Saturday, May 19, 2012
Strong families make successful children, not the nanny state, says study as British government launches baby guide
The welfare state has little or no bearing on how children turn out, an international research project has found. Strong families are the key to producing well adjusted and successful youngsters, it adds.
In fact, say the researchers, the children of married parents are likely to do better than those from broken or single-parent families – no matter how much state support the family is given.
The study singled out the British welfare state as an example of the failure of state support to make a difference to the lives and success of children.
The findings, published in the US in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, come in the wake of David Cameron’s announcement of free parenting classes and relationship support sessions, and a £3.4million website which will give tips on every aspect of child rearing.
Critics have called the spending a waste, saying that parents have always understood naturally how to bring up children and that a stable family is far more important to a child.
The study carried out by researchers at two American universities examined evidence from both Britain and the US – one with a large welfare state, one without – on how the lives of children progress between the ages of five and 13.
It said there were a number of risk factors common to both countries that increased the likelihood that a child would have behavioural problems.
Boys were more likely to have difficulties than girls, health problems led to other difficulties for children, and children of divorced parents faced a greater likelihood of trouble.
In Britain, the study said, the influence of ‘family structure’ – whether a child has its two birth parents, or just one parent, or lives with a step-parent – was more important than in America.
Professor Toby Parcel of North Carolina State University said: ‘We found that stronger home environments – those that are intellectually stimulating, nurturing, and physically safe – decrease the likelihood of behaviour problems in both the US and Great Britain.’
‘We wanted to see whether the role of parents was equally important in both societies because the argument has been made that more developed welfare states, such as Great Britain, can make the role of parents less important, by providing additional supports that can help compensate for situations where households have more limited resources.
‘This study tells us that parents are important in households, regardless of the strength of the welfare state.’
The effect of having two married parents was more important in Britain, the study said. It also found that children from big families were more likely to have problems here.
The study found that family structure effects were more pronounced in Britain, where a child from a family with a single mother or multiple children was at a higher risk of having behavioural problems.
‘Additionally, the more children in a British family, the greater the likelihood a child from that family had behavioural problems. These effects were absent in the US.’
The report, Children’s Behaviour Problems in the United States and Great Britain, adds to a large body of evidence which points to the importance of married parents and a stable family background in the upbringing of a child.
Mr Cameron’s own research into the happiness of individuals and families in Britain – being carried out by the Office for National Statistics at a cost to taxpayers of £2million a year – has found that marriage makes a difference to levels of life satisfaction.
A report on the happiness research last month said: ‘People who are married or in civil partnerships reported the highest average levels of life satisfaction, significantly higher than cohabiting couples.
‘The lowest average rating was reported by people who are divorced or separated, including those who have dissolved civil partnerships.’
The American study was led by Professor Parcel together with Dr Lori Ann Campbell, of Cal State-Northridge college, and Dr Wenxuan Zhong, of University of Illinois.
It’s not the British government job to lecture us on child care
I hated the Blair years for their utterly useless do-goodery; I loathed all those bossy baronesses who were forever interposing their daft initiatives about anorexic models between me and my own trouser waistband (a place no government has any right even to visit, let alone control). I dislike things being banned for people over 18 and I won’t have anybody telling me that they know better than I do about what’s best for my own child. Or grandchild. (Should I get one.)
Blair was forever ago, though, thank heaven, and my guilt at having voted the old rogue in (just the once, mind) finally faded. My blood pressure having been tranquil for some years now, it was miserable to find The Daily Telegraph shaking in my hand as of old yesterday. When I exited Wyn the Shop, I sat stunned in the car reading: “No 10 guide to changing nappies and baby talk” (oh no, please, no) and “This is not the nanny state; it’s the sensible state” (no it isn’t, it’s the state of dribbling bonkers) and “the digital Information Service for Parents has been nicknamed Digital Baby in Whitehall” (oh, make this stop! Nobody with a vote ever wants to know how much fun civil servants have nicknaming stuff).
Being a woman, I looked for the bit of the report that would explain that Mr Cameron was launching this eye-catching initiative especially “for women”, and sure enough, near the top, there it was about him being stung by criticism that his policies have alienated women voters. Well, they have! But offering them a Digital Baby app for their iPhones is not going to help a lot, is it? Making a better fist of the child benefit cut would have been more helpful. Option 1 (best) would have made it a tax-free benefit set against a parent-earner’s income and option 2 (scariest) would have scrapped it completely (by which I mean that there was no option 2).
What no one expected from a Conservative prime minister was any more of that NewLab-style chitchat. You never knew where you were as a parent in Blair’s Britain, did you? You weren’t allowed to come to private arrangements about childmindering with another parent, which killed the trade stone dead, and they fiddled around with all kinds of unhelpfulness in regard to nursery schooling.
In truth, there’s nothing actually wrong with helpful guidance on bringing a baby home from hospital and changing its nappy for the first time. I just don’t want my government to take this task on. There’s a brilliant book called Commando Dad by Neil Somebody (was a commando, apparently) who gives blokey instruction on how to hold your BT (Baby Trooper) at head end as well as bottom, lay it flat and wipe its bits. His language is breezy and upbeat. The pictures are clear and comic-book-like. He is as trustworthy and reliable a source of advice (one feels, on reading him) as the BBC midwives on their pre-war bicycles. Oops, that’s enough endorsement for Commando Dad, I think. Last thing you’d want is that somebody in Whitehall decides to make him the babycare tsar.
British novelists have made Britain nation of 'passive racists', says black footballer
As a former England footballer, he might not be the first person you would expect to deliver an impassioned critique of the literary canon. But John Barnes has blamed authors such as Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling and Edgar Rice Burroughs for making Britain a country of ‘passive racists’.
The ex-Liverpool winger insisted classic tales such as Ten Little Indians, Tarzan of the Apes and The Jungle Book have instilled bigotry in the minds of generations of British children.
Barnes launched his fierce attack on literature in a lecture to students at Liverpool University about the causes of racism in football.
The father of seven told the audience that ‘passive racism is inherent in all of us’ because of ‘preconceived ideas’ planted through books and films. He said: ‘Over the last 200 years we have had negative images of black people ... in literature by Rudyard Kipling to Agatha Christie. Tarzan showed that.
‘Racism came from the idea of race, which is a man-made construct. Race is not scientific or genetic. It does not actually exist. Race came about to validate and justify colonialism and slavery.’
He added: ‘There are examples everywhere. Rudyard Kipling, one of our greatest heroes, wrote The White Man’s Burden, in which he wrote it was incumbent on the Americans to go and civilise the savages in the Philippines.
‘Colonialism in Africa – Agatha Christie wrote a book called Ten Little N*****s. Would we accuse Agatha Christie of being racist? No, but that is passive racism.’
Barnes moved to England aged 13 in the late 1970s when his father was Jamaica’s military attaché to London. He is among England’s most-capped black players, but at Liverpool FC he was regularly subjected to racist abuse from spectators and infamously had a banana hurled at him during a Merseyside derby with Everton at Goodison Park.
Twice married, Barnes has called for the National Curriculum to be revised so all children are taught that race is only a concept. He said: ‘If we get rid of passive racism then overcoming overt racism will take care of itself.’
Ross Dawson, a senior lecture in English at Liverpool John Moores University, denied Barnes had branded the authors as racists. He said: ‘He identified the contemporary idea of race and racism as originating in the history of transatlantic slavery and colonialism. These were three writers which he used as examples of popular national literature which reproduced these racial assumptions.
‘His reference to passive racism was an attempt to show how we all have assumptions about race... without really understanding where those assumptions come from.’
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘The curriculum could do with being more explicit on this issue. A key role of education is to foster respect and understanding.’
Last year, one of Tintin’s classic adventures was banished to the adult shelves of bookshops because it was deemed overtly racist. Tintin In The Congo was given warning labels by many retailers over fears it could negatively affect children.
British safety obsession and blame game puts off volunteers for Scout movement
The compensation culture is deterring adults from volunteering as Scout leaders, meaning there are 35,000 children who want to join up, but must wait.
Julian Brazier, a member of the all-party parliamentary Scout group, said the main reason for the shortage of volunteers is the fear of being sued if someone has an accident on their watch.
Tory MP Mr Brazier said society needs to accept that accidents happen without it always being someone’s fault.
If young people are prevented from joining groups like the Scouts and other adventure organisations, they will be more likely to turn to crime or become obese, he added.
‘The Scouts do a terrific job in terms of taking youngsters from a very wide range of backgrounds, and giving them opportunities for risk taking, teamwork, leadership, and all the things that are increasingly disappearing from our schools,’ he said.
‘But both the Scouts and the Guides have a waiting list of tens of thousands of children each – as a result of the shortage of volunteers.
‘There have been two surveys in recent years which both showed that the number one reason for people not becoming volunteers was the blame culture and the risk of getting sued.
‘We need to change the law; raising the bar for bringing cases for sports and adventure training like several states have done in the US.’
Mr Brazier cited a survey of 1,000 Scout leaders carried out by the Scout Association in 2006, which found that 50 per cent believed retention of volunteers was made more difficult because of fears of being sued.
When asked about how concerned they were about being sued for compensation while leading an adventure activity, just 5 per cent said they were unconcerned.
Some 92 per cent thought that risk-aversion was affecting the range and nature of activities being offered to young people.
Mr Brazier has published a report on the effect of the compensation culture on the Scouts. It reveals that the organisation receives between 50 and 60 negligence claims a year, of which around six go to court. On average, they lose a quarter of the court cases.
In one example, quoted in the report, a group in the North-West lost £15,000 because a Brownie had been injured on a piece of metal sticking out of a chair in the village hall when she went to watch a Scout panto.
The Scout’s legal advisor told Mr Brazier: ‘Apart from individually inspecting every chair with considerable resource implications endangering the running of such an event, it is hard to see what more the group could have done.
'To add insult to injury the judge awarded the claimant twice our counsel’s valuation of the claim and 20 per cent more than the claimant asked for.’
Mr Brazier’s report concludes: ‘The threat of being sued is now the greatest barrier to volunteering in the sport and adventure training world. Society must establish the principle that accidents can happen without it being someone’s fault, and re-establish the principle of personal responsibility.’
Adventurer, TV presenter and former SAS soldier Bear Grylls was appointed Britain’s youngest Chief Scout in 2009 at the age of 35.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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