Extending the distance problem

The article about the problems of secondary school children being forced to travel miles to take up school places (“Distance learning,” February) highlights an interesting perspective on the plans for extended schools and the idealistic picture conjured by them: schools at the heart of the community bringing together the children, their families and ultimately the whole community.

It seems to me that this ideal of a school building extending its function beyond that of learning and welcoming the wider community to access health care, child care, parent education and other core social services, is alien to the reality of children being educated outside their communities, sometimes in other boroughs, some distance from their homes.

Will the schools with a large percentage of children living outside the community, in another borough, extend itself to the local children and families that don’t attend the school or will they offer the extended facilities only to those children on its register?

Mary Jane Scotland

Increase food vouchers’ value

The government is right to acknowledge that if we want to encourage healthy eating we need to start early. We know that the poorest pregnant women and new mums often go without food or lack essential nutrients because they can’t afford a decent diet.

We welcome the government’s decision to reform the welfare food scheme to give vouchers to new mums to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as milk and infant formula. We particularly welcome the fact that all pregnant teenagers will now be eligible for the scheme, regardless of family income.

But pregnant women will only receive vouchers worth £2.80 a week when research shows a modest but adequate diet during pregnancy costs around £20 a week.

The health of future generations depends on mothers’ health. The government must increase the value of vouchers for pregnant women if the poorest babies are going to get the best start in life.

Liz Kendall
Maternity Alliance

‘Young carers’ and babysitting

In the February issue of 0-19, an article titled “Is this for real?” describes children who are asked to babysit for younger siblings as young carers.

The application of the term “young carer” to the situations described in the article may distort the truth for your readers and could undermine the difficult circumstances of many children in young carer positions. The Children’s Society is concerned that these misrepresentations may confuse children in young carer situations as defined by the law with children defined as babysitters.

A young carer is a child who is attending to family members, friends or neighbours because their parent or guardian is incapacitated. Children who babysit siblings would not be defined as a young carer unless this were the case.

Similarly, the figures that you quoted from the census relate to the answer given in response to the specific question: “Do you look after or give any help or support to family members, friends, neighbours or others because of long-term physical or mental ill-health or disability, or problems related to old age?”

I would like to invite your writer to our annual Young Carers Festival being held in June to hear young carers share their experiences. Young carers aged up to 18 often provide more than 50 hours of unpaid care every week.

These children often deal with the pressures of juggling school work with the demands of home life. These demands often take a toll on the child’s well being including their personal, social and educational development.

Jenny Frank
Project co-ordinator
Young Carers’ Initiative
The Children’s Society

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