Saturday, December 13, 2008

Treat the children well

Australia, Canada and Ireland have been lashed in a UNICEF report, The Child Care Transition. Using 10 benchmarks, including the amount of GDP spent on early childhood services, the availability of paid parental leave and the subsidies provided for childcare and education, the report ranks Mexico, Slovenia and Portugal higher than the three welfare economies.

Britain didn’t fare well either, but is so far the only country making a song and dance: British Children's Minister, Beverley Hughes, has written an official letter of complaint to UNICEF describing the report as poor with many inaccuracies, saying it has misrepresented the British position and querying whether it has also misrepresented the situation of some of the other 24 countries covered.

Canada’s leaders are too busy playing politics to notice and Australia’s leadership can conveniently blame a decade of John Howard. Australia meets just two benchmarks, accreditation for early learning staff and the provision of subsidised childcare services for at least 25 per cent of children under three.

Oh, and the USA just pipped Australia on the list. The report can be downloaded here: UNICEF


Having experienced my early years in a society still scarred by the terrors of war I couldn’t help but reflect how far mores have shifted over half a century. I still regard myself fortunate that my first ten years were spent within commuting distance of Sydney yet in splendid isolation on the banks of the Port Hacking River.

The hamlet of my childhood probably numbered fewer than fifty souls to start with, rising to several hundred in the end. The community was stretched along several miles of road with a glorious, sandy river on one side and an untouched portion of national park on the other.

Our shack was hardly spacious, but seemed to accommodate seven of us with little real trouble. The fact is, at least me and my brothers were more drawn to the outdoors attractions, swimming, fishing, exploring, climbing rocks and trees, all that boy stuff. If pater familias was on the violent side we were in pig heaven outside.

A one room primary school was another delight. By the time I reached grade 3 an infants teacher was added, but I missed the plastercine and building blocks, instead absorbing an early introduction to the full primary school scope. I can still recall the sense of wonder and excitement during that accelerated learning time.

It was a wondrous period in my life, though as the picture shows on inspection, not short on domestic violence. I find that horrifying now, but it was simply the way it was back then. I have alluded to the horrors of war and recall the often whispered justifications. UNICEF certainly would not have been amused.

The picture, on close inspection [a sorta bigger image], shows the ravages of domestic violence. Not on me I should add. I’m the cheeky coot holding the flag at the local boys club (third from the right) , from which my father had banned me because he believed it was a communist plot. Fortunately others in the community were encouraging and I don’t recall any fallout from my entry into the world of gymnastics.

It wasn’t until we moved from that hamlet to the inner city I realised, or was made to realise, I had been living in a world of poverty. We had no power to out home, no running water and our bath in the yard was filled from pots and buckets from a wood stove. Even worse was my clothes suddenly had buttons, my shoes laces.

I guess the point is, everything is relative. In those early years, brutal at times, I enjoyed privileges few others can even contemplate. The gymnastics stayed with me for many years, but also a love of poetry and literature absorbed from that one teacher trying to infuse education into a full primary age range in one hit. I expect he overshot the mark and I than him still.

When I did move to a big city school my deficits weren’t education, they were dirty fingernails, untidy dressing and not having a handkerchief. Unlike the city kids I could swim before I could walk and would still prefer to walk rather than ride.

My childhood would no doubt be regarded as underprivileged by some, including UNICEF. Somehow I think the problem is more related to artificial social standards than a real recognition of issues of childhood development.


abi said...

To me, the benchmark most shamefully not met by so many wealthy countries (including yours and mine) is the "Child poverty rate less than 10%."

In the picture, are you the 3rd guy from the left or 2nd from the right? And why does the latter have one shoe on and one shoe off?

Cart said...

Third from the right Abi, next to one shoe. I was hoping no one would mention the missing sandshoe, he had to share with his brother… That, I suspect, was poverty. But no one told us at the time.

abi said...

That's a devilish grin you've got there, Cart. ;-)

Cart said...

I expect I was looking at my co-conspirator/s given I was not permitted to join the group.

D.K. Raed said...

You realize you are one of the few kids smiling? I think that says a lot. Many of the kids have dark lines below their eyes, which I'm assuming is a result of bad lighting and not mass sinus problems.

I do not think the lack of material things is poverty unless the wont of those things causes misery. You didn't know they existed, hence you were not poor until confronted with plenty. Of course, that is assuming the basic needs of food & shelter were being met.

Poverty of the mind, of ideas, is another thing altogether. It can occur regardless of material circumstances and the results are devastating. A shut-down mind is a terrible thing.

I grieve for the children who do not feel a father's and/or mother's love, who are deprived of encouragement or, worse, abused. Siblings and friends and an especially wonderful teacher can make all the difference, eh?

Cart said...

“You realize you are one of the few kids smiling?” I suspect I’d already developed some effective coping strategies. I saw more violence than I experienced and I was there after I was forbidden to attend. Yet even with the underlying brutality in that community, various psychic scars left behind, that tiny school produced plenty of wonderfully enquiring minds. On the other hand it didn’t do much in developing that drive to acquire the material things. It certainly wasn’t a sound preparation, for the era to come, in that regard. That the picture survived is remarkable in itself.

D.K. Raed said...

Wonder how your dad got the idea the Boy's Club was a communist plot? was this during the Red Scare era? was the flag red?

Cart said...

DK, That small community was a 50s version of alternative. Just talking to my brother today (2nd row 2nd from left) about some of the amazing people, artists, poets etc… and my intro to real beats. But overriding there was also a solid communist presence, including a former Moscow correspondent for the Tribune, an Aussie Commie paper of the time. That threat was enough for the old man to bar us from every community activity barring school. I was even beaten for sneaking off to Sunday school, an obvious commie plot.
But talking of these people today, bro and I both related many separate times when these ‘evil’ people gave the sort of role model guidance our father found so difficult. In fact none one of our positive memories of that period include Father, but a good many do include these ‘evil’ people we mixed with.
Funny thing, leftish as I might be I’m certainly not communist or even socialist. Nor are any of my brothers who were subjected to the same influences. When our leaders were actually threatening about ‘reds under the beds’ we had no concept of any danger in our small community.