— but her expressed regrets have had no influence on a paranoid nation or its politicians
TheOpinionSite.org reprints below an article by the woman who perhaps more than anyone else rightly introduced and encouraged the concept of ‘Child Protection’ to the UK.
(We originally reprinted this in our FREE Subscribers Magazine available HERE)
However, the article, written in 2008 doesn’t even go halfway to encapsulating the weird, paranoid, almost unbelievable situation that exists in Britain today. Yet even three years ago, Esther Rantzen thought that things were bad enough already and had gone too far.
One cannot imagine what she may be inclined to think today but her article from three years ago illustrates everything that is wrong about profit making, politically driven child protection and the unforeseen consequences of using the protection of children for purely political purposes.
Alas, things have become much worse as politicians, backed up by profit making ‘training companies’, money grabbing child protection charities (take a look HERE for example) and over-powerful tabloid newspapers exploit, rather than protect those who are vulnerable but whose tragic stories nevertheless make great copy in the Sun and other media…
“I launched Childline to protect the most vulnerable – but unleashed a politically correct monster”
By Esther Rantzen
9th July 2008
Last week, the nation was on its feet applauding a 14-year-old girl. We were thrilled by Laura Robson’s glorious triumph at Wimbledon, and delighted by her charm and her intelligence.
It was a rare moment, and a shock, not just to see a British tennis player making it to the very top, but a British child being encouraged to compete – and win.
Winning is against the rules for many children these days; even competing has become a sin. I have a godson, one of three brothers who until recently attended their local state primary school in Berkshire.
They were not permitted to play football there. In fact, they were forbidden to play any competitive sports. The head teacher takes the view that it is morally wrong for children to experience losing. So they played ‘silly games’ (the boys’ description) – which nobody could lose – involving bean bags.
The school didn’t just over-protect the children, they protected the staff as well, to a lunatic extent. One day my friend was rung up and asked to come to the school urgently with a pair of tweezers. Luckily he was working locally. When he arrived, he found one of his sons had a splinter in his finger. None of the school staff was allowed to remove it because that would be an ‘invasive operation’.
My friend had brought the tweezers, as asked, and took the splinter out in a few seconds. After that, exasperated, he moved his sons to a different (private) school.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of watching the boys enjoying the drama and suspense of sports day at their new school. The whole event was deeply politically incorrect. There were plenty of races, and loads of winners. Since some of the races were in relays, every child ended up with a victory badge of some kind, but there was no doubt that the children who had the focus, determination and coordination to hurl themselves fearlessly to the winning line won more badges, and walked tall.
‘Worse was to come. I noticed one small girl crumpled in tears when she was told that she’d been disqualified for holding her potato on to her spoon with her thumb while she ran.
Her teacher cuddled her, and a smile broke through the sobs. Cuddling a pupil! What would the thought police have said? My friend told me with amusement that on his sons’ first day at the new school, one of them got another splinter, and the matron removed it without a second thought.
Why should this kind of common sense be a privilege only available to children whose parents can afford private education? It is pervasive, this over-protective nonsense. I have been a victim of the thought police myself.
Not long ago, at an event run by a children’s charity, a boy told me he had rung Childline because he was being bullied. ‘Did you get through?’ I asked with trepidation, since we can only counsel half the number of children who call for help. ‘Yes,’ he said with a wide grin. ‘They were brilliant. I did what they said, and now the bullies are my best friends.’
I was filled with delight, and told him so. ‘I’m so happy,’ I said. ‘I’m going to give you a kiss.’ And I did, on the top of his head. The most senior executive of the charity took me aside some time later and rebuked me. One of the workers had complained about that kiss. I could hardly believe it.
The child himself didn’t complain – he thought, rightly, that I cared about him, and that I was overjoyed that ChildLine had been so helpful.
Later that week, the boy rang me to ask if I was coming to any more of the charity’s event. I had to be non-committal, so as not to disappoint him, but the truth is I don’t expect the charity will dare invite me back. I might hug a child.
The irony is that, to an extent, I blame myself for this rubbish. By revealing the extent of child abuse in the BBC TV programme Childwatch in the Eighties, I was part of the revolution in child protection which created these insidious jobsworths.
Childline: Are children over-protected?
All we intended to do was alert viewers to the truth – that most child abuse happens within the family home. And that there are ruthless, clever paedophiles who are sexually attracted to children and will worm their way into any profession that brings them into contact with them. But I had no idea the result would be senseless over-protection which pretends to see danger where there is none.
What is the real risk in taking out a child’s splinter, or kissing the top of a little boy’s head? Why deprive a child of the exhilaration of winning? Even if you are hopelessly uncoordinated, as I was as a child, and never win a race, losing isn’t a tragedy. There are plenty of other ways to excel. Isn’t it sad to ‘protect’ children from sporting competition? For the non-academic child, isn’t a winner’s badge a wonderful boost to self-esteem? What has happened to common sense? We are throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Why did I want to change the way we protected children (even if I never for a moment imagined we would ever reach this insane state of affairs)? Because for generations children had suffered in silence. Twenty years ago, in those distant, innocent days, nobody suspected the terrible abuse that could occur in care homes, churches and boarding schools.
I investigated one such school, owned by a millionaire paedophile, who appointed two other teachers who sexually abused boys in the school secure in the knowledge that the children would be too fearful and ashamed to ask for help.
In my 20s, I used to visit children in a care home in Camden, North London. I never suspected a bad-tempered man who worked there as a ‘house parent’ was physically and sexually abusing ten of the children. I didn’t like him, but it simply wasn’t on my mental radar to think such crimes were possible.
My ignorance meant those children I took out every week were far too ashamed and afraid to tell me about the abuse. ‘I didn’t want to spoil the only happy times we had,’ one told me recently. In the past 20 years, we have discovered to our horror that some of the very people children should have been able to trust – in the Church, in sport, youth leaders, music tutors – had used their positions to assault and intimidate children.
The think-tank Civitas last week produced a report blaming our checks for criminal records for poisoning relationships between adults and children. (This was in 2008 remember! -RP)I disagree. Checks for a record of a violent crime or a sexual offence are necessary if we are to ensure abusers cannot continue to work with children after they are released from prison.
Denis Cochrane, a music teacher at a school in West London which my own children attended, was very recently convicted of indecently assaulting a six-year-old girl. He told her it was a punishment, and intimidated her throughout her time in the school. As a result, she had constant nightmares and suffered from serious depression. He destroyed her childhood. She was not the only child he abused, and he is now in jail.
Without Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, he could be released in a few years and become a piano teacher, or the local church choir master, or produce the local children’s pantomime. As a trustee of the NSPCC, I have been CRB checked, and was proud and happy to go through the process. But these checks must be properly and sensibly conducted.
My son Joshua, a medical student, recently applied for work experience as a volunteer in a hospice. Although he had been CRB checked very recently by his university, he was told he would have to be checked again to work in a different health authority, and there was no time for the process to be completed.
The hospice lost a talented volunteer. He lost crucial experience. He has not applied for any other work during the summer vacation because he will need to be checked yet again. I am told this complicated nonsense applies throughout the medical profession when health professionals take up new posts.
How much does all this duplication cost? How much time does it take? Reports suggest the process is breaking down under the huge work load the Home Office are undertaking. Unsurprisingly, it is said they have made mistakes. Personally, I cannot see why we who have been checked are not given the equivalent of a driving licence, to be endorsed if we commit a relevant crime. But maybe that is too simple.
Unless we revise this hysterical attitude that every child should be treated like a china doll who must not be touched by adults, the bitter irony is that our most vulnerable children will pay a tragic price.
There has been research which looked at children from the most deprived backgrounds who somehow survived, and grew up to be successful, happy and prosperous. The researchers found the difference was that someone outside their immediate family – a neighbour perhaps, or a teacher – cared about them, noticed when they were unhappy and praised them when they succeeded.
Unless we use our common sense and recognise that most people are not a threat to children, I am deeply worried that this kind of caring relationship will be obliterated. Which means some children will be deprived of their only emotional lifeline.
Last week, I met one of Europe’s most successful architects. He told me his parents were extremely poor, and that because his mother had a serious mental illness, his father left the family home. But they had a neighbour – a man with no children of his own – who noticed his talent when he was young and gave him art classes.
Another friend of mine, who has become extremely successful, grew up in Yorkshire, the son of an alcoholic mother and an inarticulate father. Across the road from their terrace house lived a man who loved books, and taught my friend – who was a clever, ambitious little boy – how to study. They spent hours together talking together. Can you imagine what the thought police would make of these relationships? These days, would those kindly neighbours themselves be too afraid to become unofficial mentors, in case they were accused of sinister motives?
Debating these issues on Radio 4’s Today programme, John Humphrys asked me: ‘Can you not see that one side effect of the setting up of ChildLine has been this over-reaction?’
“Yes, John, now I can. The day after sports day last week, my friend took my godson and his brothers to the Marwell Activity Centre in Hampshire for a birthday party. The boys had a fantastic time on the slides, and my friend recorded their delight on a camcorder. Until, that is, a member of staff came and stopped him, because: The law says we will need written permission from all the other parents.”
There is, of course, no such law. I asked the Centre why they had stopped him, and they said it was company policy due to ‘the response we have had from our clients’. Not only stupid and narrow-minded, but just the kind of language to make your blood boil. I think we all need to rethink our attitudes.
As my friend told me that day: ‘All I wanted to do was to preserve some lovely memories, moments that will never come back again.’ Childhood should be filled with lovely moments, shared by adults and children together.
What a tragedy if, even from the best of motives, we deprive ourselves and our children of the affection and fun that make childhood so precious.
Apparently not. The proposed changes to the CRB procedures are largely cosmetic and yet are still being fought by those with vested interests. There are a lot of them too. Just Google “CRB checks” and see how many companies there are out there offering ‘background checking services’ and so on. CRB checks are big business, as is child protection in general and that is one of the principal reason for the continuation of the ridiculous situation that exists today.
The other reason is the fear of criticism that so pervades the minds of our weak and cowardly politicians who only ever think of their own interests and fail to speak out against the mess that they have helped to create.