.

Is it too much to ask that the Government do the same? And if that is a step too far, too soon for Government, a starting point would be to listen, really listen to professional advice from those who disagree with Government policies and to then reflect on this.

Personally I would be happy to talk with Government face to face, free of charge, at any time.

However, I am not sure the Government want to talk to me, or anyone else who might disagree with Government policy.

Please note this blog contains personal opinion, and is not the view of any organisation or individual that I work in partnership with

Pre-school Learning Alliance AGM and Conference 5th June 2015   1 comment

This blog has been written using my new voice activation software – hopefully it will make sense

This was the third Pre-school Learning Alliance national AGM and conference that I have attended, since I renewed my membership in 2012, but the first where I have stayed overnight, the night before the actual event. The reason for doing this was because I planned to spend some time with my colleague Jennifer McQuillan who was attending her first national AGM and conference.

And so on Thursday 4th June, I made arrangements to finish childminding early, it was a bit tight timing wise as I finished work at 4pm and had to get to the train station in time to catch the 4.23pm train – however with the help of my daughter Rosie who gave me a lift, I made it.

Just over an hour later I made it to Birmingham International, and decided to walk to the hotel, passing through the NEC, and once outside, pass the lake, a pleasant walk on a bright sunny day.

I checked into the Hilton Metropole, and made my way through the corridors to my room on the second floor. This is a huge hotel with around 5000 rooms, my room was on the second floor, room number 2025. It turned out to be a large room, more of a suite really, with sofa as well as bed, desk and other usual things.

However, I could not stay and appreciate my room as I had to go back to the reception area, as I had a pre-arranged meeting with a member of Alliance staff, to discuss the ins and outs of a supporting a member group in Worcestershire the following week. To support me in this work which I would be undertaking as a volunteer, I was given some documents and a book, and a bag to carry it all in –oh and a large umbrella for my personal use. I enjoyed having a personal chat with Bridget who is based at National Centre and felt reassured about the piece of work that I would be carrying out on behalf of the Alliance.

My friend Jen was waiting for me in the bar area, so I joined her, as soon as I had finished my informal meeting with Bridget. While Jen had something to eat, and I finished my drink (Items on menu not to my liking, so I did not eat), we chatted about our roles as volunteers.  Jen is a very new Alliance volunteer, while I have been around for …. Well for years, although I did have a break while I worked for Worcestershire LA, and so I am now in my fourth year of volunteering for the Alliance this time around.

One of the topics of conversation was Jen’s appearance on the BBC news during the week about the Government’s intention to increase the number of funded childcare hours for the three and four year olds of working parents. Jen put across the views of many, very well, and it was lovely to have a glimpse inside her setting.

Helen Parker who is another Alliance volunteer, came over to have a quick chat, and mentioned that they could do with some help on the volunteer stand the next day, so I agreed to help.

We then went for a little explore of the hotel to get our bearings, and came across the rooms that were going to be used for the conference being set up –of course we had to have a little peep through the open door.

After that we made our way back to the bar area, and sent a message to Neil Leitch CE of the Pre-school Learning Alliance to tell him where we were, as he had said he would say ‘hello’ at some point during the evening. A bit later on Neil and Sophie Ross who is Chair of the Trustees did find us and we had a quick chat before they  dashed off to get on with the organisation of the conference.

Around 10pm Jen apologised and said she was really tired and needed to head to bed (Jen works incredibly hard with her Jenniflowers childcare business and so not surprised that she was tired). We went for another walk before Jen headed to her room. However, despite being up since just before 4am (trying to ensure all in order at home before my own working day) I was not tired. So I decided to take the bag and umbrella given to me by Bridget that I was still carrying around up to my room, and then to return to the bar area with my Surface to do a bit of work.

I spotted Tracy Seed (who was doing one of the workshops at the conference the next day) at another table with a colleague doing some work as well (so I did not interrupt her).

A bit later on, Lisa who is the vice chair of the Alliance trustees invited me to join a group of Alliance volunteers having a well-deserved drink. I decided that I would take up the offer. The group of people were in good spirits and joking about an event some of them had attended recently, and other past experiences that they had shared. As is often the case if you have not been personally involved, it was difficult to engage in the conversation. However, a bit later on, Neil Leitch and Sophie Ross join us, and the conversation turned to things I could relate to. I could not hear all the conversation due to the general noise level, but did catch some of it and was able to respond once or twice.

I am not very comfortable in social groups, and I think that my Alliance colleagues present that evening may have seen my natural persona for the first time, and may have been a bit surprised (certainly a couple asked if I was Ok, one even commented that I was ‘a bit quiet’). Up to now they have only seen / read about the confident, soapbox shouting persona. It is a constant surprise to me that I can have two such different persona – but I do, and my natural persona is seen at home, when with close friends and in unfamiliar social occasions.

I stayed with the group of my colleagues until around 12.30, before I headed to my room. However, I still not sleepy, so messed around doing some work, unpacking the clothes I wanted to wear the next day, and generally waiting to feel tired. This happened at around 3am, 23 hours after I had woken up the day before.

I fell asleep but was woken by a text just over an hour later. Being a mother, grandmother and foster carer, my first thought was one of panic, so I jumped out of bed and went over to the desk where my phone was charging. I have to admit, I was annoyed to find it was a text not from a family member, but from my service provider telling me I had run out of data. Of course by now I was wide awake again, so after an hour of tossing and turning, I decided to get up and have a drink. I then got dressed and went for a walk going part way round the lake, and spending some time sitting watching the ducks and listening to the birds. There was a constant ‘hum’ from the motorway, but after a while it was possible to block that sound out.

I really enjoyed my walk and sit by the lake, I then went back into the hotel, and waited for Jen, who I had arranged to meet at 7am so we could have breakfast together. We had a lovely relaxed breakfast, chatting about a range of things. Several members of Alliance staff and Tracy Seed came over and spoke to us, which was lovely. Before we knew it time had rushed passed and we had to go and get ready for the day ahead.

After showering (and unusually for me deciding to wear a dress), I made my way to the reception area to meet with Jen. We booked out and left our bags with the concierge, before heading to the conference rooms. We collected our badges, goody bag and voting cards. We had a chat with Lisa the vice chair of the Trustees, and then I spotted Raj Babber –and she me, we hugged and greeted each other. I had a confession to make – Raj is leaving the Alliance and I had arrange for the members of the Worcestershire subcommittee to sign a card for her BUT I had left it at home! Therefore I apologised and promised to post it. I then checked in at the volunteer stand, so that Helen and Yvonne (another volunteer) could brief me about my duties. My most important task was to take charge of the first prize for the raffle once conference started, and second most important task was to try to get people to fill in the volunteer questionnaires.

That done, Jen and I went for a wander, and bumped into Ann Whitby, who sits on the Worcestershire subcommittee (that I chair), after introductions, we chatted and then parted to look around. I was on strict personal orders from myself not to buy anything, not because I don’t need anything, but because like many early years settings times are financially very tight and so having to manage with what have, and not buy anything else. I wonder what the impact of these budget restraints are on the exhibitors because it is a big commitment for to have a stand and man it for the day. I also wonder if this is why year on year I have noticed less stands, and smaller stands (and not just at the Alliance conference)

I went back to volunteer stand to give a hand, and while doing so, I noticed Dr. Richard House arrive, and as he is one of my Save Childhood Movement colleagues I excused myself and went to welcome him.

Richard and I hugged warmly, and we had a little chat about the Pre-school Learning Alliance and the number of people attending the conference. Richard also gave me a hint about his presentation and the ending he had planned. He then had to go and prepare so I went back to the volunteer stand and was busy getting people to fill in the questionnaires and prize draw forms.

My colleagues Jen and Ann went into the conference hall with promises to save me a place. I was one of the last to go into the hall (and I had that first prize safely tucked in my handbag). After a bit of searching I found my colleagues sat on the second row from the front, I noticed Tracy Seed and her colleague were sat just in front of us and after a little bit of discussion, Jen, Ann, myself and another colleague Simona all moved to the front row to sit by Tracy and her colleague.

This proved to be a sensible decision as had an uninterrupted view of the speakers and as a bonus could stretch our legs.

The title of the conference was Every Child Still Matters’, which I think says it all as every child does indeed still matter-and in fact will always matter. Graham McMillan who is one of the trustees open the conference and as is his way had a few jokes to tell, and mentioned that in the last couple of weeks it had been hard to avoid hearing the voice of Neil Leach the Pre-school Learning Alliance chief executive on TV and radio. Graham also mentioned that this year there were no members of Parliament speaking.

Graham introduced Neil Leach who confirmed that this year the conference was not going to be about funding, ratios or even OFSTED but was going to be about the children. Neil also had a joke to tell, however he claims that the joke was not his, but one told by his young son at school. Neil had a few other personal stories to tell to illustrate the points he wanted to make. Although some in the room including myself had already seen the illustration from the baseline test, Neil retold the story the benefit of those who had not heard it before. Neil reiterated the reasons behind the government baseline testing ideas and emphasised that they were not about meeting children’s needs, they were about gathering data about the success of schools.

The next speaker was Dr Richard House who has I have already explained is one of my colleagues from Save Childhood Movement, but also from the Too Much Too Soon campaign. Richard is an educational consultant and like myself a campaigner. Richard did not have a PowerPoint to show us but spoke from the heart and with passion about all the reasons why children should not start formal learning early, should not be subjected to testing and should be allowed in the most simplistic terms to be children and to have a childhood where they learnt through play supported by knowledgeable and caring adults. Throughout his presentation Richard made reference to books which he showed by waving around, and to research. It may have surprised some that Richard urged caution with regard to research saying that everyone should ensure research they referred to was in-depth, current, and relevant. Richard was so engaged with his subject that he went slightly over time, but still had time for his surprise ending that he had mentioned to me when he first arrived in the conference hall. Richard announced that he was going to end with a striptease which in fact was just the unbuttoning of his shirt to reveal a T-shirt underneath which said ‘four is too young to test’ as used in the NUT campaign against baseline testing. If you want to find out more about the Too Much Too Soon Campaign you can via the Save Childhood Movement Website link here Save Childhood Movement Website

The next speaker was Suzanne Zeedyk, who is an honorary fellow of the school psychology at University of Dundee. Suzanne is a research scientist who carries out research into babies inborn capacity to communicate. However since 2011 she spends most of her time speaking in public about humans needs for emotional and physiological connection.

I have not personally heard Suzanne speak before but within five minutes of  starting her presentation I was hooked, and listening to every word. Suzanne introduced herself and explained why she had given up a well-paid job and associated pension, and why she was now not following the path she expected to follow when she gave up that job. Instead she was going around talking to groups of people about issues within early years.

As always I’m not going to be repeating Suzanne’s presentation word for word because that is how she makes her living, however I am going to give an overview of my personal opinion about Susanne’s presentation. The first thing I have to say is Suzanne went back into the history of the United Kingdom under policy that when implemented people had thought was in the best interests of children. Things like the Industrial Revolution when children were sent to work up chimneys and machinery in factories, things like when parents were not allowed to stay in hospitals when their children were ill, things like when children were sent away during the war, and why these things had ceased to happen. Suzanne explained that it was not because the stopped following a natural course but because individuals and groups of people had thought this can’t be right and had done something about it. Changes had taken time to be implemented, but changes had been made.

Suzanne made the links to the campaigning carried out by the Preschool Learning Alliance, and in particular the voice of Neil Leach CE of the Preschool Learning Alliance because he is prepared to speak out and stand up for the rights of the children. As is my way I sat there listening and reflecting about my own campaigning and my frustrations of not making much progress despite over three years of writing blogs, attended meetings and generally standing on my soapbox telling anyone who would listen what was wrong with the policies and procedures of our government. Suzanne made me realise that although I personally am frustrated at lack of progress, it is small steps taken that do make a difference in the long run. The thing I liked most was Suzanne spoke about revolutions those in the past and those still to come, I couldn’t help thinking that the revolution still to come was just around the corner, as many in the room and indeed in the wider early years sector are beginning to be more vocal and to come together to express their shared concerns. There was of course a lot more to Suzanne’s presentation and if you want to find out more please follow the link to her website. Suzanne Zeedyk Website

The next part of the morning session was dedicated to the volunteer awards, as in the previous few years these were presented by Amanda Lamb who is a TV personality and broadcaster. As a previous AGMs I have been amazed at the dedication and professionalism shown by the volunteers who were being  presented awards. The work they do often goes unrecognised and yet the work of volunteers is essential in many preschool groups and organisations. As always the children chosen to help present the awards stole the show as everyone in the audience and on the stage could not help but be drawn to the personalities of the children on the stage. Although all the winners are worthy of mention here, I just want to mention one of them who stood out to me as a shining example of someone who has overcome barriers to become a volunteer. The young lady in question is called Sarah and is from a Traveller community and had broken with tradition not only to volunteer outside the community, but had also ensured that the traveller community were able to benefit from the activities of the Preschool Learning Alliance member group. Not only that she had also broken with tradition by undertaking a formal qualification. When accepting her award she spoke from the heart and said that her volunteering gave her so much personally. As I say all the winners of the volunteers awards inspirational and thoroughly  deserved their awards and information about the more can be found by following this link Alliance Volunteer award winners 2015

As the last award winners were receiving their award, I had to leave the conference hall to go and man the volunteer stand. After replacing the first prize back on the table, I set about ensuring the table was tidy and the clipboards were restocked with questionnaires. Not many people came to the stand as everyone was busy getting lunch and networking, my colleagues Jen and Ann came over to say they were getting lunch and where they would be sitting. After a while I was able to lead the volunteer stand in the capable hands of a colleague, while I went to get my own lunch.

Unfortunately all the main courses were not to my personal taste, therefore I had to settle for a bowl of fruit salad and a glass of water. I bumped into Dr Richard House who was also getting his lunch and we decided that we would eat lunch together. I tried  to find my colleagues Jen and Ann, but as I couldn’t see them Richard and myself found space at a table as spent the next 30 minutes or so engaged in conversation about our shared campaigning, and my degree studies. Richard then went to get his desert and I got a cup of coffee before returning to our table to continue our discussion. It was lovely to spend time talking with Richard because although we have met a couple of times before we haven’t really had time for an in-depth conversation.

I returned to the volunteer stand for a short while before making my way back into the conference hall for the Annual General Meeting. I handed my voting cards over at the door so that my votes would be counted. I made my way back to the front row where in due course I was joined by Jen, Ann, and Simona.

The annual general meeting was interesting and I took an active part in seconding a couple of the proposals, and of course in actively voting. I thought the annual report is presented by Sophie Ross chair of the trustees was very interesting, and I like the fact that she gave detail about what volunteers were doing in each area. As with all charities there are concerns about where funding will come from over the next year, and a prediction that the reserves would fall unless things changed. However the trustees are confident that despite this the Pre – school Learning Alliance would remain in a strong position.

We then returned to the exhibitor’s hall for a final tea and coffee break, where I had conversations with several members of staff, including Neil Leach who came over to talk to Jen, Ann, Richard and myself.

Next on the agenda were the afternoon workshops which were spread out in various rooms over the hotel. Jen, Ann and myself had all booked on to the same workshop which was the one led by the morning presenter Suzanne Zeedyk. I was really looking forward to this workshop as Suzanne had really inspired me drawing her presentation that morning.

I was not disappointed because Suzanne decided not to run her PowerPoint or even to set the agenda for the workshop, but instead decided to hand it over to those in the room and in her words ‘to see how it went’.

Well I can say it went really well and the discussions were in-depth, reflective, and inspiring. The discussions covered a variety of connected topics, with many of them actually having their roots in fear; fear of the unknown, fear of those in power, fear of OFSTED downgrading, fear of losing job, and therefore fear speaking up. I did raise my hand and mention that I was no longer doing things that I did not consider to be in the best interests of children and was therefore practicing Principle Non-Compliance. I also mentioned my colleagues in save childhood movement and the too much too soon campaign, including the March in London and the presentation of the Too Much Too Soon petition to number 10 Downing Street. Suzanne descried me as a stroppy woman but said we need more stroppy women and indeed stroppy men, to stamp our feet and say ‘No, not doing that’. However she pointed out that there are other more subtle ways of making a point and the not everyone would be comfortable stamping their feet or standing on a soapbox.

The conference then came to a close, I had a discussion with Mel who is a member of the alliance staff and who will be attending the Worcestershire annual general meeting in October. As there was time before trains home Jen and myself enjoyed some refreshments before getting the courtesy bus to the train station (with Richard house and Simona) and then all heading our separate ways home.

All in all a fantastic conference with inspiring and thought-provoking presentations and workshops, great networking and a chance to catch up with friends.