Last week Susan Deacon, ex-Labour health minister MSP and now a professor, was highly visible in the Scottish MSM with her wide ranging proposals for providing a better start to life for pre-school children in Scotland. She states Scotland's child development and wellbeing is worryingly poor for the levels of investment that have been put into early years education (0 - 5 years).
Her proposals include the need for a new generation of family centres which should be set up across the country and these centres will be parent-focused, with the emphasis on the importance of the home environment, cuddles, bedtime stories and establishing sleep routines, rules and behaviour boundaries. Her proposals are based on the previous Labour government's Sure Start centres in England, although her model suggests a different solution that would draw resources from private, public and not-for-profit f
Ms Deacon doesn't suggest anything new. Back in the 50s most parents had sleep routines and behaviour boundaries, although many didn't have the energy to read bedtime stories or afford the necessary books. Cuddles were given by any adult present but adults are now afraid to speak to a child in case they're accused of assault. In my own childhood I can't remember the number of times someone's mum comforted me when I skinned my knees or banged my head but they would possibly be accused of breach of the peace, if nothing more serious, these days: a sad result of the majority permitting the do-gooders achieve their aims of breaking informal child support systems.
Why are we, as a society, having to provide basic parenting skills? Baby-boomers such as myself can't be blamed for not ensuring our children understood the role of the parent. Why do today's parents need such formal guidance? Is it because so many of their responsibilities have been removed by various governments - particularly the Labour government of the last 13 years - and parents are too frightened to parent? In England it's reported some children starting school don't even know their name.
Scotland may not be as child-friendly a country as Italy, France or Spain, but children have always been valued here. However, now we are importing Dolly Parton's Imagination library which promises every child in care a free book every month until they reach their fifth birthday. Her initiative is superb and I understand it has been a success in various parts of the US, but why couldn't her idea be replicated by the Scottish 'great and good' who can well afford to spend a little on the least fortunate children? Is there no one in Scotland who could initiate such a project?
Shame on us. More Scottish taxes have been given to the education of children (of all ages) than ever before yet we fail more children as the years progress. If Ms Parton's books are to be given to wee ones in care, who is going have the time to read to them? I understand only around 5% of children have some reading ability before they reach primary school and with social workers being under so much pressure, I cannot visualise them sparing enough time to read to a small child.
What would help is the addition of 'oldies' like myself who would have the patience and time to read stories, but we're discouraged from any such work because we're suspected of harming children; although we apply for a rather useless CRB check which could possibly cost £80.
There's something rotten in our society and we have to discuss how change for the better can be made. Many parents feel the state own their children and that's not a healthy situation. A few parents are happy at the state owning their children because they have no wish to be parents. We have to re-establish parental responsibilities and ensure our vulnerable children are given the highest possible standard of love and care. It's not happening regardless of the amount of money thrown at their development. Will family centres make a difference? I doubt it because the families who attend will want to improve their skills and those who need guidance won't bother to leave the comfort of their settee.
Susan Deacon and Dolly Parton mean well I have no doubt whatsoever, but somehow I feel they're locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. The change has to be far more fundamental and with far less state intervention.