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2.9 Fear of a myth isolates children

Here below are seven articles, all of which point to a trend that men keep themselves off the care of children because they are afraid to be seen as 'pedophiles'. actually, afraid of a myth, as we saw in the former article. See also the articles about myths or factoids and facts in this Newsletter. The same myth leads to over-surveillance of children - factually to under-protection. 

Article # 6 is a horror story of 'protection', but # 7 forms the happy end. Note, that it is world news that teachers now are allowed to touch a child ... "but only when and where needed". That's the Western Anglo-Saxon culture... 

(1) Men are too afraid to help a crying child

Three in four fear being called a perv

By Mark McGivern, Daily Record, UK, 17 February 2007

Three in four men would think twice before helping a crying child in case they are accused of being a paedophile, a poll claims. And one in four would ignore the distressed youngster completely, the survey revealed yesterday. Now a campaign group are warning the attitude actually makes children more vulnerable to being abused by real sex offenders.

The poll of 500 men found that 75 per cent feared assisting a lost or upset child in case others thought they were trying to harm them. Nearly half - 45 per cent - said they would try to find a female passer-by, while 23 per cent would ignore the child completely.

The research was commissioned by child safety firm IdentiKid. Managing
director Nadine Lewis said: 

"The very fact that nearly half of the population won't help children does make them more vulnerable to people who do want to do them harm. 
I find that quite scary."

However, the poll also showed men are right to worry.

Two in three people they spoke to said they would be concerned about a man whose approach caused a child to cry or scream, compared with only 21 per cent if a woman approached them. And it is a growing problem, with 80 per cent of men saying that they
felt more scared of helping children today than 10 years ago.

Nadine advised men not to approach a distressed child if they can avoid it, for fear of a protective parent returning and reporting them to police. Instead she advised them to find a woman, or a uniformed worker, rather than approach them directly. She added:

"If you are the only person about, you should keep your distance and not try to cuddle them if they are upset. 
The last thing anyone wants is to be accused of inappropriate behaviour."

Nadine blamed recent horrific stories of strangers abducting kids, coupled with a weaker sense of community. She added: 

"People are living insular lives. We've lost the ability to
interact. If you see a child crying and a man close by, you would look at the man quite suspiciously. It is a sorry portrayal of modern life that children could potentially be put in danger because men are frightened of how they will be perceived."

(2) Child safety rules 'scare' adults 

Newsvote.bbc.com.uk, 13 December 2006

Adults are scared of working with youngsters because of strict child protection rules, MSPs were told. The children's commissioner told Holyrood's education committee that
the measures were taking an "absolutely ridiculous" toll on adults. Professor Kathleen Marshall urged MSPs to address the issue, which she said risks leaving children neglected.

The measures are contained in legislation drawn up in the wake of the Soham murders. 
Under the Protection of Vulnerable Groups Bill, a single agency will be formed to support a new vetting and barring scheme. The scheme aims to ensure that people who should not be around children or vulnerable adults cannot access them through work.

Professor Marshall said: 

"Whether it's the child protection machinery, whether it's their perception of it, people feel that they can't do things to an absolutely ridiculous extent. "It can be very inhibiting. I know that some people say it's a misconception, but if it is, it's a very pervasive misconception."

The commissioner said a youth worker had told her about a trip from a rural area with two teenagers which had to be cancelled.

"They were told that they couldn't afford it because they would have to have two adult workers to accompany these young people," she said. 
"When they were questioned why they needed two, the answer was 'What
happens if one of them drops dead?' You have to think what the risk is that we're addressing here."

'Backing off'

She added: 

"People feel the need to cover their backs all the time and it's small play forums, voluntary agencies, saying this has to be addressed. People are just backing off from interaction with children and young people." 

Other examples cited were of workers who needed a mountaineering certificate to take a group of youngsters up Arthur's Seat, and a lifesaving certificate before being allowed to collect seashells with a group of children. 

"As a society, we've become so focused on protecting our children that we risk neglecting them," she said. 
Not only are we increasingly regulating things through disclosure checks and widening them out and out and out and down and down and down, but even once we've got them we still don't trust them. 
We still insist that people are there in hordes and that they're not allowed to be alone with a child and we put all sorts of restrictions on them."

(3) Absence of men from childcare 'national disgrace'

Early Childhood Council [New Zealand], 25 September 2006

New Zealand's largest representative body of licensed early childhood centres has called for a partnership between Government and childcare organizations to encourage more men into childcare.

The call follows tonight's (24 September) Sunday Programme which revealed men were more than two per cent of those working in early childhood care ('teacher-staffed, government-funded early childhood services') in 1992, but less than one per cent today - and falling. The Early Childhood Council said the absence of men from early childhood teaching was 'a national disgrace'.

Chief Executive Sue Thorne said New Zealand compared 'very badly' to other developed countries and the need for action was 'urgent'. 

'With few men in our primary schools and fewer in childcare centres we have created a society in which we have quarantined our children from our men. 
This is a project of destructive social change with very negative consequences for children.' 

She said 'the paedophile hysteria' of the 1990s had caused good men to vacate roles caring for children. Many men don't feel welcome in childcare, she said. 'They feel they will be treated as suspect until proven innocent. And we know, as a matter of record, that some parents will not enroll children in a centre if men are present. 

'We have created a culture in which it can be dangerous to reputation and future for a childcare male to cuddle a distressed child, to change a nappy or express affection. This anti-male bias, however, does not change the fact that children need to experience men as nurturing.' 

The presence of men in childcare was important for the many children being brought up with absent fathers, she said. And it was especially important if such children came from 'at-risk' environments in which they had experienced men as unreliable or abusive. The potential benefits of such children spending time with strong, gentle men were incalculable, Mrs Thorne said. She said there was 'great irony' in the fact that 'the current situation is perpetuated by those who would otherwise proclaim most loudly an opposition to sexism.  

'Why is it that the same people who speak with passion about the absence of women from the boardroom are silent about the absence of men from the classroom? 
Why is it that there would be an outcry were women excluded from the promotion of careers in the army or law or medicine, but there is silence when men are excluded in advertising for childcare?' 

Mrs Thorne called for a partnership between the Government, the teacher unions, the education institutions and child care associations to get more men onto the childcare frontline.

'There was a time, only a few years ago, when few doctors, lawyers or journalists were women, but we changed that' she said. 
They've achieved substantial increases in male participation in childcare overseas and I see no reason why the same could not be achieved in New Zealand.' 

Men were needed to help resolve severe labour shortages in the sector, Mrs Thorne said. 

'The system needs them. The children need them. It's time things

(4) A Chilling effect 

Virginia De Leon and Sara Leaming, Spokesman Review, April 18, 2007

Changing times and a growing awareness of child abuse have led to greater distrust of adults who work with children, prompting stricter rules in churches, Boy Scouts and other organizations. That means less one-on-one contact between children and adult mentors, so relationships that could steer at-risk kids away from trouble take longer to build. 

"Our trust has been eroded," said the Rev. Chuck Wilkes, associate
pastor of Spokane Valley Nazarene Church.

No longer is it acceptable for an adult to initiate contact with a child, he said. Children, from an early age, are taught to be wary of people they don't know. 

"It's an unraveling of the community contract, which says we are responsible for the children," said Wilkes. 

It's affected even our willingness to commit simple acts of compassion. Wilkes recalls being in his car and seeing a boy shivering in the cold, walking in a snowstorm. He considered pulling over and offering the boy a ride home. "But I drove on by," he said, his voice tinged with sadness. The boy would have been too scared to get in the car. And Wilkes, a stranger, would have automatically been suspect for stopping to talk. 

"And that little first-grader paid the cost - he walked home without a coat on and he had nothing to do with this," Wilkes said. 

Today, would-be volunteers at various organizations undergo heavy scrutiny, including criminal background checks and interviews with references. They must undergo training and comply with strict codes of conduct. 

Here's how some organizations have dealt with the changes:

Mentors paired with youth through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Northwest can meet one-on-one with children. But mentors who have second thoughts about those meetings are provided with another option. 
About 60 percent of the matches made through the national organization involve "site-based" programs, where an adult mentor meets with a child in a school or high-visibility site, said Darin Christensen, CEO of the Inland Northwest office.

"Sometimes that kind of mentoring isn't quite as effective," Christensen said. "I guess the positive thing is that it allows that person who is concerned to still be involved in a way that feels comfortable." 
The Boy Scouts of America also has new rules for how Scout leaders interact with boys. 
"We don't allow one-on-one contact with youth and adults in this day and age," said Tim McCandless, executive director of the Inland Northwest chapter. "If there is a campout, there must be at least two adults present."

The Inland Northwest chapter of the Scouts - which has about 5,000 volunteers and serves about 13,000 boys in Idaho and Washington - also requires boys to receive training on how to recognize an abusive adult. Scouts must complete a Youth Protection Program to learn the signs of abuse before earning their first badge. The program also is taught to parents of Scouts, McCandless said.

"If they find themselves in an abusive situation, we know they have the skills to recognize that it's wrong; they can recognize an adult who may have malicious intent," he said.

Like schools and other volunteer programs for youth, all Boy Scout volunteers and staff must undergo extensive background checks. The cost typically is paid by the organization. 
At the Boys and Girls Club of Spokane County, an after-school program, 
"we definitely do not let anyone in the building unless they went through our extensive background program; they do this before they have any contacts with kids," said Ryan Davenport, executive director of the chapter.

But background checks don't always catch those who might harm children. Most abusers don't have a criminal background and are in positions of trust in a child's life.

And here is the Catholic Chruch

As a result of the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, the Diocese of Spokane has adopted policies to ensure the protection of children and vulnerable adults. Many of the regulations - which include outside audits, extensive training and a code of conduct that explicitly defines inappropriate behavior to include wrestling, piggy-back rides and massages - are also being emphasized by other churches in the area, particularly in Spokane Valley. About a year ago, Wilkes and Ian Robertson, pastors of Spokane Valley Nazarene Church, decided they needed to offer support to their Catholic brothers and sisters and learn from past mistakes.

"It's been so traumatic," said Robertson, reflecting on the experience of the diocese. "What can we learn from this? How can we bring healing to the whole community?"

The victims of abuse, after all, aren't the only ones who have been affected, said Wilkes. The crisis also has hurt the victims' families, clergy, church members and society as a whole. The legal system, however, isn't always set up for healing, said Wilkes, an attorney who practiced law for nearly 30 years. 

"The legal system is about retributive justice, not restorative," he said.

He and others believe it's up to the faith community to bring about that healing and restore trust, the essential element that "holds us together as a community." 

"The sexual abuse problems are bigger than the Catholic Church," said Robertson, who meets regularly with Catholic Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane. "It's time for us, as the entire faith community, to work on a combined solution." 

In recent months, the roughly 33 pastors who belong to the Spokane Valley Ministerial Association have been discussing an initiative known as "Healing to Our Community." 
Based on lessons learned from the diocese and using its "Safe Net for Children and Youth" as a template, members of the ministerial association are establishing an official code of conduct and policies to prevent abuse.

Part of their efforts includes an informational brochure with local resources and a list of common signs and symptoms that could indicate sexual abuse. On the cover of the brochure is a photograph of two little boys and the words: "Please listen to me, please believe me." Wilkes, Robertson and others hope the work pastors are doing in Spokane
Valley can become a model for healing in other places.

"We have to reweave that tapestry of trust," Wilkes said. 

(5) Children: over-surveilled, under-protected

A recent conference in London highlighted the dangers of the government's insidious monitoring of our children's lives.

Jennie Bristow, Spiked-online,com, 20 July 2006

How have we reached such a state of institutionalised suspicion that a respected vicar can be obliged to resign as a school governor for kissing a 10-year-old girl on the forehead in class?

That's what happened in Britain recently. A recent London conference on child protection
offered a rare chance to put such absurd events in some wider critical perspective.

'Who is bringing children up? Are parents effectively nannies for the state's children or are children born to families and the state just helps families when they ask for it?' The answer, as they say, is in the question. 

The quote came from Terri Dowty, director of the campaign group Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) and appeared across the national media in the run-up to a conference critically examining new developments in the UK government's policy on child protection. 

Titled 'Children: Over Surveilled, Under Protected', the conference took place at the London School of Economics on 27 June, and focused specifically on the role of information-sharing in improving outcomes for children - or, to put it another way, whether putting lots of information about every child in the country on to giant databases that can be routinely accessed by schools, doctors, the police and so on, will do anything 
to prevent child abuse.

The conclusions reached by the conference were swift and certain. Not only will the government's drive to collate and share more and more information about more and more children do nothing to prevent child abuse: this process will compromise the privacy of children and their families, and frighten and undermine parents. Why, then, is the government doing it? What is the point in an ever-increasing system of child (and parent) surveillance if it is not going to do any good at all?

The naive might argue that the government merely knows not what it does - that in its desire to prevent the abuse of some children by their parents and carers, it has set up a system of mass surveillance that is well-intentioned, if misguided. 

Indeed, the proposals for information sharing and centralised databases, in the form of the Common Assessment Framework and the Children's Index, which are to store information on children from birth to be shared among all those agencies and officials involved in a child's life, were developed by the government's 2003 consultation paper Every Child Matters, which in turn came out of the official inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié.

Eight-year-old Victoria Climbié died while living with her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend in February 2000. She had been seen repeatedly by nurses, doctors, police and social workers, but all of them failed to act on the obvious signs of abuse. This horrific death shocked the nation, and prompted the government to Do Something so that such a tragedy would never happen again. But as Eileen Munro, reader in social policy at the London School of Economics and co-organiser of the conference, argued in her rapid-fire presentation on 'Will sharing information about all children protect future Victoria Climbié's?', 'If it's about child protection, it is not the thing we should be worrying about at the moment.'

What the Victoria Climbié inquiry showed, Munro said, is that 'we do not have the skilled workforce that we need' - the social workers in this case did not lack information; they simply 'did not have the wisdom' to know what to do with it. Through its giant databases, 'what the government is basically doing is creating an incredibly expensive and very complicated network on which we will be able to move garbage' - such as the question of whether children are getting their five portions of fruit and veg a day, which only in the current climate could be seen as some kind of abuse factor.

Unlike the UK government, Munro is an expert in child protection, and the government has had plenty of opportunity to take advice from those who, like her, believe that monitoring every child's fresh fruit intake is not the way to prevent the tiny number of cases in which a child is tortured to death. The fact that it has ploughed ahead regardless indicates that there is another agenda at stake here.

But if it's naive to assume that the government's child tracking systems are well-intentioned, it is equally wrong to explain these proposals as a sinister, Big Brother-style attempt to control everybody. 

For Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, surveillance of children in this way is just one more example of the government invading our privacy by picking off the rights of the most vulnerable: children, asylum seekers and terror suspects.

In an impassioned soapbox presentation, Chakrabarti claimed not to be surprised 'at all' by the amount of media coverage given to the LSE conference, because most people have children and they care about their children's rights in a way that they don't about those of asylum seekers and terror suspects. In this way, the problem of child tracking is also an 'opportunity' to challenge the expansion of state surveillance across the board.

Well, if only. Chakrabarti's conspiracy theories are tempting, not least because they hark back to a time when everybody knew how to play the surveillance game. Governments knew who they were watching, and why; people knew that governments watching them were a problem, and why. What makes the official monitoring of family life so dangerous and insidious today is that it is largely pointless; and because it is pointless, few people know how or why to object to it.

The government does not want to take most children away from their parents, and it is aware that meddling with family life is a dangerous business. At the same time, however, it cannot bring itself just to let parents get on with things as they see fit. After all, this is a government that believes society is going to hell in a hand basket because teenage youths hang out on street corners and don't respect politicians, and it is ever conscious of its own isolation from the society it purports to govern - not just the ASBO youths, but their parents, teachers, doctors, social workers, the police. 

The government then tries to overcome its lack of connection with, and trust for, society at large through an ever-more obsessive process of monitoring, logging, target-setting and double-checking, where everyone mucks in on everyone else's role.

In the government's view, families can't be trusted to raise their kids alone; teachers can't be trusted to spot behavioral problems alone; doctors can't be trusted to diagnose unhealthy living environments alone; social workers can't be trusted to spot signs of abuse alone; and police officers can't be trusted to spot criminals-to-be before the crime is committed. So every professional's minor concern about a child gets logged for others to look at, in order to work out just how much any family is allowed to be left alone, or how much 'support' (read: intervention) it needs.

The upshot is, as Eileen Munro put it, an endless exchange of 'garbage' that is of no use to anybody. But it is also the further development of a nasty, suspicious cultural climate, in which all parents and carers are routinely cast as potential abusers on the cusp of doing something wrong.

Of the many excellent presentations given at the 'Children: Over Surveilled, Under Protected' conference, the most poignant was delivered by Brian Sheldon, emeritus professor at the University of Exeter and formerly director of the university's Centre for Evidence-Based Social Services. Sheldon told how, a month or so previously, he was indulging his four-year-old grandson's obsession with trains by walking with him along a low wall near the railway at the back of his house. Suddenly, a car sped towards them, skidded to a halt, and a couple of shaven-headed young men leapt out. Alarmed, he moved to protect his grandson - but then the men produced their ID. They were detectives, and demanded that Sheldon explain his relationship with this child. When the explanation was offered, they demanded to see some ID. Eventually they left.

Sheldon concluded his story by referring to the Hippocratic Oath: 'First do no harm'. In this instance, he asked rhetorically, what harm has been done? 'My grandson no longer likes to watch the trains.'

Sheldon did not have to add that, as well, his grandson would have been given the clear impression that Granddad was a potential paedophile; he did not have to ponder on the shocking waste of resources involved in such mindless, off-the-cuff interventions. It is enough that, with the flash of an ID card or the touch of a computer mouse, institutionalised suspicion can warp the most innocent of acts and trusting of relationships.

Stories such as this provide a chilling example of the surveillance problem we face today. It's not about a police state, systematically out to get us, but something far more amorphous and insidious that casts a shadow over our relationships with children - whether these are our own children or not, and whatever might be recorded about them in a database. 

Conferences such as 'Children: Over Surveilled, Under Protected' provide a brave and thoughtful start in challenging this climate. A bit more surveillance of the government's child-and-parent surveillance schemes would be welcome; an indication that government consultations listen to critical viewpoints such as these would be a very nice surprise indeed.

(6) We lost our kids for two years after being wrongly branded as child abusers

The nightmare story every parent must read

Julie Mccaffrey, The Mirror, 23 October 2006 

[... ...] 

The family's horror story began in May 2004. An 11-year-old boy was invited to play with the children in the paddling pool and he and Buffy [daughter] were sent to change out of their swimming gear and into their bed clothes. But when Tim [the father] went upstairs, he found the boy, minus his pyjama bottoms, on top of his five-year-old daughter whose nightie was lifted above her waist.

"I was so furious I called the police," says Tim, who does not work because he has a heart condition. The cops were followed by social services. And there began the chain of events that ripped the family to pieces. After weeks of private social services interviews with the children, Gina sat with Buffy in hospital while she endured an internal examination. Gina and Tim, both 37 and married now for 12 years, reeled from the results. Buffy, said the doctor, had been a victim of chronic sexual abuse by an adult. Tim immediately became a suspect.

And because the report said Buffy could have been abused with an implement, Gina also came under suspicion. Shortly afterwards social workers arrived at the house asking to take the children in to care. 

"They said if we didn't hand them over they'd get a court order to take them from us," says Tim. "Three days later, after sleepless nights and endless hours of talking, we felt forced to agree to their demands." 

Banned from telling their children any details about the investigation, Tim and Gina drove to the social services office and told Zara, Ieuan and Buffy that they were going away for a little holiday. The instant they arrived, staff whisked the children though office
doors and out of sight. 

"We couldn't even say goodbye," says Gina, breaking down. "I felt so empty, so sick. We could still hear them screaming 'mummy! daddy!' after we left the building. All my life I'll never forget that." 

Zara, Ieuan and Buffy were placed in a foster home together and imagined even worse reasons why they were there. 

"They thought we didn't love or want them any more," sighs Tim. "Each one thought it was their fault for being naughty." 

[... ...] 

The case dragged on with Tim and Gina allowed to see their children for two 90-minute supervised sessions each week. 

"Each time we sat with the kids, two social workers watched and noted our every word, every move," says Tim. I felt awkward hugging my own kids, and it was so hard not to cry in front of them when they begged us to take them home." 

They couldn't even see them on their birthdays if they fell outside the Tuesday and Friday contact days. But missing two Christmases hurt most.


Last month, on September 22, it felt as if all Tim and Gina's Christmases had come at once. At Cardiff High Court, American child abuse expert Dr Astrid Heppenstall-Hegar testified, after reexamining her notes, that Buffy showed no signs of sexual abuse. On Tuesday, judge Crispin Masterman cleared Tim and Gina of any wrongdoing and praised their dignity. 

He said: "No one who has listened to the evidence in this case could possibly avoid feeling the utmost sympathy for what this family has gone through." 

The afternoon of the final hearing, Zara, Ieuan and Buffy bounded back into the home they hadn't seen for two years. 

[... ...]

Tim's solicitor, Jessica Good, believes the family's story will set a precedent. She says: "This case shows there is a problem with how sexual abuse is diagnosed in this country. 

'This happened to a perfectly ordinary family. It could have happened to any of us."  


(7) Teachers can touch children, says union

Claire Trevett, NZ Herald, September 26, 2006

The primary teachers' union will tell its members it is all right to touch children to comfort or praise them, in a major shift in its advice about physical contact. 

The New Zealand Educational Institute, which represents staff at primary schools, early childcare centres and special education centres, will launch its new guidelines on physical contact at its annual conference in Wellington today. The guidelines encourage "positive and affirming" contact to provide emotional support or to praise a child. 

The guidelines are more liberal than the 1998 code, which was introduced following widespread community concern after Peter Ellis was convicted for sexually abusing children at the Christchurch Civic Childcare Centre. The 1998 code warned touching could be misconstrued and placed staff at the risk of assault or indecency allegations. It said staff and teachers should explain to children why a teacher withdrew from them. 

In contrast, the new document notes contact is important to build a caring community and says staff who withdraw or are guarded in interacting with students "may not be acting as positive role models". The code says teachers must use common sense, but touching was acceptable when "carried out in a professional and responsible manner that is age appropriate". Examples of appropriate touching included "hugging or placing a supportive arm across a child's shoulders but only when and where needed". 

The union began revising its guide in 2003 after research by Auckland University professor of education Alison Jones showed the anti-touching policy was causing anxiety for teachers. 

NZEI chairwoman Irene Cooper said staff still needed to be mindful that they did not put themselves at risk of allegations, but the new guidelines better reflected the realities of the school community. The old code was a response to the high level of anxiety in the
community in the 1990s. 

"Thankfully, most of the community have learned some lessons from what happened at that time." 

She said it was important for schools and centres to develop specific policies about physical contact, after asking parents from the various cultures at a school what they considered appropriate. 

The guidelines say school policies should include ways to protect staff from untrue allegations. They advise enlisting witnesses to any physical contact when possible and for rooms to have high visibility, such as with windows. 

Yesterday, Professor Jones welcomed the new guidelines. 

"The old code of conduct really turned all teachers into potential paedophiles and just reinforced social anxieties. This does not do that, so I'm delighted at the shift." 

School Trustees Association head Chris Haines expected schools to consult on the guidelines and said if parents liked it, schools should go ahead. 

"There has always got to be protection for children, but sometimes we have got tied up with some of this PC stuff. "It is unfortunate that there were high-profile cases which saw everyone withdraw from things which can be quite a natural part of teaching."

The guidelines cover all 45,000 members of NZEI, including teachers, principals, support staff and special education workers. 

Men avoided 'hysteria'

An early-childhood education advocate says "the paedophile hysteria" of the 1990s is the reason just 1 per cent of early education workers are male. Early Childhood Council chief executive Sue Thorne said the shortage of men working in the sector was a "national disgrace" and New Zealand compared badly with other well-developed countries. 

Her comments follow the release of a paper by researcher Sarah Farquhar, who said a 1 per cent male workforce made early childhood education the "pinkest" in New Zealand - compared with nursing which was 6.5 per cent male and flight attendants, 33 per cent of whom are male. 

Men at Work: Sexism in Early Childhood Education calls for a debate on the need for men in the sector and says initiatives such as publicity campaigns and higher teacher salaries had not attracted men to the sector. 

Ms Thorne said men no longer felt welcome in childcare because they feared they would be treated with suspicion. A concerted effort was needed to get more men into the workforce. Tau Henare, National's spokesman on early childhood education, said the best way for boys to develop learning skills was from men.

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