UK – What is happening to our children?

UK Child PovertyIn the past week, there have been several reports concerning the care of our young which makes disturbing reading.

In Great Yarmouth in the UK, a primary school for 3 to 5 year-olds has implemented a 45 hour ‘working week’. The normal school day for children of primary age is around 8:50 am to 15:30 pm. The Yarmouth school has extended these hours to 18:00 pm, by offering additional classes to older pupils, which include activities such as sports and drama, and homework classes. Head Teacher Bill Holledge told the BBC “We have made a conscious effort to give pupils access to activities that many would have not had the opportunity to do or parents would have been unable to afford. It’s giving them broad life experiences and we have seen improvements across the board. I have seen pupils bounce out of the building because they’ve had a really good day.”

In Blackpool, UK, the local council is trialling a scheme to ensure the 12,000 primary school pupils receive a healthy breakfast before lessons begin. The initial trial is for three months, and the council hopes to extend the scheme this. Council leader Simon Blackburn said “Every pupil will be able to start their school day fed and ready to learn. There will be no discrimination between those families that can afford it and those that cannot.” Similar schemes already exist in Wales, in which 75% of primary schools have participated. In a survey into teacher’s experiences, the Kellogg’s trust reported “In many families, parents are leaving children to fend for themselves in the morning. This is because some parents simply don’t have the time or inclination to prepare breakfast, let alone supervise their children or encourage them to eat it.”

There has been a significant rise in parents being convicted for allowing their children to play truant from school. In a report in the Express newspaper, Ministry of Justice figures for 2011 show 12,777 parents were taken to court, and 9,836 were found guilty, and given sentences ranging from fines and community service orders to imprisonment, showing a 7.5 per cent rise over the previous year.

This week, children’s charity Bernardo’s reported that the high cost of childcare in the UK is keeping many families in poverty. According to the report, proposed changes to the benefit system by the government will mean working members of a family will have to work longer for no advantage, in fact, many will end up working longer hours, being at home less for their children, and be significantly worse off financially.

It is admirable that primary schools are taking the initiative to feed pupils, but is this really their responsibility? The concept of family and parenting seems to be getting blurred with institutionalisation. Parents seem to be too busy, too stressed, and some are too poor to look after their own children. But it’s not all about money. Parents are supposed to help their children find their way in life – which includes looking after them and making sure their basic needs are met.

Society is to blame – nothing else. A culture where parents are constantly either trying to aspire to a fantasy reality, or escaping from the existing one is not a natural or healthy environment for children to develop their life skills. Neither is institutionalisation, which seems more prevalent an agenda in recent times as more and more parents struggle. Perhaps some parents just can’t cope with the pressures of society, both financially and because of the unrealistic expectations of government, which expects parents to work long hours for little reward and look after children.

In among all of the petty bickering, massaged statistics, buzzwords, and the smoke and mirrors of politicians, families and children are broken and breaking, and need help from society to mend themselves.

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