Conversations about social futures – some connections
September 3, 2008
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The vulnerable child – some connections

At a local community level, St Albans resident Peggy Kelly made the following points in her submission to the Christchurch City Council’s Community Service Committee (11 October 1999). This submission was made on behalf of St Albans people in the area of Orion Development (in picture) near Packe Street Park.

Those of us who enjoy our community get to know about the precarious housing situations our neighbours find themselves in. It would be a great thing if the council were to find itself in a position to help by increasing the options available to residents.

The community could easily absorb some more older people with discretionary time to spend, just to balance the fast young professionals now buying up the new in-fill units. We need people around in the neighbourhood to relate to the children; spare aunties and grandparents for our young. Students and young professionals, while adding a colourful and lively dimension to our locality, cannot so easily fill this role. Hillary Clinton’s much touted statement “It takes a village to raise a child” is verified every day. We have in our part of town many lonely children, children with families stretched beyond endurance; families that have had to move again and again and again.

There are some special older people in our street renting privately at present. These are people our community cannot afford to lose, and who do not want to have to leave us. Whether or not they have the option to stay is largely at the whim of the property investor and the state of the market. These are the sort of people who would benefit from being able to rent a home in the knowledge that they will have it as long as they need it. These are the people our neighbourhood needs to be able to keep. They are also the sort of people we would like to have more of!

Richard Weissbourd is currently a lecturer in education at Harvard Graduate School of Education and at the Kennedy School of Government. In his book The Vulnerable Child, What really hurts America’s children and what we can do about it (1996), Weissbourd notes the following:

With parents tied up with work and constantly under stress, positive friendships have become even more important to children. Friends are not only a great joy of being human, but, research shows, they contribute to almost every important domain of children’s development, including emotional, linguistic, moral and cognitive.

Children also need adults in the community who can spot problems, point out routes to jobs, simply listen. Nearby adults can also be repositories of wisdom – “old wise heads” – who confer to with children a sense of solidity and continuity with the past. Sometimes a community mentor – a pastor, a recreation leader, an elderly neighbour – can be much more, providing the kind of steady encouragement and recognition that heals fractures in a child’s basic confidence and trust. In adolescence especially, when children make sense of themselves in part by understanding how they are perceived by admired adults, developmental psychologists have long recognized that children are offered a kind of second chance, an opportunity to internalize the confident expectations of an adult other than a parent.

Policy makers and the public are too caught up in debates about welfare and single parenthood and family values and the underclass. We need to inform the debate and look more deeply at these subtler deprivations that are every bit as much at the root cause of children’s troubles

Compared with other problems of childhood, such as violence and single parenthood, repeated moving has received little attention … Yet repeated moving may be just as damaging as the more often acknowledged problems. Constant mobility can deprive children of nearly all the ingredients of steady growth, creating stresses on parents that impair parenting, robbing children of opportunities for lasting achievement and hindering children’s ability to draw on friends and community adults.


Richard Weissbourd suggests academic and policy attention is focused on violence, welfare and the underclass, while more subtle deprivations, such as a lack of connectedness and belonging in local community may be every bit as much at the root cause of children’s troubles. What do you think?

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