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Archive for the ‘other’ Category

Thinktank DEMOS got quite a lot of publicity yesterday for it’s new report entitled ‘Building Character written by Jen Lexmond and Richard Reeves.

Building Character was funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and included such names as Penelope Leach and Penny Mansfield on the advisory board.  The EHRC commissioned DEMOS to undertake research into the development of character capabilities contributing to ‘life chances’ and factors influencing the development.

The methodology looks pretty robust.  They reviewed up-to-date literature, carried out a new statistical analysis of the Millenium Cohort Study and analysed policy initiatives.  The statistical analysis looked at information given by over 15,000 families.

The report first of all defines ‘important character capabilities’ which include empath, agency (locus of control), responsibility and self-regulation.  The authors state that these should be considered ‘hard skills’ if the definition of hard and soft skills is actually useful, which they doubt.

They go on to divide parents up into 4 groups:

  1. Tough love.  Parents are attached, warm and loving and ‘high control’ more rules, consistently enforced..
  2. Laissez-Faire.  Parents are attached, warm and loving and ‘low control’ have fewer rules/more variably enforced.
  3. Authoritarian.  Parents are not attached, have ‘low warmth’ and ‘high control’.
  4. Disengaged.  Parents are ‘low warmth’ and ‘low control’.

They then also look at parents capabilities, self esteem and so on.  They look at how children’s character develops in relation to the above style of parenting.  They also compare all the usual ‘risk’ factors such as low income, family make-up, employment, ethnicity and so on.

I think the findings are remarkable.  In virtually all cases, allowing for the capabilities of the parents the ‘risk factors’ become negligible.  The style of parenting is the most important factor in how children develop these ‘hard’ life skills.  Children of ‘tough love’ and ‘Laissez Faire’ parents develop character far better when all factors are taken into account than authoritarian and disengaged.  Children of Tough Love parents do significantly better and children of Disengaged parents do worse of all.

This is probably hardly surprising but it does bring about some interesting thoughts.  All the money being poored into providing childcare, welfare-to -work, reducing teenage pregnancies and so on is seemingly wasted.  In actual fact having working or young parents makes no difference to outcomes for children.  It is the style of parenting that is all important.

Demos make a very convincing case for refocussing public spending and energy on providing parenting skills and support to impact on the style of parenting.

There is really far too much information in this report to summarise in a blog post, but I’ve hopefully whetted your appetite enough to go and read for yourself.  If not, here are some quotes from the report which might convince you!  Check out the Breastfeeding one – one of my favourites 🙂

An analysis undertaken by Kiernan of the MCS found that family status was only very weakly associated with children’s development, once other factors – like poverty, maternal depression and so on – were controlled for.

When we control for other characteristics – namely parental style and parental confidence – the relationship between family structure and child outcomes disappears almost entirely.

Crucially, the outcomes for children of lone parents and step-parents are explained by the differences in other family characteristics such as parental confidence and self esteem; being a lone parent or a step-parent does not adversely affect child outcomes in itself.

There is a strong association between children’s development of character capabilities and breast-feeding to six months. This effect remains even after controlling for all other variables in the model, including primary carer attachment

There is no connection between paid employment on the part of either the main carer, or the second parent, and the development of character capabilities in children.

Parental disability and parental ethnic background are associated with significantly different outcomes for children at age five, but all differences are outweighed when parental ability was taken into account.

Now, I’m off to peruse the rest of the DEMOS website as this report is pretty good in my opinion.  Just wonder… is anyone going to listen?

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Another day, another study.  This one comes fromDad and Daughter the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The headline information is that ‘Fathers want more time with their children too.  Probably not something anyone with young children will be surprised about.

This is a quantitive yougov survey of 4,500 parents as part of the EHRC’s wider  ‘Working Better’ policy initiative which is aiming to explore ways of matching employers and employees expectations.

Dads’ working life

Unsurprising fact of the day: 6 in 10 fathers work more than 40hrs a week.  Bearing this in mind it is hardly surprising that over half then go on to say that they spend too much time at work and 4 in 10 fathers say they spend too little time with their children.

Almost half of dads believed that flexible working was available to them, but only 30% were taking up this option.   Flexible working in this survey meant flexi-time, staggered start and finish times and working from home.  Only 20% of dads believed that the option of part time working was open to them.  Tease these figures out a little more and some discrepancies appear.  Fathers in the financial and business or public sectors were more likely to be able to work flexibly than fathers in manufacturing, retail, construction and transport.

Inequality

Another area where external inequality rears it’s ugly head is in ‘Meeting Aspirations’.  The survey posed the question:

‘To what extent do you agree or disagree that your current [work] arrangements cause tension or stress in your family’.

The number of fathers who agreed or strongly agreed:

  • 21% of all fathers
  • 31% of ethnic minority fathers
  • 31% of fathers earning under £15,000 per year
  • 33% of fathers with a disabled child or children

So, for around a third of families where the father is from an ethnic minority, on a low income or with a disabled child the working arrangements cause tension and stress.  The report doesn’t focus in too much detail on this but gives evidence from other studies that shows that in large part this is due to financial pressure.  Fathers with a disabled child are more likely to be working part time and fathers from ethnic minorities are more likely to be on a low income.

Paternity Leave

At present every father is entitled to two weeks paternity leave, paid at the rate of £123.06 per week and 13 weeks of unpaid leave.  Perhaps it is no great shock to realise that 45% of fathers didn’t take the paternity leave.  And 66% of those fathers would have liked to have taken paternity leave.  The most common reason for not taking it was financial.

The report goes on to talk about aiming to have a transferrable maternity/paternity leave of one year so that in theory both parents could take six months leave, or the mother nine months and father three months or whatever variation they liked.  Apparently this is under consultation at the moment and may come in in 2011 but only if the mother returns to work.

So, if a family have opted for this and then decide that the best thing for their child is for one or both parents to raise the baby, I can seem to see what the situation would be.  Would they have to pay all the money back?  Another barrier to women being at home with their babies?  Another barrier to men sharing the raising of their children?

Where fathers and mothers differ

I have to say this made me laugh a little.  The survey asked if primary responsibility for childcare was shared between the mother and father.  31% of fathers said that it was compared to 14% of mothers.  The report considers whether fathers with shared responsibility would be more likely to answer a survey like this, but concludes that as these figures reflect previous study findings then it is just a discrepancy.

I wonder if it is a poorly worded question, and if they had asked ‘is childcare equally shared’ then they would have had a clearer picture.  Parents can take equal responsibility for childcare even if they decide together that one parent will do the majority of it.  And maybe the question posed isn’t clear enough in this.

Report Policy Recommendations

The report concludes that policy-makers should:

  • Introduce policy changes that enable dads to take up paternity and parental leave
  • Make paternity and parental leave longer, better paid and more flexible
  • Target fathers with a publicity drive to increase awareness of flexible working rights
  • Subsidise employers to enable them to offer flexible working

The missing conclusion

I don’t think anyone will be taken aback by this report.  We know that the families in the UK have the longest working hours in Europe and low levels of overall satisfaction and contentment with life.

I am saddened that it is being used in some of the press as a stick to beat mothers with (surprise surprise).  ‘See it’s not just you whining women, dad’s want to spend time with their kids too – spare a thought for them’ seems to be the tone of a number of media reports.

Something that seems to be repeatedly highlighted but never mentioned in these surveys is that people are under huge financial pressure and this leads to difficulties in family life.  Women want to work less, men want to work less but you have to be brave to go for it when the cost of basic living is so extraordinarily high.  And you have to be a very strong family unit to weather the financial storm that seems to accompany a more reasonable and enjoyable family life.

I would have liked to see recommendations that reflected the fact that children do better when raised by their parents (not academically necessarily, but holistically).  I would like to see an acknowledgement that a lot of parents would like to raise their children themselves and a commitment to policies that relieve the financial barriers that currently prevent many families from realising this aim.

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Once again the ‘risks’ of bed-sharing and SIDS is all over the news.  I am so tired of seeing

co-sleeping

co-sleeping

mis-reporting and poor methodology in these studies that I have taken some time to look over current evidence and advice.

“Over half of cot deaths occur whilst co-sleeping”

Or so says the study that is currently being used to scaremonger.  This is a retrospective study by a team from Warwick and Bristol Universities.  They looked at the evidence for 80 babies who died of SIDS in the SW region.  The BBC report that ‘sharing a bed is a factor in more than 50% of cases’ followed confusingly by the statement that ‘many of the deaths occurred when parent and infant slept together on a sofa’.  Hmmm.

So what did the study find? That in 43 out of the 80 deaths the parents were co-sleeping.  But in 7.31 (?) of those cases they were on a sofa.  In 13.3 of those cases the parents had consumed drugs or alcohol.   A further 16 out of the total of 80 babies were on a pillow or swaddled and the authors state that these risk factors were the same in either group  so we can assume that 8 babies were on a pillow or swaddled.  So around 28-29 of those 43 cases were definately not safely bed-sharing or bed-sharing at all.

The study makes no reference as to whether the parents were smoking – a contributing factor in the vast majority of cot deaths.  And there is no reference to breastfeeding – a protective factor in the vast majority of cases.

So what does this study really tell us?  That without the important information about smoking and breastfeeding 15 out of 80 of the babies who died of SIDS were sharing a bed with a parent who was not drunk or on drugs.  This doesn’t tell us very much.  I have contacted the team who authored the study asking for clarification about smoking and breastfeeding and will update the blog if I hear back from them.

Other Evidence

Moving away from this specific study, what other evidence abounds about bed sharing and SIDS?  The number of studies is huge.  To enable results that can be considered rigerous and therefore actually truthful:

UNICEF further recommends that all future research into infant death and sleeping environments should unambiguously record data on … the baby’s sleep surface, maternal and paternal smoking status, alcohol and drug consumption and infant feeding method. These factors should be recorded at the time of infant death (rather than relying on data for other periods such as feeding method at delivery or smoking status during pregnancy) and the results adjusted to control for them.

However it is very difficult to come across any study that actually takes into account these recommendations, let alone reports it’s findings within these guidelines and separates out the evidence as stated above.

The nearest I have found is a study published in the British Medical Journal entitled Babies sleeping with parents: case-control study of factors influencing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. The study was part of the CESDI (Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirth and Death in Infancy) carried out annually in the UK.

This study was published in 1999.  It was a three year, population based case-control study.  The authors studied all cases within a population of 470,000 births.  During the three year study the authors examined 325 SIDS cases, and also those of 1300 ‘control’ infants matched for age, locality and time of sleep.  They interviewed all parents.

Findings initially showed an increased risk for infants sharing the parental bed for the whole sleep, babies sleeping in their own bedrooms and infants who shared a sofa.

However, the risk for infants sharing the parental bed was found to be not significant for older infants >14wks or any infant whose parents did not smoke.

The authors concluded that :

There is no evidence that bed sharing is hazardous for infants of parents who do not smoke.

This study found that if parents don’t smoke and BED share (rather than sofa share) they are no more likely to suffer from SIDS than babies in a cot in their non-smoking parents bedroom.   However babies in their own rooms are at more risk of SIDS than babies in a cot in their non-smoking parents bedroom.  So, why is this fact so under-reported?

More information and analysis of this study can be found at the Mothering Magazine website.

Conclusion?

Given that bed-sharing has been shown to be crucial in establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship, is practised safely worldwide and is practised in the UK and ‘developed’ world by the majority of parents it is about time that it stopped being demonised by the authorities and the media.

There is no rigourous evidence that safe bed-sharing is related to an increased rate of cot death.  FACT.

Find out how to bed-share safely with the information from UNICEF or Dr Sarah Buckley.

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Not the rather cruddy film by Mel Gibson, but the title of a new report published by the Centre for Policy Studies and written by Cristina Odone.   Read the full report called What Women Want… and how they can get it.

The evidence backing the report is a yougov poll of 4, 690 men and women.  I can’t vouch for the methodology and rigour of the report and evidence but it does raise some interesting statistics, and questions.

For example:

  • Only 12% of mothers want to work full time
  • Only 1% of mothers of under-5’s want to work full time
  • Only 2% of fathers of under-5’s think want their partners to work full-time
  • Over a third of mothers don’t want to work *at all*

The author then raises interesting questions about current government policy aimed at helping mothers return to work.  In the last twelve years over £21 billion has been spent on initiatives such as wrap-around schools and day care centres.  The tax system punishes single-earner households.  As the author says:

All these policies are symptomatic of an
attitude found right across the political spectrum: that paid work is regarded as the most important activity that we, as a society, engage in.

She goes onto ask why our culture is influenced and moulded by a tiny minority of society whose views receive such disproportionate attention.  E.g. women who want to work full time and have a family – only at most 1 in 9 women.  Her answer is that this minority is vocal and visible.  There are many of them in journalism and as she terms it ‘the commentariat’.  They ‘applaud policies that liberate women … from children’.   But this isn’t what the majority of women want.

Another interesting part of the report is ‘Women Vs Women’ where she shows the pressure that stay-at-home-mums are put under by other women.  The derogatory views that are common-place and widely written and reported by women.  This is something that is always so disappointing.

Odone concludes that the Government should enable families to choose the childcare they desire, including parental, through the tax credit system instead of penalising families where one of the parents looks after the children.

This report is real food for thought and contains many interesting questions for us as a society, and also some support for mothers who choose not to work full time.

A word of caution, however.  Odone comes from a Conservative, right of centre viewpoint and it shines through in some areas of the report.  She strongly supports policies that support marriage which I can’t see as being particularly more supportive of a mothers wish to stay at home with her children.  Especially considering that almost half of children are now born to parents who are not married.

She also states that “The government… could change the tax and benefit system to stop privileging lone parents”.  Considering that most lone parents are mothers, this flies in the face of the rest of the report.  Lone parents are now under pressure to return to ‘work-related activities’ as soon as their youngest child is aged 3 years old.  Why is Odone not championing these women who are under the most pressure to return to work?  These women have less choices open to them and are often the poorest.  She does herself no favours with these remarks, in my 0pinion.

Hopefully someone will sit up and take notice of this report and the evidence backing it up, and listen to families.  The majority of mothers don’t want to work full time, and a significant minority would like to be stay at home mothers.  I would like to see policies that support all women rather than the small minority, too.

Overall, I welcome this report and hope it gets a good amount of coverage.  I leave you with Odone’s conclusion:

Finally, we need to break the stranglehold that a small
coterie of women who work fulltime and buy into the macho
way of life, enjoy on our public life. They have, for years,
misrepresented real women who reject the masculine value
system for one that rates caring above a career, and interdependence

above independence.

Real women do not want to commit full time to a job. Real
women do not see that as the route to self-realisation. They
recognise that there is far more to life than a healthy profit or a
great deal.

Material woman, who apes material man, is over. The economy
cannot sustain her, society feels betrayed by her. The future
belongs to the real woman, who points to a lifestyle embracing
feminine values. Let’s hope this Government – or the next – is
brave enough to heed her call.

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