That’s what they think in England, as you shall see. Our guest blogger today is Sarah Ebner. She edits School Gate ( ), a blog about all aspects of education for the London Times. She’s always interested to hear from other parents. Contact her at

By Sarah Ebner  

When I was gently persuaded to become co-chair of my son’s pre-school, I didn’t expect a police check. The position wouldn’t mean working with the 3- and 4-year-olds, but liaising with the head teacher, treasurer and other staff about issues such as budgets and salaries.

It sounded so easy, but became surprisingly complicated early on due to the vast number of forms apologetically passed on to me by the head teacher. She said that even though I wasn’t ever going to be alone in the nursery with the children (or generally there at all), I still had to pass an “enhanced disclosure” check by the police. OFSTED — England’s Office for Standards in Education — saw my agreement to be co-chair as meaning that I was “to be working with children.” Except, of course, that I wasn’t.

When I saw that the form was the size of a  small book, I was almost put off the whole thing. But duty called, and I filled it all  in, even ringing a couple of people up to ask them for references (to say what – that they knew me and I wasn’t a pedophile?). I heard nothing for a while, but eventually I was told that OFSTED had “established my suitability” to “provide childcare.” Then I  received a quite scary looking certificate that stated I had no police record.

My experience has, sadly become quite common in the UK. Parents are being told not to volunteer at schools unless they have a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) certificate, and this is the same for other voluntary groups working with children. The historic reasons for this are understandable – the rule change was introduced after the dreadful murder of two schoolgirls in 2002 – but it has since been expanded. There is now a sense that all adults are guilty until proven innocent with one of these pieces of paper. Is that what we really want in our society?

Sociologist Frank Furedi recently co-authored a study, “Licensed to Hug,”  (  which argues, “child protection policies in Britain are poisoning the relationship between the generations.” Furedi, who is known for his strong views on how we over-protect our children these days, says it is putting people off volunteering, and making all adults suspicious of each other.

In the past few weeks, his view has been bolstered by the case of Jayne Jones, mother of 14-year-old Alex, from Wales. Alex has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and Jayne has always accompanied him to school in a taxi. Now Alex has been told that he has to travel alone until his mother passes a CRB check.

If we could just learn to trust each other again it might make a better society for our children and for ourselves.  — Sarah


Parenting tips from Mad Men

One of the many joys of watching “Mad Men” is seeing how worried — not — the parents were about their kids, at least in this fictional portrayal of the early ’60s.

The kids are told to run off and play in another room so mom can have coffee with a friend. They’re put in a playpen…so mom can have coffee with a friend. Maybe I just like the show because I love having coffee with a friend (and think the kids can pretty much take care of themselves while I do).  Anyway, in the best scene, a girl of about 6 or 7 twirls into the room announcing she’s a fairy, or space monster, or something, dressed head to toe in a costume that consists of a dry cleaning bag.

The mother is horrified! “If I find those clean clothes on the floor, young lady, you are in big trouble.”

Visions of crumpled clothes, not imminent death, dance in her head.

So I looked up the stats on plastic bags. Are they really so bad or are we just paranoid? Must we really keep them away from our kids?

Yes and no.

Yes, about 25 children do die each year, suffocated by bags. Horrible. But according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, most of these have been children under the age of 1.  They rolled into a bag and couldn’t roll out, or a plastic bag of clothes fell on them and they couldn’t get out from underneath and suffocated.

These are terrible stories. But they have nothing to do with a 6-year-old twirling around in a dry cleaning bag she can yank off whenever she wants. They are really stories of babies suffocated by baby-hood — by not being able to crawl away yet, or even lift a head.

We have a tendency these days to lump all children together as totally incompetent and vulnerable. At the risk of, well, risk, we don’t give them any credit for figuring out how to handle themselves, even as they start growing up. We even forget that that’s the way a child does grow up: by handling situations that are a little tough.

It’s not that I’m not advocating plastic bag face masks. I’m just wondering about how, in trying to prevent any childhood trauma, we have forgotten that children and babies are not the same thing. It’s something moms in the ‘60s — at least the ones on TV — understood, even as they sipped their Chase & Sandborn coffee. — Lenore