“If I had more money, I’d like a life,” says 15-year-old Craig
Grainger, who lives on an impoverished estate, one of 10 young
people speaking for themselves in a report in The
A year ago, the United Nations condemned the government for its
record on supporting children. The Children’s Rights Alliance – a
coalition of 180 organisations – has now handed a progress report
to children’s minister Margaret Hodge, which speaks of its “huge
disappointment” at the government’s continuing failure.
The statistics are depressingly familiar – as was Margaret Hodge’s
response. One in three children lives in poverty; 3,000 young
people are in custody at any one time; 175,000 children act as
carers; 9,000 children are excluded annually; one in 12 children
are bullied so badly their lives are severely affected; at least 60
refugee children are incarcerated in detention centres; about
10,000 under-age children are involved in selling sex; 60,000
children are in care, many of them emerging with too few
qualifications and stigmatised.
Yes, there have been improvements. Margaret Hodge detailed some –
Sure Start; 500,000 children lifted out of poverty; a decline in
teenage pregnancy rates; the appointment of a children’s
commissioner – but no ban on smacking.
In The Argument Culture linguist Deborah Tannen discusses
the crisis in public dialogue in which winning the argument has
become more important than accurate analysis and establishing the
That is the defensive context for the battle for children’s rights
– this is what we’d like, no you can’t have it; you haven’t done
this minister, well I have done that. It distracts from the crucial
issue. Why are we – a rich and educated country – so child-hating?
So loath to embrace children’s rights? Why are we so reluctant to
listen to children?
Tannen quotes a US journalist, Orville Schell, who says those who
write – journalists, polemicists and academics – have lost a “sense
of connectedness” to those whom they write about. In respect to
children, it’s doubtful in the UK whether that connectedness has
ever existed. “Is it better elsewhere?” The answer is yes.
In the Netherlands, to give one example, 18th century chroniclers
record how the young were loved and respected and expected to have
a voice. So what do other countries and cultures have in their
approach to children, that we lack ? Until we can address that
question adequately, “child-centred” will remain a hollow phrase
and “progress” will always be limited.