Monday, 14 July 2014

Sandcastle Summer Party

It’s always a pleasure to see so many friends and supporters of Children North East for an evening of fun and fundraising. That is what happened last Friday at our annual summer fundraising party - we no longer call it a charity ball because over the years it has gathered the reputation of being the best party of the summer season!

Sandcastles remind us how the charity started in 1891 taking poor children from the grimy, sooty city to the fresh air and sunshine of the seaside to benefit their health. Every year we organise probably the UKs biggest sandcastle competition on South Shields beach where teams of school children assisted by business professionals compete for the coveted Sandcastle Trophy that was awarded on the night. This year's winners were Faithful & Gould and their school team St Mary Magdalene RC, Seaham The trophy remains with Faithful & Gould until next year when the next business winner will be announced. Take a look at dozens of photographs form the Sandcastle competition on our facebook page:

We raised a fantastic £25,600 on the night but for me there was a more important, human story that night:

Callum is 17 years old, he has Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy, he lives in Newcastle. Callum contacted our Newcastle Youth Link peer mentoring project asking for a peer mentor to help him find voluntary work. He wanted more for himself than just going to college then back home reading comic books and playing video games. Callum was assessed by Karen, our disability specialist at Newcastle Youth Link and given a trained young female peer mentor. Their first goal together was to assist Callum to learn how to use public transport and find his way around Newcastle.

The mentoring relationship was progressing well when Callum was invited to speak at the Sandcastle Summer Party. He came with Karen and his peer mentor and spoke from the heart of his difficulties and experience of Youth Link. Perhaps Callum’s words contributed to the exciting and profitable auction which followed, but most generous and more important were the offers of two voluntary opportunities for Callum that evening. One could not have been more perfect – sorting out donated comic books in the Oxfam charity bookshop.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Normal men and child sexual abuse

Earlier this week I was invited to contribute to a discussion on BBC Radio Newcastle which asked whether men (and to some extent women too) have become so sensitised to the charge of child sexual abuse that they would not help a sick, hurt or distressed child.

The Saville, Harris and Hall cases show how far we have come since the 1970's and 1980's. The legal term 'sexual assault' was not coined until the 1970's and the phrase 'child sexual abuse' became common in the 1980's. Of course that does not mean these things did not happen before then but that was when they began to spoken about publicly.

In the UK it was the Cleveland Child Sexual Abuse Enquiry in 1988 (chaired by Lady Justice Butler-Sloss) that really brought the extent of child sexual abuse to public attention. Since then we have all become much more attuned to the possibility of adult sexual interest in children, for example schools no longer allow parents to take photographs during sports days, swimming galas or school plays.

During the same period fathers have become much more involved in parenting and enjoying caring for their children. For example it is far more common to see men out alone with a baby or toddler and these days almost every male toilet has a baby changing facility. For young men active fatherhood is a welcome and important aspect of their masculinity which they look forward to and relish when the opportunity arrives.

Men must face up to the fact that there is a case to answer. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women campaign to end violence against women reports that worldwide 50% of all sexual assaults are on women under the age of 16 (New Internationalist, July 2014). But sexual interest in children is abhorrent to all but a tiny minority of men.

David Aaronovitch in an article in The Times earlier this week described how a young girl in primary school was left for hours in soiled clothes after a stomach upset because the teachers would not clean and change her lest they be accused of sexual abuse. How can this possibly be right? It is so obviously wrong not to help a sick, hurt or distressed child.

I was once in a similar situation myself. I asked the child if they would like me to help them and if they would like to be showered down, they agreed so I helped. I found a towel and some clothes and rinsed the soiled ones. Later I explained what had happened to the child's mother, both were very grateful. I am just a normal bloke, I think any other adult would have done the same.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Parent's Needs

Last week I posted a blog titled 'Non-Profit Zone' in which I talked about what actually helps children and young people in need of help. This list comes from the Oakland Parental Stress Service in California in 1976. It may be old but it has timeless relevance for anyone working to help parents in need.

Parent’s Needs (same as children’s needs)
  1. Parents need help to feel good about themselves.
  2. Parents need to be comforted when they are hurt, supported when they feel weak.
  3. Parents need someone they can trust and lean on.
  4. Parents need someone who will put up with their crankiness and complaining.
  5. Parents need someone who will not be tricked into accepting their sense of low worth.
  6. Parents need someone who will not criticise them even when they ask for it, and who will not tell them what to do or how to manage their lives.
  7. Parents need someone who will be there in times of crisis.
  8. Parents need someone who will help them understand their children without making them feel stupid for not having understood in the first place.
  9. Parents need someone who can make them feel valuable and not someone of less value because they had to ask for help.
  10. Parents need someone who can understand how hard it is for them to have dependants when they have never been allowed to be dependent themselves.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Creativity on the beach

Every year Children North East organises probably the biggest sandcastle competition in the UK on the beach at South Shields. Last Friday the rain stayed off until 1,600 children from 45 primary and special schools matched with professionals from the building industry had constructed their designs in the sand.

This year's theme was 'Run, Run, Run' echoing the Great North Run which this year will see the 1,000,000th runner cross the finishing line making it the largest participation sport event in the world. Of course the Great North Run starts in Newcastle but ends by the sea in South Shields.

So how do you  illustrate a run using sand? Well the Red Arrows always fly by at the start of the race and perform at the end. Several teams made giant running shoes but how ingenious to pick out the detail in different colour sand? A guitar with driftwood strings refers to local hero Mark Knopfler Dire Straits lead guitarist who will entertain at the start of this year's race - note the paper runners all round his guitar. Would you have thought of Michael Morpurgo's 'Running Wild' - the story of Oona the elephant sensing and running away from a tsunami before it hits? And of course 'Run, run as fast as you can, you can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man!' These were just a few of the children's amazing creations in just one hour.

One of my colleagues who works in schools often remarks how wasteful it is that education excites so few children. As you can see from these few examples their potential is so great. Given the right inspiration and encouragement the younger generation could cure cancer, reverse global warming, ensure we can feed everyone on the planet and journey to the stars. We owe it to them and the future of the human race that they get the chance to.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Non-Profit Zone

Last week we had a short break in Berlin, our first visit to that amazingly vibrant city. Opposite the former Check-point Charlie with it's iconic 'You are now entering the American Sector' notice is this billboard:
At first I thought it was an ironic riposte to global capitalism in keeping with the spirit of street art found everywhere in the city, actually it's supported by the Association of German Charitable Foundations. Just two weeks ago the UK government backed down from a proposal to outsource child protection services under fierce opposition from social work academics and Children England. I share Children England's concern about the 'commodification' of childhood by consumer culture and marketisation of services for children in need. Shouldn't there be areas of life that we agree to keep as 'Non Profit Zones'?

I spent yesterday afternoon at a seminar discussing 'Local Authority commissioning intentions' for children's services. Councils and the NHS are embracing 'Early Intervention' as one solution to their financial problems. It's the old idea that prevention is better than cure so investment in helping families before problems become too entrenched, more difficult and more expensive to change makes financial and ethical sense.

I am uneasy about some of the easy logic here. The motivation to help people is because they need a helping hand, not because it saves money further down the line even though it may be 'a stitch in time'. What is actually being 'commissioned' is our humanity to help another in need. The success of commissioned contracts is usually measured as outcomes set by the commissioner not the person being helped. Your outcome could be fewer children subject to child protection plans, mine might be to enjoy my kids more. I think the children would vote for more good times with Mam and Dad and that is what will make them happier, healthier and more settled in the long run.

As soon as money is introduced into the relationship it is inevitable that questions of price will follow. However price has no relevance to what actually happens between the helper and the helped. The sorts of things that help another person are being with, understanding, showing care, belief, 'sticking with', trust. Remember any time in your life when you were helped and you will know what I mean.

This is especially true for children and why I think that nurturing, teaching and helping children and young people should be a 'Non-Profit Zone'.