Home alone children: The construction of a social problem

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Home alone children: The construction of a social problem

Postby DrachenSachen » Tue Mar 25, 2008 1:44 pm

Calcraft, Rebecca (2004) Children left at home alone: the construction of a social problem. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.


The question of when a child is old enough to be left at home alone, and under what circumstances, is a dilemma faced by many parents and professionals. Adopting a social constructionist perspective of social problems, this thesis explores professional perceptions and policy responses to the issue of children left at home alone since the passing of the Children Act in 1989. The law in England and Wales does not specify an age at which it is deemed safe to leave a child unsupervised at home, a practice sometimes referred to as 'self-care'. Professionals respond to the issue through non-legalistic, more persuasive interventions. The media also plays a role in regulating parenting practices, as demonstrated in the early 1990s, when the British press covered a number of stories involving parents who left their children at 'home alone'. The issue continues to bubble up from time to time, but calls for more specific law to manage the problem have gone unheeded.

Drawing on interviews with child welfare professionals and campaigners who work at national level, and on an analysis of policy, campaigning and educational documents, I explore how the issue is constructed, responded to and resisted as a social problem. I conclude that this is an example of an 'unconstructed' social problem because, despite continued public and professional concern, there has been no clear legislative response. Understanding how and why some social problems 'fail' is a key contribution to the literature on the social construction of social problems, which has focused mainly on 'successful' social problems to date.

Full text available as: PDF here:-

http://etheses.nottingham.ac.uk/archive ... thesis.pdf
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Re: Home alone children: The construction of a social problem

Postby Jennyfowler » Tue Apr 22, 2008 8:04 am

During the Brick Kiln and Mills section of History - apart from many children who died under piles of bricks as they were stacking them - it was a forgone conclusion that several walking babes would fall into the household fires as Mothers were forced to leave them to work in the Brick Kilns. Ditto many kids were put up chimneys and worked down mines.

This relatively new concept of Childhood and the now rightly so law of not leaving children at home on their own - WHY WERE MILL AND BICK KILN OWNERS ALLOWED TO FORCE MOTHERS TO WORK AND LEAVE CHILDREN AT HOME.

So why isn't this a proper law then. I also feel the loose law now of 12 is too young. I was left and it was nightmare for me. The oldest child does may provision in their heads on how to look after their siblings - and not going into care.

As we now know that gong into care is akin to being abused all children should be kept in families and given support. Sure Start does a lot of good work and will be disbanded ASAP when the tories get in. But it needs expanding so that problem families have contact on a day to day basis. This will be costly.

Does this long history of working children and mothers make it very difficult for England to be come a child centered Country. Is this the reason why children are still Pawns.
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Re: Home alone children: The construction of a social problem

Postby poppy » Tue Apr 22, 2008 7:49 pm

Without getting bogged down in sources (lets leave that in the Madeleine thread for now please), this government is doing nothing but promoting "latch-key"kids, and the encouragement of assuming young children can be safely left alone.

As many of you may know, single parents have been able to claim income support until their youngest child reached 16 years of age without having their benefit penalised. This has now stopped, and single parents are forced to attend "Back to Work" interviews when their youngest child reaches 12. This is to change again (next year or the year after I recollect) and these interviews will be compulsory when the youngest child reaches 8 years. If a person fails to attend these interviews and provide proof they have made positive steps in applying for jobs or re-training, their benefit will be cut or stopped completely.

At this point I can visualise Icesugar doing a song and dance. That's right;-get the slobs back to work! Unfortunately, life is not that simple. A single parent has to work a minimum of 16 hours in order to claim working tax credit which can include some child-care costs. Finding a job that fits into school hours and term times is virtually impossible so, generally, child-care provision is an essential requirement. To claim some child-care costs the carer has to be registered but only 80% of the costs can be claimed for 1 child to a maximum of £175pw, raising to a maximum of £300pw of total costs, no matter how many children, of 80% of the total.

To put this in perspective; if Kate McCann was a single parent on a low wage she would have to work a minimum of 16 hours to claim benefit. If she worked 4 x 4 hr shifts, estimating an hour either side to drop 3 children at a creche/child-minders, she would require child-care for 24 hours per week. If the costs are based on £5.50 per hour for each child this would cost £396pw. She would only be eligible for 80% of £300 leaving a shortfall of £156 for her to find each week. If she was paid minimum wage she would only be earning £90pw!! Of course, this example assumes the children are all toddlers, but, would you want to leave twins of 8 years and their 9 year old sister alone, without supervision, ouside of school hours and during holidays?

Until this government make affordable (free?) childcare a priority there will be an increasing number of young kids left roaming the streets or unattended at home because their sole parent is being forced back into the workplace. And when these children are arrested in a few years time for criminal offences that sole parent will have to shoulder the blame for neglecting their child/ren. We are continually being told that children are brought up better with 2 parents but this government appear to want to deprive children of the 1 remaining.

Hope this doesn't sound too political; it's not meant to be :) Just another example of mixed signals spewed out from certain quarters and an attempt to explain the complications of the Great British benefit system :? .
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Re: Home alone children: The construction of a social problem

Postby justaperson » Tue Apr 22, 2008 8:06 pm

"Self-care" Where is George Orwell when you need him? The concept of caring for children is being eroded gradually by the government/s. Children cannot be made responsible for themselves in a vacuum. As a single parent I had to leave my teenage children at six or seven in the morning (depending on the job), with breakfast plates laid out on the table, hoping they DID go to school. They did, thank goodness - but however one tries to bring up children properly, it can't be done by being absent.
The punitive laws punish the children and influence their future pattern.
Neglected children are postponed trouble. I know of several tragic endings and no amount of so-called careers or money can repair that damage. The children do not have a chance.
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Re: Home alone children: The construction of a social problem

Postby Torti » Tue Apr 22, 2008 8:45 pm

Here in the US, the "latchkey kids" are an ongoing problem. Single mothers, both parents working out of necessity for keeping a roof over the family, the reasons go on and on. My son and his wife both work. They have 3 boys, the oldest is 12, the twins are 9. They are in school all day, latchkey after school two or three days a week. The other days my daughter (their aunt) picks them up after school or one of the parents will get them. It takes a tremendous amount of scheduling, but these three boys are not left on their own.

Something else that contributes to this problem here is the lack of extended family available for child care. We are now living in nuclear family dwelling units (parent(s) plus child(ren)) with no unmarried (old-maid) aunts or widowed grandparents around. They are living clear across the country in retirement centers or are too busy to be bothered with the children.

I have no easy answers.
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