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Selfish adults, damaged children, missing evidence.

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2009 by Alan Lovell Tagged: , , ,

The BBC reports that “The aggressive pursuit of personal success by adults is now the greatest threat to British children, a major independent report on childhood says. It calls for a sea-change in social attitudes and policies to counter the damage done to children by society. ..” blah blah, all very sad etc. Poor children and all that. But what intrigued me about this story is that “The panel, made up of 11 experts including eight university professors, says its conclusions are evidence based.” Evidence-based eh? Well, what fun. I’m always interested in what passes as ‘evidence-based’ in non-healthcare settings, so I just had to potter off and have a quick look at the report to see what methods they’d used to reach their evidence-based conclusions…

Firstly, I learnt what they had set out to do. They wanted to find out 1) what are the conditions for a good childhood?; 2) what obstacles exist to those conditions today? 3) what changes could be made which on the basis of evidence would be likely to improve things? These may be changes in the behaviour of parents, teachers, government, voluntary sector or faith organisations, or in society at large. Sounds great, eh?

I was very excited to see a link entitled “See, read and hear the evidence“, which I clicked on with great anticipation. To my dismay, all the evidence seems to be is a bunch of interviews and questionnaires asking children what they think about life, a handful of focus groups, and, and… well, and that’s it! Surely they can’t think this is evidence-based? Undaunted, I looked further throughout the site, thinking that there must be something more than this. I continued to look around and found, tucked away, a reference to the fact that the panel had undertaken “a comprehensive review of all the available research.” Great, that’s more like it… but in looking further at any of the outputs of the report, could I find anything about a review of the available research…? I think you’ve guessed the answer… and it’s not ‘yes’. Instead, I see paragraphs that read as such: “We have tried to avoid ‘over-interpreting’ and creating complex concepts. As far as is possible, the approach we have adopted below is to present young people’s views in a relatively straightforward way. This approach is reinforced by the use of numerous verbatim quotes, the text of which is presented exactly as written by young people on the questionnaire.” Oh heavens.

Maybe they have done an evidence review and just not told anyone? Maybe they have looked at high quality controlled trials that have tested defined interventions? Maybe they have considered research looking at specific, measurable outcomes ? Maybe they have appraised and synthesised the very best research out there on childhood in the UK and overseas? Or maybe they’ve just collected millions of quotes from kids and taken a bunch that provide a nice narrative for a moralistic crusade from a panel of experts that contains, rather inexplicably, two ‘faith leaders’, and was sponsored by an organisation that is allied to the C of E; they recommend, among other things, that parents should “help children develop spiritual qualities”, and they say on their website that “… the decline of religious and, more recently, secular belief in social obligation means there is less confidence in values such as generosity and fairness” Really? What’s your evidence?

Look, there are professors and things on the panel. Maybe they have done a good job. Really, I do so hope so. But please show us the real evidence, not a carefully chosen quote from a seven year old to prove your point! “Well, I think people should be nicer” *Sigh* It’s adorable, it really is; but you can’t call it evidence-based, surely, even in the woolly field of social studies – can you??

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