Stephen Taylor: “Have we thrown the baby out with the bathwater”

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I RECENTLY saw a preview of a film, which followed a number of young people from Sunderland who had been ‘in care’ here as they visited Romania and the ‘in care’ facilities there.

The docu-film was a difficult journey for the young people to make, as they had to revisit their own traumatic life stories to give a context to people like me who had never met them before.

The places they visited in Romania were less well financially resourced than in the UK, and poverty more absolute and prevalent.

Some very young children were taken into care, not through lack of love, but lack of money, and the parents regularly visited them and kept in touch, and if their families’ financial situations were ever to change, they would have returned straight home.

Other children were orphans, and one who was filmed found it difficult to understand why the Sunderland young people felt so bad about their parents, as she just wished hers were alive.

The group met some other UK young people who were using their summer holidays to volunteer to help with an orphanage scheme, and some resolved to return to do the same thing in the future.

One observation that the Sunderland young people made was the difference in regulations.

Those who were caring for the young people in Romania were allowed to hug the children in their care and show and share emotion.

The young people from Sunderland all wished that they had been able to be hugged at times (as did their carers) but knew that regulation prohibited it.

I wonder if we haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to protecting children?

Of course, we want to protect them from abuse, and the strict legislation around CRB checks and contact guidance is difficult to argue against logically.

But I wonder what our young people have lost now their guide leader can no longer give them a hug, or their teacher put an arm round their shoulder for fear of reprisals.

In restricting physical contact have we denied our young people some of the vital ingredients that make up their emotional well-being? And is it any wonder they consequently ‘kick off’?

It is recognised that reading to young children is an important stage in their early years development. And now I have a young grandson who loves being read to, I have also observed that no one reads to him without either sitting him on their knee or having an arm round him.

The ability to be able to hug is a critical ingredient in our emotional well-being, and for our young people as they grow up.

I fear that it is often regarded as ‘soft’ or ‘middle class’ or inappropriate, but I wonder if it isn’t this trend that has lead one MP to say recently that we are now a spiteful and uncivilised nation.

Others echoed these sentiments after one young man’s behaviour at the derby match on Sunday.

I suspects that view speaks for many of us as we wonder what sort of generation we have created by our policies, schools and parenting.

Can we influence society to ensure every child growing up has the right values and grows up knowing and giving respect?

I think we can, but it will require some conscious changes – it won’t just happen.