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The Institute of Psychiatry at King's contributes to landmark report 'A Good Childhood'

03 February 2009

'A Good Childhood', a landmark report commissioned by the Children's Society, is published on 5 February with findings and recommendations from the Inquiry Panel, chaired by Judith Dunn, Professor of Developmental Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King's.  The Panel included IoP colleagues Barbara Maughan, Professor of Developmental Epidemiology and Stephen Scott, Professor of Child Health and Behaviour.  

The report finds that children's lives have become more difficult than in the past and the Inquiry Panel traces this to excessive individualism - the aggressive pursuit of personal success by adults. This produces more family discord and conflict; more pressure to own things; excessive competition in schools; and unacceptable income inequality.  According to the panel, excessive individualism needs to be replaced by a value system where people seek satisfaction more from helping others rather than pursuing private advantage. 

Professor Dunn said:  'In the Good Childhood Inquiry we had a great opportunity to see how children today experience their lives within their families, at school, with their friends (and enemies!), their problems and their pleasures.  We looked critically at the evidence for and against the beliefs about children today that get media attention.  What we learned has lessons for all of us - parents, teachers, and those concerned with policy making and the care of children.'

The findings include:

The proportion of children experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties rose from 10% in 1986 to 16% in 1999 and has remained at that level.

Some 70% of children agree 'parents getting on well is one of the most important factors in raising happy children.'  By contrast only 30% of parents agree with the statement - a significant difference of perspective.

The distress that many children feel at parental separation is clear and they can suffer short-term problems with academic achievement, self-esteem, behaviour, depression or anxiety.  However those who have a close relationship with their father and are able to communicate well with him do much better than those who do not.

Only a quarter of the children who are seriously disturbed by mental health difficulties get any kind of specialist help.

Increased exposure to T.V. and Internet increases materialistic desires and reduces mental health.

Children who spend 18 hours taking a Resilience Programme, which teaches children to manage their own feelings and how to understand and care for others, are half as likely to experience depression over the next three years and also do better academically.

Britain and the U.S. are more unequal than other advanced countries and have lower average well-being among their children. In Sweden 8% of children live at below 60% of median income.  In Britain the number is 22%.

The report makes recommendations to parents, teachers, government, media and society at large.  They include:

People who bring a child into the world should have a long-term commitment to each other and should aim to live harmoniously with each other.

For children whose birth is not celebrated through a religious ceremony like christening, there should be a civil birth ceremony where parents celebrate the birth of their child and vow to care for the child.

Support for parents should include free parenting classes available around childbirth, and psychological support if their own relationship falters, or if their child has emotional or behavioural difficulties.

At least 1,000 more psychological therapists should be trained to support children and families.

Schools should be 'values-based communities' promoting mutual respect between teachers, parents and children.  They must develop character as well as competence.

Personal, social and health education in secondary schools should be taught by specialists trained to teach these difficult subjects.

Teachers in deprived areas should be paid significantly more than elsewhere to ensure that teaching quality and teacher turnover is no worse in deprived areas than elsewhere.

School league tables and SATs should be abolished.  Testing prior to GCSEs should continue within schools but purely as a guide to the progress of every individual child.

Advertising aimed at children under 12 should be banned, as should all advertisements for alcohol or unhealthy food on television before 9 p.m.

The government must achieve its target for the reduction of child poverty.

30,000 children and young people, parents, professionals and organisations contributed to the two-year inquiry. The report's lead author is Lord Richard Layard and the report is evidence-based and covers the lives of children, beginning with family and friends, expanding to lifestyle, values and schools, and ending with mental health and child poverty. The report  'A Good Childhood: searching for values in a competitive age'  is published by Penguin.

Further information about The Good Childhood Inquiry:

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