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An extract from Norman Wells’ report at this year’s annual conference.
The campaigning is over, the electorate has had its say, and we now find ourselves with the first coalition government in the UK since the Second World War. Much has been made of the new government’s plans to cut the budget deficit and the emergency budget on 22 June has given an indication of the measures that will be taken in an attempt to rebuild the British economy.
But what are the prospects for the family under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition?
Let’s begin with the positives:
Support for marriage
The Conservative Party has signified its determination to recognise marriage in the tax system. The coalition agreement states that Liberal Democrat MPs will be allowed to abstain on budget resolutions to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples, but the document clearly implies a strong intention on the part of the major party in the coalition to support marriage. 1
At his first Prime Ministers’ Questions following the General Election, David Cameron responded robustly to a challenge from Harriet Harman on the Conservatives’ marriage policy:
‘I am an unashamed supporter of families and marriage, and I simply do not understand why, when so many other European countries…recognise marriage in the tax system, we do not. I believe that we should bring forward proposals to recognise marriage in the tax system… If we are going to get control of public spending in the long term in this country, we should target the causes of higher spending, one of which is family breakdown.’ 2
ContactPoint to be scrapped
Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats made a manifesto commitment to scrap ContactPoint, the database that holds personal information on every child in England, so it was no great surprise to read in the coalition agreement that:
‘The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion… We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports. ’ 3
More recently, the government has written to all ContactPoint projects, stating:
‘We are scrapping ContactPoint. We will develop better ways of keeping children safe. The investment made won't be wasted because we can use the technical expertise we've acquired to protect those children most in need. But the idea of a single national IT database for all children has gone for good.’ 4
But the indications in some other policy areas are not so positive:
The Prime Minister has made clear that any recognition of marriage in the tax system will be extended equally to same-sex couples in a civil partnership. Immediately before the General Election, the Conservative Party published a ‘contract for equalities’. In the section on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues, it said this:
‘Since the beginning of his leadership, David Cameron has made clear the Conservative Party’s commitment to sexual equality and gay rights – from his first conference speech, in which he proudly confirmed our support for civil partnerships, to his apology for our former stance on Section 28. We support civil partnerships and will recognise civil partnerships in the tax system.’
It went further:
‘We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.’ 5
It doesn’t look as if we shall see any change in direction in the promotion of daycare for young children either. The Conservative Party’s contract for equalities states:
‘We support the provision of free nursery care for pre-school children and we want that support to be provided by a diverse range of providers.’ 6
The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, in a letter to his shadow, Ed Balls, stated that notwithstanding cuts elsewhere, the coalition government would proceed with the increase in early years entitlement for three and four year-olds to fifteen hours per week. He added that the government would also fund the provision of 20,000 places for the most disadvantaged two year-olds and would be looking to extend this further when resources allowed. 7
Evidently the Conservatives’ aim to be ‘the most family-friendly government in history’ does not include helping mothers to spend more time with their own children during their earliest years.
Things do not look very promising with regard to sex education either. The Liberal Democrats were unreservedly in favour of making sex and relationships education a statutory part of the national curriculum during the passage of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, and party leader Nick Clegg famously stated that all schools, including faith schools, should teach that homosexuality is normal and harmless. In fact, the Liberal Democrats wanted to go further than the Labour Party in limiting the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education lessons.
As for the Conservatives, while they did not seem to have any objection in principle to making sex education statutory, they were less comfortable with eroding the right of parental withdrawal and said they would consult on the way forward if elected. But what really set the warning bells ringing was a television interview David Cameron gave Jeremy Paxman just 10 days before the General Election. It was a wide-ranging interview, and then just before the end Jeremy Paxman brought the conversation round to sex education:
JP You’re in favour of faith schools being able to teach sex education as they like. Should they—
DC Not as they like. That’s not right. What we voted for was what the government suggested in the end which was proper sex education, but faith schools—
JP Should they be free to teach that homosexuality is wrong?
JP Abortion is wrong?
JP Contraception is wrong?
JP They should not be free to teach those things?
DC No, and that’s not what— The government and us actually discussed this and came up I thought with a good idea which was to say we wanted a clearer path of sexual education across all schools, but faith schools were not given any exemption, but they were able to reflect some of their own faith in the way that this was taught. But no, you must teach proper lessons in terms of gay equality and also combat homophobic bullying in schools. I think that’s extremely important. 8
So there are some positives and some negatives. But there are also many unknowns.
Labour’s teenage pregnancy strategy looks destined to fall way short of its target, but it remains to be seen whether the coalition government will set a new target and develop a new strategy.
The Liberal Democrats had a manifesto commitment to enshrine the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in UK law, and the children’s rights lobby is delighted that a Liberal Democrat Minister, Sarah Teather, has responsibility for the Convention. However, we don’t yet know to what extent the new government will advance the children’s rights agenda.
Neither do we know whether or not the new government will retain the office of the children’s commissioner, which has served as a vehicle for undermining parents and promoting children’s rights.
One thing we can be sure of is that there are plenty of challenges ahead of us and it is vital that we stay vigilant and keep plugging away.
1. Cabinet Office, ‘The Coalition: our programme for government’, May 2010, p30.
2. HC Hansard, 2 June 2010. col 428.
3. Cabinet Office, op. cit., p11.
4. Lauren Higgs, ‘Leaked email reveals further information on ContactPoint plans’, Children & Young People Now, 1 June 2010.
5. Conservative Party, ‘A Contract for Equalities’, May 2010, p14.
6. ibid., p6.
7. Letter from Michael Gove to Ed Balls, 7 June 2010.
8. ‘Jeremy Paxman Interviews David Cameron’, BBC Parliament, 26 April 2010.
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A report on the Family Education Trust annual conference In seeking to sum up the mood of this year’s Annual General Meeting and conference on Saturday 26 June, we can do no better than use the words of a blogger who was present:
‘The meeting had an upbeat and forward-looking feel to it, somehow different in style and mood from some I have attended organised by groups which spend too much time griping. There was a great buzz of talk over lunch, a bookstall crammed with good things, and a sense of people working together to achieve something worthwhile.’
In his chairman’s report, Arthur Cornell spoke of a growing ‘culture of the uncommitted’, with increasing numbers of single people in their thirties and forties living away from their families. This, in turn, was encouraging a spirit of individualism, with the tendency to view life as being ‘all about me’. Against this background, the chairman noted that supportive families are humanising and sharing families create ‘other’ awareness.
The need for strong parenting
Mr Cornell took heart from Dame Joan Bakewell’s recognition that the sexualisation of the young for the sake of financial profit is unacceptable, but noted that young people are the product of what they have been exposed to and that it takes strong parenting to help children to resist the tide. Yet the tendency to defer to the opinions and judgments of children, manifested in their presence on interview panels to select their teachers and headteachers, was indicative of a lack of adult confidence. Mr Cornell observed that it was only children from positive families who knew what to look for in a good teacher. Many children had been indoctrinated against authority and lacked any respect for their teachers. In fatherless homes, in particular, young teenagers often undermined the authority of the lone parent and took control of the family.
Mr Cornell referred to a conference for school governors in East Sussex at which strong emphasis was placed on knowledge and competence in school leaders, but one delegate noted that Adolf Hitler had possessed such qualities, yet was far from a model leader. The chairman observed that leadership also required character and integrity – it was not simply a matter of what you know and what you can do, but also who you are. The family had a key role to play in that regard, since moral families were character-building.
Children, Schools & Families Bill
In his director’s report, Norman Wells reported that during 2009 the Trust had responded to a larger number of public consultations than for many years and had continued to comment on a broad range of family-related issues in the press and media. However, the Children, Schools and Families Bill with its anti-family proposals with regard to sex and relationships education and home education had taken up more time and energy than any other single issue.
The Trust had corresponded with parliamentarians by letter and email, met with MPs, and sent briefings and copies of Too Much, Too Soon to MPs and peers before parliamentary debates. An article by Mr Wells had been published on the Daily Telegraph website and, at a crucial stage, the Trust had taken the lead in securing the support of 640 headteachers, school governors and religious leaders for a letter to a national newspaper. The letter had expressed serious concern about the way in which the Bill undermined the principle that parents and guardians have the primary responsibility for bringing up their children in accordance with their own values and culture. The letter had been published in the Sunday Telegraph at the end of March on the eve of the parliamentary discussions that determined the fate of the Bill.
In the event, the sections of the Bill covering both sex education and home education were dropped just before the dissolution of Parliament. While a welcome victory, Mr Wells was conscious that there were officials in both central and local government and representatives of lobby groups who remained determined to resurrect the proposals at the earliest opportunity.
Considerable confusion surrounded the current status of sex and relationships education among schools and local authorities following the failure of the Labour government to achieve its objectives. Further confusion had arisen as a result of a draft guidance document which the Labour government put out for consultation between January and April.
Although the consultation draft had no legal status at all and its fate under the coalition government was uncertain, it was being quoted in policy documents and in letters to parents as an authoritative source. In some schools, parents were being told, ‘If you decide you want to withdraw your child from these lessons, you must state your reasons and you must demonstrate to us that you are making acceptable alternative provision.’ Growing numbers of parents were seeking advice from the Trust on what schools were and were not obliged to teach and on their legal rights.
Draft guidance from NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) on sex and relationships and alcohol education published in June had caused yet more confusion. Mr Wells commented that it was not clear why the Department of Health had asked NICE to produce guidance in this area when there was already guidance in place, but the Department for Education had confirmed that, the only guidance that schools are legally obliged to have regard to is the sex and relationships education guidance issued by the DfEE in July 2000. (See The prospects for family policy under the new coalition government on page 1.)
In thanking colleagues for their invaluable support, Mr Wells paid special tribute to Robert Whelan who was standing down as a trustee due to commitments in relation to his new role with the New Model School Company. Mr Whelan had made an enormous contribution to the work of the Trust over many years, serving at different times as administrator, editor, video producer, author, director and trustee. Mr Wells spoke of his personal indebtedness to Mr Whelan and expressed delight at his desire to stay in touch and to write for the Trust again at a future date.
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A blogger writes:
‘Young campaigners from various parts of Britain spoke during the morning, some describing local battles over ghastly forms of sex education in primary schools.
‘Although we heard some grim things, it was hugely encouraging to discover how people are prepared to fight for what is right, and not to give in to slogans and jargon when crucial issues are at stake.’
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From Northern Ireland, Mary Russell referred to media interviews she had given on the drive to push mothers of young children into the workforce and on defending parental authority against the campaign to criminalise parents who use physical punishment to discipline their children.
Following the devolution of criminal justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 12 April 2010, the Westminster Parliament no longer has the authority to introduce the Abortion Act into Northern Ireland. All ‘life-related’ issues with the exception of embryology and the regulation of IVF procedures are now determined by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Since its establishment in November 2007, the Assembly’s All-Party Pro-Life Group, has proved an effective campaigning force. The group’s current priorities include ensuring the maximum level protection of the unborn within the Northern Ireland health department’s guidance to doctors on abortion practice, and the removal of public funding from groups which promote abortion.
Following a judicial review undertaken by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in 2009, the High Court had ordered the withdrawal of the Northern Ireland guidance on abortion practice because it failed to give proper advice in the areas of counselling and conscientious objection. The judge found that since abortion in Northern Ireland is lawful only in extreme medical circumstances, so-called non-directive counselling is not lawful. He also ruled that the health department was wrong to state that medical staff had no legal right to refuse to participate in abortions. The guidance would have required pro-life doctors to refer a patient seeking an abortion to a colleague who would approve the procedure.
Mrs Russell suggested that it was quite likely due to the High Court ruling that Channel 4 had decided against broadcasting Marie Stopes International’s controversial television commercials within Northern Ireland.
There was a continuing downward trend in women travelling from Northern Ireland to England for abortions. However, in December 2009, the European Court of Human Rights heard the case of two Irish women and a Lithuanian woman living in Ireland who claimed that Ireland’s constitutional protection for unborn children constitutes a violation of their human rights. The European Convention on Human Rights requires that all domestic legal remedies must be exhausted, but despite the fact that this condition has not been fulfilled, the European Court of Human Rights had agreed to hear the case. If the court were to rule that access to abortion is a human right, the implications will be extremely serious not only within Europe but throughout the world.
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Mrs Carlyon highlighted three areas in which she and her colleagues in Cornwall had been involved in battling against the secularist tide. Firstly, she expressed concern about the impact of integrated health centres on or adjacent to school premises and proposed raising a freedom of information request to ascertain what information was being given to young people in these establishments under the guise of health promotion.
Secondly, she drew attention to the secondary programme of study for Religious Education at Key Stage 3, which specified that by the end of Key Stage 3 in addition to Christianity the five principal religions practised in Britain should have been studied in depth. Mrs Carlyon was concerned that the in-depth study of five religions would be confusing for the majority of pupils.
Thirdly, she mentioned the licensing of lap-dancing and pole-dancing establishments. Since her retirement as a county councillor in June 2009, Mrs Carlyon had remained active in local politics and referred to a meeting of the Miscellaneous Licensing Authority Committee which had discussed new Home Office guidance on the licensing of sexual entertainment venues. In response to representations made by Mrs Carlyon, the councillors had rejected the advice of officers and turned down the planning application of a pole-dancing establishment to regularise its position.
Mrs Carlyon encouraged supporters to establish good relationships with local councillors and to use every opportunity to protect young people from the dangers that assail them.
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From south London, Vanya Almeida reported that in April she had received a letter from her sons’ local primary school in Merton stating that the school was going to be introducing sex and relationship education lessons throughout the school. Upon querying this with the school, she was advised that it was all about personal hygiene.
When she attended a parents’ meeting to view the material to be used with Year 3 pupils, the school stated that it was a statutory requirement and that schools had no longer had any choice as to whether or not to teach sex education. However, having been put in touch with Family Education Trust, Mrs Almeida challenged the claim that sex education was a statutory part of the national curriculum when she attended a subsequent meeting to view materials to be used in Year 1. In response to parental concerns, the school arranged a parents’ forum, but cancelled the meeting on the day before it was due to be held.
Along with another mother, Mrs Almeida arranged to meet with the headteacher to press for an open meeting at which parental concerns could be raised. Ten minutes before the meeting, they were advised that the chair of governors and two other governors were going to be in attendance. The meeting was very heated, but the chair of governors agreed to consider alternative materials.
On 24 June, the long-awaited parents’ forum finally took place. Over 70 parents attended and all of them were firmly opposed to the school’s proposals. Many of the questions raised did not receive answers and the local authority representative who chaired the meeting was intimidating and rude. However, a partial victory had been secured in that the school had agreed to postpone the introduction of sex and relationships education in Years 1-5 until the coalition government decided on the way forward.
The headteacher remained of the view that sex education was needed in order to combat teenage pregnancy and protect children from abuse, but in the meantime sex education would be given in Year 6 only and further consultation with parents would take place. Mrs Almeida observed that it was not only religious parents who were opposed to sex education and that many lone parents had also expressed concern because they did not want their children to repeat their own experience.
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Ms Fernandes spoke as the mother of four sons who had all attended church schools in west London. Just before Easter, her 12 year-old son returned home from school with three condoms. Parents had not been given any prior notification that condoms were going to be made available to their children. It was known that at least two of the boys who received condoms on this occasion had used them and engaged in sexual activity.
In order to raise awareness of what was happening in schools and how parents were being undermined, Suzanne Fernandes had stood as a candidate at the General Election. She had spoken to the teacher responsible for the lesson, who argued that the school was aware that there were seven young people in the class who were already taking drugs and engaging in sexual activity, so it was necessary in order to protect them.
Ms Fernandes expressed concern that the school was taking authority from parents. In addition to providing condoms, the school had also given graphic information on homosexual practice and masturbation. When she had asked what the school was teaching pupils about chastity, the teacher responded that it would not be taken seriously. Ms Fernandes had therefore offered to present an alternative message focusing on the benefits of saving sex for marriage.
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From Tyne and Wear, Dr Elizabeth Jones spoke on behalf of the charity, Lovewise, which had produced sex education materials from a Christian perspective for use in schools. She particularly highlighted a Powerpoint presentation with accompanying lesson guides which had been produced for Years 5 and 6 (10-11 year-olds), under the title, Growing Up…Growing Wise.
The material was arranged in four lessons: (i) Growing up, (ii) Love and marriage, (iii) Guys and girls growing up (focusing on physical changes in puberty, to be taught in single-sex groups), (iv) Aiming for the best in relationships (how men and women are different and complement each other in raising children).
Dr Jones stressed that the Lovewise material was not in DVD format and therefore required teachers to interact with their pupils. This meant that they could omit any slides they considered inappropriate for the group of children they were working with. A promotional disc and leaflet was available for those wanting further information.
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Lincolnshire mother, Lisa Bullivant, spoke about the impact of the Channel 4 Living and Growing material on children in her local primary school.
My story begins back in November last year, when we received a letter from our daughter’s primary school stating that they would be teaching PSHE to our children in the coming few weeks. The letter was brief and did not alert us to the fact that our children would be learning about sexual intercourse nor did it inform us of the materials that would be used in these lessons.
We were offered a date and time to view the DVD, but I and all but two parents, were either unable to attend the meeting or felt that there was no need. As many of the children had only recently turned seven, we assumed that they would only be taught about basic puberty. Also, given the fact that it was a Church of England school, I felt confident that the materials would be appropriate for my daughter’s age and maturity. How wrong I was!
Following the lessons my daughter came home and tearfully informed me that she had learnt about sex and that it had frightened and upset her. I was deeply shocked and upset, and resolved with other parents to make a formal complaint to the school and the local authority (LA) after the Christmas period.
Over Christmas, the effects of what our children had been taught became alarmingly apparent. Children were found simulating sex on top of other children and some children were telling much younger children what they had learned, much to the horror of their parents. Still others were openly stating to parents that they now wanted to have sex.
Some children, including my daughter, became very upset and worried about the whole matter. She was not emotionally or mentally able to cope with this information. She would often burst into tears if she started to think about it and I had to spend a lot of time comforting her and talking to her, trying to repair the damage that this DVD had caused to her innocent young mind.
In January, I managed to find out what DVD the school had used and I and other parents watched it on the Internet in horror. It was so graphic and the narrative was appalling. It promoted sex as a wonderful feeling and exciting - no wonder some of the children now wanted to try it!
Parents take action
A number of parents rallied round and made formal complaints in writing to the governing body and the LA. Unfortunately our complaints were not handled in line with government guidelines and we were fobbed off at every point. Our request for a meeting with the school’s complaints committee was not even acknowledged and a final letter I received was inconsistent and full of false claims. The LA backed these claims and said that they were satisfied that the school had acted properly.
Frustrated and knowing that they hadn’t, I decided, with support from other parents, to go to the local newspaper to make public what had happened at the school. We hoped that by gaining public support that the school would see sense and take on board the damaging effects that the DVD had had on our children and also make other parents aware of this material and its use.
Following the article, I received many phone calls from the general public, thanking me for making them aware of what had happened, so that they could protect their children from this inappropriate teaching. I then received phone calls from local radio stations who I agreed to do interviews with, to gain publicity. I also was contacted by CBN World News and asked to do a television interview, which I did and is yet to be aired. The Daily Mail also reported on the story and websites around the world did as well, so I was pleased that we had succeeded in our cause to get publicity and raise awareness.
I have written to our local MP, Sir Peter Tapsell, and hope to secure his support in our cause to stop this mindless and irresponsible sex education. I am also corresponding with a local bishop at present and hope to convince him that the Church needs to reject this sort of teaching within its schools.
I would like to thank Norman and the Trust for their continued support, through what has been a very stressful and upsetting time and I would like to finish with my pledge to support the Family Education Trust and the valuable help and work it provides, and do all I can to publicise and campaign against this ‘too much, too soon’ sex education in our schools.
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Dr Aric Sigman
In the space of a few decades, there has been a dramatic change in patterns of parenting. Something that was once done intuitively has been turned into a science and outsourced to ‘experts’. There has been an inversion of the relationship between parent and child and adult and child. If parents say ‘no’ to their children at all, they tend to say it with an apologetic tone in their voice and in a manner that lacks conviction. Yet children’s needs have not changed; they are apolitical and universal.
In addition to raising his own four children, Dr Sigman has travelled widely and witnessed children being raised in different cultures. He has observed that the most healthy societies are firmly rooted in the family. Even though patterns of life differ in many respects, family cohesion is essential.
As child-centred upbringing has become more fashionable, there has been a focus on what children are interested in rather than what is in their best interests. The rise of democratic parenting has seen an effort to eliminate any concept of hierarchy, with parents seeking to be best friends with their children and replacing compulsion with negotiation.
Dr Sigman argued that by removing boundaries and retreating from authority, adults are robbing children of their basic supporting structures. Children are being spoilt in ways that go far beyond materialism. They have never been given so much in terms of legislation, rights and experience, yet child mental health problems have doubled since the 1970s and there are serious problems related to teenage binge-drinking and pre-teen alcoholism.
The erosion of authority is having serious consequences in the home, in nurseries and in schools. Parental permissiveness is a significant factor in growing levels of ‘parent battering’. Mothers are five times more likely than fathers to experience severe physical abuse from their children, with single mothers most at risk. Pre-school children are increasingly displaying violent and disrespectful behaviour towards staff in nurseries, and non-authoritative parenting and weak discipline policies in schools are leading to a rise in disruptive behaviour. A sharp rise in false and malicious allegations made by pupils against teachers is linked with a legal and cultural shift in power and authority from teacher to pupil.
Children are showing measurably declining levels of respect for authority figures, believing that adults must earn their respect. Over the past five years, the number of children, including 10 year-olds, convicted for violently attacking police officers has increased by 44 per cent. The rise in obesity and type-2 diabetes is linked to children’s growing autonomy and discretion in relation to what and when they eat.
Historically, the ‘spoilt child’ has been a child who has too many material goods, but today’s spoilt child is very often a deprived child – deprived of parental time and attention and impoverished in terms of a lack of boundaries and authority. A spoilt child today is a child with a strong sense of entitlement – ‘I deserve whatever I want’; a child who lacks empathy and sympathy, who is more interested in himself than others and expects instant gratification.
Dr Sigman considered some of the demographic and cultural changes that have given rise to ‘the spoilt generation’: the general rebellion against authority in the 1960s, the commercialisation of childhood, and the tendency of two working parents to try to compensate for their absence by tolerating bad behaviour.
Reduced social interaction
As children’s use of electronic media has increased, so their levels of social interaction have decreased, including with parents. Dr Sigman cited a 2008 Children’s Society study which showed that television alone is displacing the parental role , eclipsing ‘by a factor of five or ten the time parents spend actively engaging with children’. Referring to evidence from Stanford University , he noted that: ‘time spent using the internet is negatively associated with time spent with family [and] time spent with friends’. He proceeded to cite other evidence suggesting that the acquisition and use of technological skills may be at the expense of the development of social skills, empathy and the capacity for moral decision-making.
A meta-analysis of 72 studies from 1979-2009 conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that college students today display levels of empathy 40 per cent lower than those of their counterparts two or three decades ago. The most significant drop in empathy has occurred since 2000, which the researchers attribute to the increase in exposure to electronic media and the recent rise of online social networking.
The hidden costs of daycare
Parents are being told that they are no more important than an institution for bringing up a child and encouraged to place their young children in daycare. However, a review and meta-analysis of nine studies published in 2006 in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly found that children in daycare display higher cortisol levels than those cared for at home. The researchers stated that: ‘The effect of daycare attendance on cortisol excretion was especially notable in children younger than 36 months. We speculate that children in centre daycare show elevated cortisol levels because of their stressful interactions in a group setting.’
A study published in 2009 reported that cortisol levels are abnormal 15 years after a child has attended daycare, regardless of the quality of the childcare facility, the child’s gender or ethnicity, the family’s income level, the mother’s level of education or the sensitivity the parents exhibited towards the children as teenagers. It is thought that such children may be more prone to stress in their teenage years.
Dr Sigman observed that women’s rights have become more important than children’s wellbeing but argued that the rights of parents should always take second place to the welfare of the child. Parents must show self-sacrifice.
Through a combination of default, inexperience, circumstances, social fashion and often sheer legal coercion, there had been a retreat from committed and engaged parenting. Dr Sigman detected a growing cultural will to retrace our steps and find the way back. He called for a restoration of authority in children’s lives:
The legal position of teachers should be strengthened.
How not to spoil your child
Dr Sigman concluded with some brief and pithy encouragements to parents:
In these ways, Dr Sigman argued, we will cultivate better-behaved and happier children who, in turn, will cast off their reputation as the spoilt generation.
Copies of The Spoilt Generation by Aric Sigman are available from Family Education Trust at the reduced price of £10.00 + £2.00 p&p.
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Sir Paul Coleridge
As a senior High Court judge in the Family Division, Sir Paul Coleridge spoke from a judicial perspective informed by four decades in the legal field. He had been increasingly shocked and alarmed by the scale and the impact of family breakdown and believed that the times required open discussion and protest.He concurred with the view of Sir Nicholas Wall, the new President of the Family Division that , ‘the time has now come when the historical and indeed instinctive judicial reluctance to go public over matters properly within our sphere of activity must come to an end’.
Does it matter?
When Sir Paul had first spoken publicly about the rising tide of family breakdown in April 2008, he had been surprised by the scale of the response. It had been suggested by some that high levels of family breakdown marked a period of change that would, in due time, lead to a social utopia, and Katherine Rake, the chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, held that the nuclear family was an outdated institution.
However, since almost all social ills can be traced to the breakdown of family life and almost every dysfunctional child is a product of a dysfunctional family, Mr Justice Coleridge was unpersuaded by the view that family breakdown can be seen as a natural and exciting development. ‘Does the new model do the job better than the old model?’ he asked. ‘Do children enjoy having to endlessly move and adapt?’
The breakdown of marriage and the family had been driven by the evaporation of three stigmas or taboos: births outside marriage, cohabitation and divorce. Other factors included the advent of the contraceptive pill which had heralded a revolution in sexual behaviour, a change in social attitudes towards and by women, the disappearance of traditional, biblical values, and changes in the attitude and process of the courts towards divorce.
What can be done?
Since the attitudes and behaviour of individuals have led us to where we are, only changes in the attitudes and behaviour of individuals can lead us out. Government action cannot solve the problem by itself, but the government cannot afford to adopt a position of neutrality. The state of the family is not a purely private matter as public finances are involved. The cost of family breakdown has been variously calculated at between £24-42 billion per year. The government must therefore commit itself to offering support to families before they reach crisis point.
Since the serious remedies required will take longer than a single term of Parliament and since political parties are fearful of alienating sections of the electorate who might feel they are being criticised, it is doubtful whether any government will wake up and act decisively.
In addition to government action, there is a need for private enterprise by concerned groups committed to the promotion of marriage as the ‘gold standard’. Since marriage is statistically the most durable relationship and intact marriages produce the most beneficial outcomes, it makes pragmatic sense to support it.
A National Marriage Foundation
In the same way that the National Trust was established to protect and preserve Britain’s threatened coastline, countryside and buildings, Sir Paul Coleridge has become convinced of the need to establish a National Marriage Foundation to ‘preserve, support, enhance and promote’ marriage. The foundation would be a non-sectarian initiative, set up with private money with a view to increasing the rate of marriage and decreasing the rate of divorce. Sir Paul argued that if the divorce rate were to be decreased by 20 per cent and the marriage rate increased by 20 per cent, family breakdown would once again become a minority matter.
He envisaged that the foundation would have a website with links to academic research supporting marriage, would put out one serious press release each week, would lobby to achieve changes in legislation and would be supported by a board of trustees and a governing body comprised of high profile individuals.
In conclusion, Sir Paul stated that the problem is huge and cannot be solved by the government alone. Family breakdown is a public concern that requires urgent and decisive action. The general public needs to appreciate the emotional, social and financial cost of family breakdown. It may be that new taboos will be required, but above all, marriage needs to be affirmed and strengthened.
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Towards the end of 2009 the high street pharmacy chain, Lloydspharmacy, set up a ‘Sex Degrees of Separation Calculator’ on its website to ‘highlight how exposed you can be to STIs [sexually transmitted infections] if you do not practice safe sex’. The initiative attracted a considerable amount of publicity when it was launched.
The webpage invites visitors to enter their age, the age of their current sexual partner and the number of previous sexual partners they have had. It then proceeds to tell viewers how many people they have had direct and indirect sexual contact with. The figures shown are alarming and are intended to promote condom usage and screening for STIs. However, they are also totally misleading.
For example, a 40 year-old man with only one female partner of the same age is told that he has had 119,967 indirect and direct sexual partners, while a 40 year-old woman with only one male partner of the same age is told she has had as many as 1,212,469 indirect and direct sexual partners.
Hiding behind the government
Family Education Trust suggested to Lloydspharmacy that its calculator implies that sex is an inherently unsafe activity and asked them to make it clear on the website that if a man and a woman with no previous sexual history are faithful to each other for life, they stand at no risk of infection. Although they did not dispute the scientific accuracy of the points we made about the limitations of condoms and the only sure way of avoiding STIs, they still refused to give any ground. They insisted that they had closely aligned their marketing and promotional activity with the Department of Health’s messages and they were satisfied that the campaign was in keeping with the government’s objectives.
In reply, we put it to Lloydspharmacy that it was not good enough to hide behind the Department of Health. The information they were providing was quite simply inaccurate. But the company’s Pharmacy Director insisted, ‘We align ourselves with the Department of Health and back the government’s current health strategy.’ He added: ‘ As a society of informed adults, people must be trusted to come to their own conclusions about certain matters.’
Fair enough. The only problem was that the calculator was not providing the general public with the medically accurate information they needed in order to draw their own conclusions. If Lloydspharmacy were genuinely committed to promoting optimal sexual health, why did they not make it crystal clear how this objective is to be achieved? And why were they afraid to clearly state that couples in a mutually faithful heterosexual relationship where neither party has any prior sexual history are at no risk of sexually transmitted infections?
After almost six months of correspondence, Lloydspharmacy finally agreed to publicly acknowledge the limitations of condoms and the health benefits of sexual abstinence and lifelong fidelity. The following paragraph has accordingly been added to the campaign web page:
‘Obviously, if you are not sexually active or have only one sexual partner who hasn't had sex with anyone else, you will avoid sexually transmitted infections. Condoms provide protection from some STIs, but not all.’
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The most recent statistics for young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) reveal some significant differences between young men and young women. While only nine per cent of male NEETs had an ‘identifiable barrier’ to participation in education, employment or training, the comparable figure for young women stood almost five times higher at 42 per cent.
Some sections of the press highlighted the fact that the discrepancy is largely accounted for by teenage pregnancy and motherhood. However, the fact that 68 per cent of male NEETs have no identifiable barrier to being in education, employment or training gives rise to even more serious concern. Family Education Trust director, Norman Wells, commented:
‘It is alarming that over two-thirds of 16-18 year-old male NEETS appear to have no good reason for not being in education, employment or training. With all our emphasis on teenage pregnancy, I wonder whether we have become so preoccupied with teenage girls that we have lost sight of what is happening to the boys.
‘For many young men, the dependency culture has removed any incentive to work and children's rights dogma has so infected our thinking that parents and teachers have become afraid of asserting adult authority. Children and young people are increasingly getting the message that they aren't answerable to anyone but can live to please themselves.
‘Much more needs to be done to encourage teenage boys to develop a good work ethic with a strong sense of purpose and responsibility so that idleness is no longer regarded as an option.’
Department for Education, NEET Statistics - Quarterly Brief, 20 May 2010
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We are grateful tothose of you who have responded to our annual appeal and to those who support us at other times of the year. At our annual meeting, our Hon Treasurer, Simon Ling, reported that while the Trust was in a good financial position overall, income during 2009 was four per cent down on the previous year and would have shown a larger fall had it not been for a legacy received in the course of the year.
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An attempt to impose Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE), including sex and relationships education, on all schools with academy status was rejected by the House of Lords on 7 July. An amendment to the Academies Bill moved by Baroness Massey, honorary president of Brook and former director of the fpa, was defeated by 245 votes to 156.
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On 17 June, Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, announced the establishment of a Childhood and Families Task Force, to be chaired by the Prime Minister and made up of senior ministers from across government departments. Over the autumn the group will seek to ‘identify and prioritise a small number of specific policy proposals that will make the biggest difference to children and families’. Topics to be considered include parental leave, support for disabled children, funding for relationship support, and easing the impact of family breakdown on children.
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We are receiving a very positive response to our new leaflet, What Is Love? with several orders for 100 copies or more placed within two weeks of its publication, along with numerous smaller orders. Copies of What Is Love? and its companion leaflet Why Save Sex? are available at the following prices, including p&p: 10 copies - £2.50; 25 copies - £4.50; 50 copies - £7.00; 100 copies - £13.00. Prices for larger quantities and overseas orders are available on request.
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