Some young people could avoid becoming homeless if they had the opportunity to reside in an independent living unit situated in their household garden. This was the finding of a recent study by members of the Children and Families Research Centre, working in partnership with the youth homelessness organisation 1625 Independent People. (more…)
Baby box: child welfare experts say use of sleep boxes could potentially put infants’ lives at risk
Having a baby can be expensive. So it’s maybe not surprising that many retailers around the world have cottoned on to the success of Finland’s baby boxes – a package aimed to set up new parents and their bundle of joy. The Finnish boxes include baby clothing, sleep items, hygiene products and a parenting guide –- as well as a “sleep space” for the baby.
Many retailers around the world are now offering similar boxes for expectant parents. Indeed, research conducted at the University of Tampere in Finland suggests there are variants in over 60 countries. This includes Scotland’s baby box scheme – with all newborn babies getting a free baby box from the Scottish government.
But as a group of child welfare experts, we believe imitations of the Finnish boxes could be placing babies at risk. This is because it has become common to believe that if babies sleep in these boxes, it will help protect them from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Unfortunately, the research does not back this up.
Mother and fathers in Finland are given a baby box from the state that functions a bit like a starter kit. The box includes 64 items and is estimated to cost around €140 (£119). It comes as part of a wider maternity package in Finland, in which parents are also required to register for a health check before the fifth month of pregnancy.
They can opt for a cash alternative of €170 instead of the baby box, although most choose the box. The maternity package has been offered by the Finnish government for over 50 years, and initially arose as a response to poverty and high infant mortality rates.
What’s the problem?
To some extent, retailers in other countries have tried to copy the Finnish model. In the UK, new parents can choose between paying for bigger baby boxes or a free box with some basic items if they engage in an online course. The course doesn’t have much professional oversight, however, and these boxes certainly don’t contain as much as the Finnish version.
But there is a danger that parents might view the boxes as a safe sleep space that will help reduce the risk of SIDS. This sort of belief appears to be based on the fact that the SIDS rate in Finland has fallen over the years – but this does not appear to be because of the boxes.
The same reduction has been found in neighbouring countries such as Norway and Sweden, where baby boxes are not used. The handful of observational SIDS studies conducted in Finland do not mention the box and largely attribute the lower mortality rates to “a reasonably high standard of living, good educational level of mothers, well organised primary maternal and child health services, and the rapid advances in obstetric and neonatal care equally available and regionalised”. All three Scandinavian countries have in place a well supported welfare system that looks after vulnerable families.
As far as we can see, there is no evidence to support a belief that the box can be used as a safe space to reduce infant death. There are also already safe sleep spaces for babies, with cots and Moses baskets that have a safety kite mark readily available.
And with baby boxes being sold by private companies – and public health messaging moving into private hands as a result, the risk is that the impact of government risk reduction campaigns that have saved thousands of young lives in recent decades are forgotten.
What new parents should do
All the evidence-based guidance that has emerged over recent decades delivers clear messages about safe sleeping practices, while also acknowledging that parenting practices can be culturally diverse – in many cultures, for example, co-sleeping is the norm until children are weaned.
The importance of robust evidence must be a key priority. This is why we believe governments and health providers should consider these factors before assuming that baby boxes are the solution to ongoing tragic unexplained deaths of infants.
Crucially, research is needed on the ways in which parents use existing baby boxes, in what circumstances and contexts they might be beneficial, and whether it is the box, or the programmes around them that benefits families.
As a response to this need, we are starting to work with vulnerable parental groups and health providers in Scotland, Finland, Zambia, Vietnam and Kenya to find out whether baby boxes or alternative devices that can be brought into the parental bed can improve infant safety and survival.
The hope is that our combined research should enable low cost, appropriate solutions to be designed with the people who will benefit – and to improve the health and wellbeing of infants and mothers.
Debbie Watson, Professor In Child and Family Welfare, University of Bristol; Helen Ball, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab, Durham University; Jim Reid, Senior Lecturer, Department of Education and Community Studies, University of Huddersfield, and Pete Blair, Professor of Epidemiology and Statistics, University of Bristol
Dendy Platt, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, School for Policy Studies, discusses the challenges currently facing professionals involved in the assessment of the needs of children and the increasingly difficult environment in which they operate.
Children in need and child maltreatment can be emotive topics. A constant question that lurks at the backs of the minds of those of us involved professionally with assessments of the needs of children, is that “someone, somewhere must know more about children and young people than I do”. And that whoever these experts are, they “must surely have the answers to the assessment dilemmas regarding the children I am working with”.
This nagging search for solutions becomes even more acute in the context of the years of austerity measures currently facing the range of services for children. UK politicians will claim that overall spending on children’s services has gone up in recent years. However, the greatest part of this increase has been absorbed into funding the growing numbers of children in the care system. Yet at the same time, and probably contributing to increases in number of children in care, has been a hidden, but very serious decrease, estimated as a 60% spending reduction, in preventive services for children and young people in need (for example, youth services and children’s centres) . Alongside this wholesale withdrawal of support for children in need, child poverty rates have been increasing. So, with fewer services and more children in need, it is unsurprising that numbers of children in care have been going up.
Whilst local authorities are trying to grapple with the vicious cycle created by this mismanagement of policy, it is also unsurprising that hard-pressed professionals working with children and families would like a ‘quick fix’. Unfortunately, children and families are complex, and the magical short-cut to accurate decision-making has yet to be identified. There are, however, some things that professionals might like to think about in this context:
- Maintaining a focus on the child is a long-standing principle. Time spent, on understanding the lived experience of the child you are assessing, can lead to better, more thoughtful decisions which save time in the long run.
- If you’re looking for a questionnaire or measurement scale, such tools can be helpful, but it is well accepted that they will only contribute to part of the picture. They must not be treated as providing final answers and should only ever be used in conjunction with good professional judgment.
- Using professional judgment means making space for thinking.
- Slowing down is all well and good in theory, but what if there is too much work? Overwork is a management problem, and ought not to be a problem for the individual professional. “Some hope”, you might say. Consider, however, that good, careful thinking and analysis lead to better decisions. And good decision-making means that those decisions stand the test of time. Decisions that frequently have to be revisited, revised and revamped actually create additional work.
In the new edition of The Child’s World, which I recently co-edited with Jan Horwath, we cover the many different aspects of the assessment of vulnerable children, and professional judgement is a theme which we return to throughout. It has been written with busy practitioners in mind so that they can dip in to the chapters and quickly access summary information on specific topics, such as Parents with Learning Difficulties, Child Sexual Exploitation, and assessing Family and Community Support. Easily accessible information such as this can be a useful tool when there is little time for detailed background research.
The Child’s World launch conference is taking place on 18th March in York and has been designed as a collaborative learning event. Reduced conference fees for students and BASPCAN members are available and all participants will receive a free copy of The Child’s World (3rd edition).
Professor Julie Selwyn is a Professor and Director of the Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies at the School for Policy Studies. Here, she shares the findings from the new report she co-authored, Our Lives, Our Care: Looked after children’s views on their well-being.
There were 70, 440 children in care in England as of 31 March 2016, according to the Department for Education. The majority of children enter care because of parental abuse and neglect and often enter with physical, emotional and behavioural difficulties as a result of traumatic experiences. Every year ‘outcome’ data are collected and published by the Department for Education on children’s educational achievements, offending, mental health, and number of teenage pregnancies.
Children’s experiences not heard across system
Generally, children in care do not achieve the same level of academic success as their peers and are much more likely to have problems with crime, drugs and have poor mental health. Consequently, the care system is often viewed as failing but there is no systematic collection of information on how children feel about their lives in care. Nor do we know whether children in care emphasise the same aspects of their lives as being important to their well-being, as those identified by children in the general population.
This excerpt was taken from the original post in the WhatWorksWellbeing blog. Read the post in full.
Dr Jo Staines, Director of BSc Childhood Studies programmes, reports a on recent seminar held by the School for Policy Studies focusing on the over-representation of looking after children in the youth justice system.
Over 30 academics and practitioners from across the country came together last week to discuss how to reduce the over-representation of looked after children in the youth justice system. Inspired by the Prison Reform Trust’s recent Independent Review, In Care, Out of Trouble, this event drew on current research and examples of innovative practice to consider how policy and practice – and changes in attitude – can reduce the number of looked after children who become involved in offending behaviour and who are drawn into the youth justice system.
Statistics indicate that looked after children are five times more likely to be involved in the youth justice system than non-looked after children – although due to the vagaries of recording practices, this is likely to be an underestimate. A review of international research, which I summarised in the first session, helps to explain how looked after children’s early negative experiences, the potentially adverse influences of the care system, and structural criminalisation all combine to increase the likelihood that looked after children will come into contact with the youth justice system. Anne-Marie Day (University of Salford), Julie Shaw (Liverpool John Moores University), Claire Fitzpatrick (University of Lancaster) and Julie Selwyn (University of Bristol) added depth and detail to these theories, drawing from their current research with looked after children.
The key messages from the presentations and ensuing discussions emphasised children and young people’s need for stability – of placement, of social worker, of educational placement, and of support – and the need for trusting, lasting relationships was overwhelmingly apparent. The challenges faced in achieving this were highlighted, particularly by Tanya Grey and Jennie Mattinson of West Mercia police, who have the unenviable task of working with 19 different care providers and no less than 107 local authorities to develop appropriate, non-criminalising responses to looked after children’s challenging behaviour.
Katy Swaine Williams, from the Prison Reform Trust, gave an overview of the findings of their review and the reforms to policy and practice that were recommended. Chris Stevens (Surrey Youth Support Service), Jamie Gill (1625 Independent People) and Darren Coyne (The Care Leavers’ Association) all passionately introduced the work their organisations have undertaken to provide stability and support to looked after children and to reduce their involvement in the criminal justice system. As shown by these examples, and as highlighted within the Prison Reform Trust’s review, many examples of good practice exist – we know that reducing the number of looked after children who become young offenders can be done, as it is being done – but we need to act as a megaphone to transmit our knowledge about successful approaches and interventions, and to invoke the political will needed to make sure that examples of good practice become standard practice nationwide.
In a post-Brexit environment and with a new Justice Secretary now in post, this event provided the enthusiasm, inspiration and evidence needed to help promote this message.
Debbie Watson reports as The Bristol ‘Child Friendly City’ Network ran the first Child Friendly Symposium as part of the 2015 Thinking Futures festival.
Inspired by global UNICEF guidelines, the Child Friendly City’s Network aim is to bring together a wide range of partners to campaign strategically and deliver grass roots projects that support child friendly environments. The Child Friendly Symposium brought together around 20 children and young people, as well as 80 adults who worked for and with this demographic, from all over Bristol.
Mayor George Ferguson opened the event and emphasised the need for cities to actively consider children and young people, whether in urban planning decisions, allocation of community resources or in the respect afforded to our youngest citizens. He said: “A child-friendly city is a healthy, happy, liveable and playable city”.
The symposium then saw short presentations delivered by Bristol academics: Dr Angie Page on children’s activity levels and public health outcomes; Dr Helen Manchester on a project which explored young people’s cultural engagement in Bristol; and Dr Debbie Watson on a project which co-developed research capability and awareness with Room13 Hareclive children and artists.
But the main event saw child-led participatory activity to engage adults in the room. Together they made creative banners, highlighting what needs to change in Bristol for it to be truly child friendly. These banners were then showcased, sharing many powerful and provocative messages.
Giving young people from Room 13 Hareclive, Hartcliffe and Felix Road Adventure Playground, Easton, a contributing role in the symposium was an important statement of intent. Harnessing this potential is what Child Friendly Cities (CFC) are all about, holding true to the principle that ‘if a city is successful for children it will be successful for all people’.
“The Thinking Futures Bristol Child Friendly City Symposium was a great opportunity for us to bring together representatives from different backgrounds in the city to share an equal platform: children and young people, academics, organisations working with children and young people, arts and cultural organisations, Bristol’s mayor and Bristol City Council officers.”
We heard compelling arguments from different perspectives – research, local government and children themselves – about why it’s so important for Bristol to be more child friendly. Children and adults identified key calls for change in the city such as ‘free bus travel for children’, ‘safer streets’ and ‘believe and trust in us’, which we all endorsed. It was good to see children and young people, many of them from more disconnected parts of Bristol, sharing thoughts and ideas with academics and practitioners, and vice versa.
This event in partnership with the University of Bristol really helped to raise the profile of Bristol CFC and to consolidate and move on our agenda within the city. We’re excited by the possibility of further collaborative work with academics.” – the Child Friendly City network.
The event is part of a wider strategy to grow the conversation in Bristol, beyond immediate partners and interested parties. Already, impact can be seen across the city through press releases, media coverage, and new partnerships. Bristol and other cities have already been in touch, with potential collaborations stretching as far as Sweden. In late February these interested parties came together at a seminar hosted by Cardiff University’s Children’s social care research and development centre (CASCADE), opened by Dr Sally Holland, the children’s commissioner for Wales.
Ongoing local campaigning includes: a proposal for research impact funding to tackle one key issue with children in the city; organising a young people’s Mayoral hustings in May; and an international conference hosted in Bristol, for the city to truly lead on child friendly policy and practice.
For more information:
The Child Friendly City network consists of University of Bristol academics and grassroots organisations Architecture Centre, Playing Out, and Room13 Hareclive.
Debbie Watson is Reader in Childhood Studies in the Centre for Family Policy and Child Welfare.