Thursday, March 14, 2013

Children in Need

On the 16th November, the BBC held its 32nd annual appeal known as ‘BBC Children in Need’. A successful evening was had, as the total raised during the televised event was just short of £27 million. By the time the appeal closes for the year, the amount raised is likely to have been doubled.

However, for me, the success of BBC Children in Need is overshadowed by the very name (and I am not alluding to the bad press the BBC has experienced this year). The words ‘children in need’ are the key issue. The very fact that we, as a so-called civilised society, even need to have a public fund-raising event for children’s well-being, the aim of which is to enable every child to have a childhood that is ‘safe, happy and secure’ and ‘allows children the chance to reach their potential’, is in itself a terrible indictment of our society.

One of my professional roles is as the Named Doctor for Safeguarding Children for NHS North Lincolnshire. It is a role from which I dearly wish I could be made redundant. However, every month or two, I attend a committee which exists purely to perform ‘serious case reviews’; each review being about one or more North Lincolnshire children who have been neglected or abused in various ways. Sadly, it is never necessary to cancel a meeting for the want of agenda items.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in her 1844 poem, ‘The Cry of the Children’, wrote ‘Do you hear the children weeping, O my brothers/ere the sorrow comes with years’. That there is ever a need for children to weep is a burden we all share as members of a society which turns a blind eye to abuse when it is to the betterment of other motives. Yet we continue to assuage the guilt of that betrayal by donating large sums of money once per year, as though that makes good our society’s shameful negligence in securing and ensuring every child’s safety. Our aim should not be to raise even more money so as to beat the previous year’s total. Our constant focus should be to eradicate the dangers to children within our society, by everyone adopting a higher level of awareness and a zero-tolerance approach to every type of abuse.

Children, those symbols of the miracle of new human life, are intensely vulnerable. Too many of them are carrying painful burdens, when they should be experiencing the innocence and happiness of childhood. ‘The place is very well and quiet and the children only scream in a low voice’, wrote Lord Byron in 1813, when communicating with Lady Melbourne. In 2012, we should be ashamed to even contemplate the writing of such sentiment, let alone hold the knowledge that there are children doing precisely what Byron described for fear of further abuse if heard. As the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, said in a recent Radio 4 Thought for the Day, ‘Never let us be deaf to the cry of a child.’

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday, 29th November 2012)

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