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'.

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