Foster parents will know better than most that the world is an unequal place. After all, they are uniquely positioned: they will have come across children who are vulnerable and have often been exposed to all manner of mistreatment – from casual neglect to sexual abuse. Inequality manifests itself in so many different – and often surprising ways. And it can mean the difference between life and death. The effects of a poor diet can play out over a lifetime – often cutting it short. Hard to perceive, as the timescale is years. Such injustice is routine and, because of the timescale, hard to notice. But consider just one of the results of a survey by Ipsos Mori for Sport England: eighty-six per cent of youngsters from the most affluent families were able to swim twenty-five metres unaided, as compared with forty-two per cent of those from much less well off backgrounds. This unusual fact clearly shows how disadvantage can permeate every aspect of life – perhaps bringing a new resonance to the phrase ‘sink or swim’.
An important part of a foster carer’s responsibilities should be to make sure the child they are parenting can swim.
The collapse of responsible parenting can be seen all around: more and more children are coming into foster care each year. Increasing numbers; sixty-five per cent this year, arrive having experienced neglect or some kind of abuse. What is especially concerning is there is now evidence another aspect of our education system is failing. The chief executive of ‘Swim England’, Jane Nickerson – has commented in response to the finding, that swimming and water safety are part of the national curriculum: “The fact there is still a difference between pupils from higher affluence and lower-affluence families is very concerning. Primary school swimming lessons are the one opportunity to ensure all young people have the chance to learn these skills, which is why we must all work together to support schools to deliver them.” Finding enough mathematics and physics teachers is proving impossibly hard – although weirdly we never experience shortages of educational experts and ‘special advisers’ – so, it is perhaps even stranger now that swimming instructors appear to be in such short supply.
What Sport England reveals is that around three million children – roughly forty three per cent – are leading active lives. This equates to an average of around sixty minutes of physical activity daily. This is not as reassuring as it first appears. Among these active children, only one point two million – around seventeen per cent of the total – are fulfilling the recommended guideline which stipulates sixty minutes of physical activity a day – each day of the week. So we have a lot of children who could not be considered to be physically active. Worse, it has emerged in the ‘Health Survey for England 2017’, children of obese parents are at greater risk of being obese than other children. The survey highlighted that twenty-eight per cent of children with an obese mother were also obese – compared with eight per cent of other children. This compared with twenty-four per cent of children with an obese father – measured against nine per cent of other children. It is also known that nearly seven thousand youngsters in the UK are affected by Type 2 diabetes.
This is yet another indicator of the collapse of responsible parenting we are witnessing. Dr Max Davie works in health promotion as an officer at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: he is on the record as saying – “the data linking obesity in parents to that of their children came as no surprise. “It’s a cycle of life that can have terrible consequences to the health of entire families for generations.” The problem is that obese children can then end up facing a whole range of health risks in later life. They are five times more likely to end up as obese adults, meaning they have a greatly increased risk of thirteen different types of cancer. What could the government be doing in the face of all these depressing findings? Well, there needs to be some radical thinking: and perhaps the most radical thinking of all would be to abandon whatever the latest theory might suggest; or a team of highly paid consultant’s advise, and simply look back to an earlier time and the advantages we took for granted.
Far too many of our youngsters it appears are unable to swim, spend hours gorging themselves on food and are then chauffeured to school every day. Perhaps we have the beginning of a simple answer to some of these endemic problems we face. In previous generations; even though car ownership was relatively high, children seemed able to actually walk to school. Or they would cycle or; heaven forfend, get a bus or train which would necessitate walking some or part of the journey. When schools finished, our public parks were filled with children heading to the swings or kicking footballs. These great facilities now all too often seem eerily empty. Many children only seeing them through the car window as they are chauffeured back home.
The huge irony here is that parents feel they are protecting their children from who knows what risks involved in their walking home, whilst stuck in traffic queues poisoning the very air their offspring breathes. And once home, a sedentary lifestyle awaits based around the ubiquitous smartphone. It is difficult to imagine anything being much more absurd than this: proof, were it needed, that government these days is little more than a word in a dictionary. This tale is a cautionary one: poorer children being less active than their wealthier peers, are evidently losing out. But we are are all breathing the same air: a study produced at London’s Kings College discovered approximately 9,500 people died each year the result of long-term exposure to pollution.
Experts back in 2107 were estimating that across the UK, some 40,000 people were dying from air pollution. 2017b was also a year that witnessed the European commission issuing a ‘final warning to the UK government for breaching air pollution limits. It was highlighted that the United Kingdom was one of five countries guilty of persistently breaking recommended nitrogen dioxide levels with pollution from factories and motor vehicles. This is a paradox; not least because Brexit is in large part about being able to set our own laws – which would; in this context, make life much easier for the government – but also because the squandering of resources is huge: the public health costs have been estimated at around twenty billion pounds year along with six million working days being lost annually due to the externalised costs of pollution.
In response to the commission’s warning, the Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, stated: “The failure highlighted by the European Commission is as much moral as it is legal,” and continued – “Ministers have displayed an extremely concerning attitude of indifference towards their duty to safeguard the health of British citizens.”
What is probably not widely known is that the UK government has resisted laws intended to curb air pollution – in clear violation of the EU’s No 2 limit. Amazingly, parts of London exceeded the annual air pollution limit for the whole of 2017 in only the first five days of that year. And this from a government routinely priding itself on its credential for law and order.
We are all waking up to the idea – especially because of the incompetence and ineptitude around Brexit – that politicians of all stripes are just not up to the job. But we, as individuals and parents can make a difference. Twenty years ago children walked and cycled to school in much greater numbers. They had exercised even before they sat down at a desk. In the summer they got exposure to the sun playing in the parks after school had finished – even more exercise, as well as vitamin D.
Sometimes it seems this world runs on irony: many children are taken to school in cars by parents fearful of ‘stranger danger’, then once ‘safely’ at home many have been exposed to the risks of online grooming. What is needed, is a new grassroots movement led by parents willing to make their children, perhaps get up a bit earlier and make their way to school under their own steam. This would deliver huge benefits across a whole range of fronts: huge numbers of cars off the roads, cleaner air and fitter children. Many venerate the benefits of a classical education – with good reason: “it is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit.” So said Socrates – an argument for the essential benefits of a fit mind and body if ever there was one.
If we had politicians with imaginations, they could be relied upon to respond with alacrity to such sentiments and make the policy and organisational our society needs for its collective physical and mental health. There is another irony here in so far as many of our politicians have indeed benefited from an education in the classics.
This could also play a vital part in promoting better community relations. In days gone by, it was not uncommon for parents to be seen walking to school with groups of youngsters. A chance to socialise with other parents in a way that is denied by being sat in a car. And one usually proceeding at a pace which is slower than walking!
Lest anyone think all this is scaremongering, the evidence continues to pile up. In 2018, researchers have now found that schoolchildren compared to previous generations are becoming physically weaker. This was after studying the muscle strength of ten-year-olds in Essex. The researchers, writing in the ‘journal of science and Medicine in Sport’, said that children in this age group have become taller and heavier since 1998. Whilst their BMI – body mass index – had remained reasonably stable their endurance and strength levels had declined over a sixteen year period. Gavin Sandercock was the co-author of the research produced by the University of Essex and he stated: “In order to develop strength you have got to use your muscles – you have got to use them repeatedly and you have got to use them regularly, – children are not doing the type of activity which will promote strength.”
It used to be – and maybe still is – fashionable to start each school day with an assembly. A time of coming together and reflection. It might be a good idea for the nation as a whole, that time is set aside in all schools; say forty minutes a day, after an assembly for some intense physical exercise. It would be hard to see why anyone would object to such a measure – it’s not as if the UK is performing well in the global education rankings – we came 21st in the 2015 findings produced by the OECD – Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. We were well behind countries like Finland, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium and Germany. Singapore came first with Hong Kong second and South Korea third. We would probably find if such an exercise regime were introduced, that educational performance would actually improve. Again, as the Greeks well understood – a fit body leads to a fit mind. This would certainly be far better than the standards induced confusion, paranoia and hysteria the government has successfully rolled out across so many of the nation’s schools. This now also features the malfeasance of ‘off-rolling’ troublesome pupils so as not to affect a school’s ranking. This kind of practice is something everyone involved in providing foster care needs to be aware of.
The government’s own Ofsted has just reported that thousands of pupils could be disappearing as a direct consequence of this practice. Their inspectors have discovered that nineteen thousand school children dropped off school rolls during the period January 2106 to January 2017. this covers the period that pupils sit their GCSE examinations. It appears that around thirty per cent of the nineteen thousand absent from school rolls are SEND – Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. These are the most vulnerable and as such were identified in the recent foster care stocktake as explaining why it was, in that particular exercise, explicable that only six percent of care leavers progress to higher education. This phenomenon – off-rolling, where schools remove ‘difficult-to-teach pupils’ from their rolls with the intention of boosting performance data, is illegal. It is quite something that – with our army of educational advisers and experts, all curiously silent on such matters – have helped shape the system that we now have: one where breaking the law now takes place. A spokeswoman for Ofsted recently said the practice of off-rolling happens when school leaders – “lost sight of their core purpose and put the school’s interest ahead of the child’s”.
This is quite an astonishing observation: it shows that the result of the myriad policy implementations and government interventions have created a system where it is the school itself, rather than the pupils, that is now the priority. Could there be anything more ironic?
As many children who come into the foster carer system; as the authors of the foster care stocktake point out, are SEND, they are going to be more vulnerable to the practice of off-rolling. We need an education system that can be structured to ensure that all children have good nutrition and that there is a place in every school day for rigorous exercise. We might then begin to see the increase in standards that have been sought in recent decades. What is needed is some common sense – not another army of experts. In the past children ran around, explored their environments, climbed trees and; yes, probably even swam in rivers. There is risk, certainly, but all life is a risk and the figures show that all that has happened in recent years is that there are now a whole set of new and different risks which are looking like being a lot more deadly in the longer run.
A final radical thought. Most schools have playing fields and probably trees. Wouldn’t it be great if pupils and staff spent time climbing the trees in a lunch hour. There is plenty of science out there supporting the idea that climbing trees is good for you. Climbing Trees is excellent for promoting children’s physical development. Children work their large motor skills every time they reach, push, or pull themselves up whilst climbing. By contrast, they exercise fine motor skills when using their hands to adjust and grip branches. Tree climbing is a complete whole-body activity It helps improve children’s upper body strength, dexterity, balance – as well as coordination and spatial awareness.
One particular study conducted in 2015 from North Florida University suggested that climbing trees, improved the cognitive skills of adults. In one experiment, Dr Ross and Tracy Alloway measure the “working memory” of their subjects. This is the particular ability to retrieve information from the short-term memory whilst actively pursuing another task. The researchers then gave their subjects physically challenging and demanding activities to complete before the working memory test. This included tree climbing or walking on a narrow beam. The subjects scores showed an improvement of the order of fifty per cent – which is significant. It might well be that the focus and concentration needed to climb a tree prepares the brain for the next task at hand by keeping the mind extremely focused.
In relation to children, climbing a tree gives youngsters a unique opportunity to learn how best to assess risk: it also enables them to test their own limits. Living in a risk-averse culture doesn’t paradoxically remove risk, the evidence shows that newer, unanticipated and probably even more risks will confront us.
Team Rainbow is now looking for more foster carers in 2019
A career in foster care can put you on the path of making the world of difference to vulnerable children and young people. Our applicants aiming to develop a career as a fully trained therapeutic foster carers can join our innovative therapeutic fostering training programme. This will provide all the skills that will be needed. Rainbow fostering also assist people to gain qualifications in therapeutic foster care.
Some therapeutic foster carers have already acquired professional experience working with children and young people. This is not always the case – or even required – to become a therapeutic foster carer. If you do have professional experience the kinds of backgrounds can cover – youth work, teaching, child support work or even working in the police force.
To discover more about working with us to help vulnerable children, please call us on 020 8427 3355. You can also; should you prefer, call our National line 0330 311 2845. Here we can provide many answers for you on all the main topics concerning foster care: these include – how much time does it take to become a foster carer? Can pet owners foster? What are the main fostering allowances available? And what is a ‘top-up’ allowance? And is there an upper age limit on becoming a foster carer?
And now Rainbow offers even more…
Guidance on the training needed to become a therapeutic foster carer: you can ask for our special fact sheet on this subject – other topics include – therapeutic foster care training online; attachment and disruption issues, the certificate in therapeutic fostering.
Please arrange a time to have a detailed chat with one of our expert recruitment advisers. They will be more than happy to help you to learn more about therapeutic foster care and the opportunities it presents for a rewarding and successful career in fostering.
Rainbow are expanding next year
Rainbow fostering is a long established and highly successful independent fostering agency. -We have been finding foster homes for vulnerable children for over twenty-one years. We are busy in London, Birmingham, Manchester and the South Coast looking to recruit more foster carers. We work very closely with local authorities in these areas to identify foster families for children who are unable to be with their own families – for whatever reason. We most particularly require people interested in becoming therapeutic foster carers. You can find out more about how you can foster in this way with Rainbow at https://bit.ly/2OkgCzS If you are already fostering therapeutically and would like more about transferring – as well as the excellent benefits available – please visit https://bit.ly/2RnQrdd
Rainbow Fostering feature interesting news and foster care articles at https://bit.ly/2kJHpsO