Friday, 16 November 2007

Children In Need

Today is the BBC's Children In Need day. Across the nation, people are sitting in tubs of baked beans, throwing parties, holding sponsored silences and doing silly things for money. In the television studios an audience gets to gasp in awe at the generosity of individuals and corporations; a few minutes ago a cheque for one million pounds was handed over courtesy of Boots.

My own internal jury is still out on Children in Need. It's a hung jury; half the jurors are conscious of how much help and support we get from places which themselves rely on Children In Need and other fundraisers. The other half hates the fact that my girls become objects of pity and in need of sympathy and a handout, rather than unique individuals.

CiN isn't just about disabled children, but too often the perception seems to be "let's help the poor unfortunates". Lots of feel-good clips about children having magic experiences for the first time ever, parents getting a break from the unbearable burden of caring for their tragically disabled child. Let's guilt the world into emptying their pockets for us. Have a nice pity parade, in between celebrities doing silly things on stage.

Easy to get worked up about being patronised. But then go back a step or two. My own Mog went into school, a special school, full of children with varying degrees of disabilities, and spent the day in fancy dress, raising money for Children in Need. Other children at the school baked biscuits and cakes and sold them. Teachers did some silly things. Children brought in pocket money and parent money, and had good fun whilst at the same time learning about the joy of giving. And whilst I'd have been quite happy this evening to sit and read and listen to the radio, Mog got really caught up in some of the frenzied activities on the television and stayed up later than usual watching them with a big grin on her face. She didn't find the concept patronising - why should I?

Perhaps government should provide all this. Certainly I do believe that where our children have needs, those needs should be met. It is shameful that Mog can be supplied with a superwhizzy Spectra Blitz before her third birthday whilst in a neighbouring county no child under five will be supplied with a power chair, and in a different county again no child under three will be provided with any wheelchair whatsoever. It is shameful that there are families struggling on for years without any respite provision at all because it is not deemed to be an adequate priority for funding, whilst other families living in different areas receive one weekend a month or a few hours a week as a matter of course. It is shameful that children living in one county will be offered different sets of surgical procedures to correct or manage various complications of disability than children living in a different hospital. There should be money available to meet all these needs. There should be adequate funding for all children's services, not simply those relating to disability - I mention these ones only because that's what we know about, living here.
But government is not going to fund these. Disability issues and disadvantaged children generally are not vote winners; recent surveys suggest that the vast majority of children under the age of 18 do not in fact vote at all. Ending CiN and other large fundraisers will not shame government into filling the funding gap, it will simply leave those people who rely on that funding with yet more unmet needs.

Do the ends justify the means? Does it matter if people see my girls as poor unfortunates if that's what it takes to get the help my girls need? They don't mind at all at the moment, do things change if and when they do ever take offense themselves? Are there better ways of raising money? It seems to me that there may be, that it is possible to raise funds without parading the recipients. Would CiN be any less effective if we had the fundraising events, the silly celebrities and the caring public, without the video clips of the poor little unfortunates? Or would that in itself open CiN to accusations of ignoring the very people it sets out to help? Is a charity ball more acceptable than a sponsored soak in a bath of custard?

Answers on a postcard please

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