Children’s future – very urgent

At nearly each and every meeting I participated in, and I go to a lot of meetings I fail to find a good and equally representation of each part of our community, seen by ethnicity, age, marital status, financial status.

In the Safer Neighbourhood Meetings it is refreshing to see new faces each time a meeting takes place and in the recent Resident’s Question Time, held at the Bethnal Green Museum for Childhood, we saw that the local services can be held to account for the quality of service they provide. We saw an accumulation of locals voicing their fears and praises and representatives of all relevant council, police and health departments.

Several hundreds of residents attended and this gave a good impression of what the perceived quality of resident’s lives is.

These ad hock mass meetings bring together a random amount of persons who express their one-off views and the Safer Neighbourhood Panel meetings bring around a steady amount of attendees that see some regulars and frequently new persons who may or may not come again.

The Safer Neighbourhood Meetings as well as local estate based meetings in my view do not represent all sections of the community and I see this as a matter of concern. Most talked about are youth and their failings and police do their best to assure concerned locals that they deal with misbehaviour, e.g. alcohol consumption in the street, other nuisances and crime by first of all a provision of behaviour contracts and those can be repeated 3 times for the reasons that failing to keep those does not result in a criminal procedure. ASBOS are not appropriate for younger persons as failure to keep those will result in criminal charges.

What concerns me at each and every meeting that I cannot see representatives of the parents, those who are the parents of the children complained about because it is those parents who need advice and help the most.

I think what is needed is a consultation of those parents, and not only those parents but all parents by asking them what they think is needed to help them raise their children successfully on the small amounts of moneys they do have, which is so little that their child rearing will have to be at the local level.

Simultaneously at each and every meeting, apart from complaints about misbehaving youth there are complaints that there is not enough youth provision, especially not for elder youth. From what I have heard, a youth club at the former Canal Club had to be closed because of drug abuse, a youth club at the Glass House because youth attempted to burn the building down.

Yet I cannot find any attempt to employ trained youth workers in the area that are capable to skillfully run youth clubs in the light of youth having particular needs.

I find very little promotion of police cadet clubs, though army cadets are easily approachable as they are near Bethnal Green station. I do understand that police officers are permanently stationed in some schools but know little by way of promotion of cadet clubs for pupils.

What bothers me is that I keep on getting the impression that we constantly limp behind young person’s problems, once they got the problem, which is predictable, there are measures to get them back to normal life but why not try instead to put resources to keep them out of trouble in the first place?

Yet the more resources are put into after care the less is available on prevention.

I do welcome those people’s forums as they bring out the people to hold the police, council and health services to account but fail to find that enough consultation is going on with parents about their children’s leisure time needs. Though the school hours are very long and can span a whole day, at weekends and evenings children still wish to play and it is important they can do so.

Yes we do have parks but not all parents are able to bring their children there, may that be that one is disabled, a parent itself has certain health or mental health needs and children simply want to play locally were they live. Also if a parent has spent a day at work, comes home to rush through the necessary housework, they can hardly find the time to bring their kids to the park and in fact would all parents bring their children to the park, the park would be totally overcrowded.

My favourite solution to this would be local play areas on each housing estate and on larger estate, a play area per 2 or 3 blocks, depending on the geography of the blocks. Boys traditionally like to play ball games and girls are not so fussy for equipment, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

It would be comparatively cheap to erect a fenced play area on each estate to allow safe playing by children. I have heard comments that this would cause a noise. I even heard complaints of people who live near schools that children make a noise when they play outside.

Children do make a noise and it is a refreshing noise and that kind of noise is welcome as long as the children can be safe, their balls to not fly into the road or people’s balconies and yes, in my view residents need to tolerate such noise or move elsewhere in residential blocks without children, if they have a problem with noise from children because we should never curtail our children because one or two people do not like them.

The relatively small investment of play areas in each estate would be much cheaper in social and policing costs than waiting until the inevitable happens and kids do go over the rails. We need to be positive towards children and their parents and try to involve them more, talk to them and be positive and try to engage parents in taking the initiative. Firstly perhaps with a little encouragement but why not encourage parents groups who take the lead in looking after local children in out of school hours as volunteers.

I come across all sorts of volunteers but hardly ever find any parents who want to look after children but I find plenty of single or childless persons who complain about children and youth. I think this social imbalance needs to be addressed urgently.

We have failed to understand and act on the result of the social revolution society has undergone. In the 60s and 70s we saw housewives and mothers care for children, who played happily in the local streets. We then saw the significant change of mothers going to work, children attending school for longer hours and now no one has the time or natural inclination to fill that gap that has been created by the changes to our family patterns.  We cannot simply rely on our police to deal with this and I have not started a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme to criminalise local children and youth who are banished behind closed doors and if allowed out, have little inspiration to play meaningful games that do not cause any damage to gardens or themselves in light of increasing traffic.

We have to evaluate the social changes that have taken place over the last 50 years and also understand that housing architecture has not changed enough to accommodate such social changes. Housing estates are not longer solely occupied by families and some of the families we have today come from a background that in itself has language barriers and is of such social composition that requires very local initiatives rather than hoping parents would bring their children to remote playing spaces.

Bethnal Green is a very diverse area, with many people from many backgrounds or cultures. It has a total population of 17,590 as of the 2001 census. The largest ethnic group is people of Bangladeshi descent (mainly Sylheti), which constituting 41.4% of the area population (high proportion mainly in Bethnal Green South). The second largest are the White British, constitute 37.2% of the area’s population. Other ethnic groups include Somalis, other Black African and Black Caribbean, Arabs and other Asian groups. The two main faiths of the people are Islam and Christianity, with 50.1% Muslims and 33.8% Christians.

Putting that into the context of education, children that are scooped up in overcrowded flats for a lot of the time and have no outlet for their abundant energies, and only get out to go to equally overcrowded classrooms during the day for prolonged periods of time are bound to develop problems sooner or later and that is only common sense and very predictable and those who have the power to change the more than predictable outcome of housing and social policies have a responsibility to avoid the problems by ensuring that play spaces are made available or we will see an ever increasing demand on prison spaces with an ever increasing percentage of our population being housed in such prisons via criminal proceedings.

We do have a choice to steer society productively and progressively into a more healthy future in social terms especially.

Most important is that we empower people to take their and their children’s lives into their own hands and that relies on a functioning economy with plenty of employment and jobs.

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