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I guess that's me on the naughty step then.

Byline: VALERIE HILL

WHAT we all dream about, even after the nursery door of childhood has long slammed firmly shut behind us, is a wonderful nanny to sort everything out.

In other words, Mary Poppins, as personified for several generations now by the incomparable Julie Andrews. Even now, I hope she's reading this and getting set to float down on her talking parrot-handled umbrella, descending through the Merseyside mist to restore order out of chaos and make everything much better.

What we get is Tony Blair's "respect tsar" (surely a contradiction in terms?) Louise Casey, who was last heard describing how she's been "hammered" on various occasions.

Having given us the dubious benefit of the Asbo, Ms Casey Respect Unit co-ordinator (how quango is that?!) although not a parent herself, now has parenting in her sights.

One question that bothers me: at what stage does it stop being a bad thing if a child goes out, gets hammered, behaves badly and needs an Asbo, but become a good thing if a minister becomes stotious and doesn't require an Asbo?

Perhaps Ms Casey could illuminate us as to where the cutoff point between the two occurs, if she's not too worse for wear. A nationwide network of "supernannies" is being created to make parents raise their children in a better manner. This is the latest Labour policy that seems to draw inspiration from television.

Most obviously it derives from Channel 4's series Supernanny itself, featuring the firm but fair Jo Frost and her "naughty step", but also Driving Mum and Dad Mad and The House of Tiny Tear aways.

As discussed here a few weeks back, a report claimed that we had the worst behaved children in Europe, which possibly could have something to do with the way we bring them up.

We've got to try and make a go of it, as children are not returnable. Few of us can emulate the oh-so-smart Nancy Mitford and smugly state: "I love children - especially when they cry, for then someone takes them away".

The Government's big idea is that, by spending a dollop of cash on special classes teaching the skills needed to raise a well-adjusted child, it can change for the better anti-social behaviour, crime, drug-taking, oafishness and thugishness.

The cost will be around pounds 2,000 per person on a 12-week programme for those of us who admit that child-rearing can be a struggle at times and want to brush up on our abilities.

But such parents who are busy trying their best through trial and error aren't really the problem, so the courts can insist on attendance by those who don't or won't admit their lack of parenting skills (or face a fine), which sounds like another minefield.

The PM, Tony Blair, is very sensitive to the charge that this is more state "nannying", but he thinks the Government has a role to give a "helping hand" where there used to be a network of carers and helpers courtesy of the extended family.

So this new scheme will employ child-care specialists who will act as consultants for more than 1,000 front-line social workers ready for action when called upon.

There is certainly a need for guidance of some sort - just look around you on any street - but whether "supernannying" is too pat an answer remains to be seen.

The chief executive of children's charity NCH, Clare Tickell, said some parents "haven't had fantastic experiences with their own parents" and problems can go back as far as six generations, "so they need help with basic skills and confidence. A little help at a particularly difficult time can be very effective."

Preaching a more cautious approach is Paul Cavadino, chief executive of crime reduction charity, Nacro.

He says: "Many parents are at their wits' end to know how to control their children's behaviour. They need support rather than a punitive approach."

So what do we parents know? But then parents are the last people on earth who should have children.

And, if in Ms Casey's eyes we fail, is there enough room for all of us on the naughty step?

CAPTION(S):

Cor blimey, Mary Poppins, you of all people made to sit up here by the naughty chimbley
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 24, 2006
Words:709
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