Friday, September 29, 2006

Oh, don't be so silly

Thanks to Ian for sending over this from the Guardian:
Despite the problems, data sharing might sometimes be justified, but only after a careful and specific weighing of the pros and cons. Instead the government sweepingly proposes sharing wherever it may "fight crime" or otherwise be "in the public interest". Until this cavalier tone changes, citizens will be right to resist any radical redrawing of the boundaries.
As if to demonstrate the point about cavalier attitudes, here's the Government's Chief Information Officer, John Suffolk, talking at a Silicon forum:

Addressing fears about personal data being shared, he said: "Look at the situation in the private sector. You can't get credit unless you agree to your data being shared."

Suffolk added that the UK is too quick to criticise government IT projects. "It's a British cultural thing to only look at what's gone wrong," he said.

Quite apart from the fact that we all have a choice when it comes to applying for credit, see our blog about IT projects that haven't gone wrong.

The 10-minute label

Apparently it only takes 10 minutes to pick out tomorrow's 'menaces to society':

New mothers will be given a 10-minute test developed by psychologists to help identify whether their babies risk developing antisocial behavioural problems later in life.

Designed to allow health workers to identify women failing to bond with their children and needing help, the questionnaire is aimed at mothers with babies under six months of age.

It has been developed by researchers at Heriot-Watt University’s family and personal relationships laboratory and was funded by the Scottish Executive’s Centre for Integrated Healthcare Research as part of its plans to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Radically different

Now here is a really radical education experiment - it will be fascinating to see what happens.

A school with one of the country's worst truancy records is to offer 24-hour teaching, allowing pupils to choose when - or indeed whether - they attend.

Classrooms at Bridgemary Community Sports College, Gosport, Hants, will be open from 7am until 10pm and the 1,000-pupil comprehensive will provide online teaching throughout the night.

Cheryl Heron, the head teacher, said her proposals, approved by Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, challenged conventional thinking on how schools should run. "Why must teaching only be conducted in a classroom? It is possible to teach a child without him or her ever regularly setting foot inside a school.

"We are talking about schools changing to meet the needs of children rather than requiring children to fit in with the conventional school year, which dates back to agrarian times."

Criminal prediction

A trenchant Guardian letter today about Government pre-crime plans:

While we would wish to support the intentions of Tony Blair and HilaryArmstrong's Social Exclusion Action Plan (Report, September 13), we share major concerns about the message which some parents may take from their announcement. The proposal to provide early support for vulnerable families through health visitors is welcome, but the suggestion that they predict which parents are at risk of bringing up children who will be offenders is dangerous.

Trying to coerce parents of children thought to be at risk of future offending into accepting early intervention is unlikely to be effective. Tests to predict behaviour that is relatively uncommon cannot claim more than 25% accuracy and have major ethical problems. Simplistic predictive testing will not provide the answer to complex human problems. Initiatives based on selective and misleading evidence risk further alienating some of our most vulnerable groups and wasting scarce resources.

The vast majority of parents know when help is needed, but too often cannot get access to it.

How then can Britain take the tough decisions needed to improve the situation, while avoiding a culture of blame and stigma?

The most successful services are those which work in partnership with families, across agencies, recognising the complexity of people's lives, offering ready access to support that does not stigmatise, but builds on strengths, aspirations and a sense of responsibility. Some such initiatives have been highlighted in the present plan to tackle social exclusion, but some have been misrepresented by a narrow, punitive tone.

Poverty, housing and educational disadvantage are still the factors most closely associated with harm to children, with poor physical and mental health and with a whole range of family problems. Our society has not yet come close to ensuring that all children have the environment they need to achieve their potential. This needs to be a focus of political action.

We need to be much more generous as a society in praising all those parents who do well for their children against the odds. We need to ensure that policies are based on evidence of what can improve social justice and cohesion, strengthen families and communities, and avoid alienation and harm.

Professor Norma Baldwin University of Dundee, Professor Joan Orme University of Glasgow, Professor Michael Preston Shoot University of Bedfordshireand 43 others

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Radically more of the same

Alan Johnson has been setting out ‘radical education reforms’ but don’t get too excited: they’re of the “you’ll jolly well sit there until you’ve eaten it” variety. The first Big Idea is to extend the school week to include Saturdays.

Under the proposal, which is common practice in many independent schools, pupils would be able to do more extracurricular activities such as art, music, drama and dance, as well as catch-up lessons at weekends.
Apart from revealing underlying contempt towards those already working in the arts by intimating that their chosen profession amounts to little more than a worthy Saturday sideline, what is the message here for all the children whose future will lie in music, drama, dance and art? There are plenty of children whose inclinations have left their families with no option but to make a hasty exit from the school system.

We hear often enough about a child’s ‘right to education’ (Article 28 of the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in case you’re interested in the technicalities) but there’s a stunning silence on its Siamese twin, Article 29, that defines exactly what education should be about, as in:
‘States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to (a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.'
On that basis the arts should already be a part of the curriculum, not an extra-curricular ‘enrichment activity’ strictly for Saturday mornings.

Quite frankly, an Education Secretary ought to be a great deal more au fait than this with what the UN Convention has to say on education – after all, the UK has ratified it, even if the Government has spent the intervening years with index fingers in ears, singing loudly whenever it’s mentioned. As to the other ‘radical’ proposal:
Johnson also said he was “seriously considering” raising the compulsory school leaving age from 16 to 18 because too many youngsters had little training or qualifications. He said Britain had a big problem with “neets” — the 220,000 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in education or training.
In other words, as with truancy: if something isn’t working, just do even more of it. We already have record levels of truancy; there were nearly 10,000 permanent and a quarter of a million temporary exclusions last year; only half of young people achieve the Government’s own benchmark of 5 GCSEs at A-C.

If young people are turned off education by the age of 16, prolonging childhood and segregating them from the rest of society for two more years is extremely unlikely to achieve very much that is positive – except for the Government, whose ‘NEET’ figures will look better for a couple of years.

What will it take for this - or any other - Government to rip out our dismal education system and replace it with something fit for purpose? Rather than contemplating yet more ways of controlling the children who fall of the conveyor-belt, a good start would be to ask them what needs to be done – now that really would be radical.

One book that I repeatedly recommend is Charlie Cooper’s ‘Understanding School Exclusion: challenging processes of docility’. Some of the teachers quoted turn popular attitudes to disenchanted young people upside-down:
“If we’re telling the truth about wanting to include the most challenging pupils we need to look at what we do about organising secondary schools in the future. The children who challenge because their behaviour doesn’t fit the pattern, many are doing it because there are things wrong with that pattern. They are more able to reject, or not toe the line or take the standard route, and accept ‘this is the way you’ve got to be’. Yes, some are disruptive. But some are the most intellectually challenging of the system and we should listen to what they’re saying.”

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Recurrent headaches

Finally had a chance to catch up with a Guardian piece on the history of worry about childhood. This comes from a century ago:
Maud Pember Reeves, a Fabian, articulated the new ways of thinking. Parents and the state, she thought, should be co-guardians of a child: "Why should not the nation place all the information, all the security, all the help at its command at the service of its co-guardians, the fathers and mothers? Why should it not act frankly with them in the national interest, and help them to see that the needs of the child are supplied?"
Well worth a read.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The final countdown

The DfES has launched the consultation on the final regulations to bring the children's Information-Sharing Index into force throughout England. Read it here

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"The dogs are never wrong"

Good to see this in Young People Now:
DrugScope has welcomed a recommendation by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that drug testing and sniffer dogs should not be used in schools. The Pathways to Problems report says any gains from the policy would be offset by costs, organisational issues, and the potential impact on relationships between the school and its pupils.
There's also the little problem of accuracy. Forget what you've been told: sniffer dogs are far from infallible:
The only empirical research into the public deployment of drug dogs was conducted in New South Wales, Australia, and revealed that over a 12 month period 73 per cent of people searched as a result of dog indications had no drugs about their person.
while in the US:
The use of dog indications to justify stop and searches has only recently come under legal scrutiny, and principally in the United States. In 2003, the District Court of Appeal in Florida (Matheson v State of Florida) found that the false response rate of dogs meant that an indication from a dog could not by itself provide the police with reasonable grounds to conduct a stop and search.

Record levels of truancy

Well, we have fast-track prosecution, imprisonment, FPNs, Parenting Orders and the farcical waste of money and children's goodwill that is 'truancy sweeps' and the end result? Truancy figures are higher than ever.

It has been obvious for years that all attempts at reducing truancy are having no effect at all, but rather than putting the millions spent on coercion into a more constructive engagement with children who are completely turned off education, the Government's response has been to carry on doing the same things even harder. What is it about "this isn't working" that they don't understand?

Just imagine what company shareholders would say to a board that persisted in spending money on a policy that, after 9 years, was producing a steady negative trend!

The 'confidential' Information-Sharing Index

It seems that the number of people who will have access to the Children's Index is steadily growing:
THOUSANDS of town hall officials, charity workers and even careers advisers will be given access to the new national children’s database, raising doubts about its confidentiality. The Times has learnt that permission to use the Information Sharing Index has been extended beyond social workers, doctors and teachers to include a wide range of civil servants and children’s services.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The umbilical mobile

Carphone Warehouse has produced an interesting survey of the impact of mobile phones on young people's lives. It's worth reading the short comment piece on page 27 by Dr Pat Spungin, who gives the 83% of parents who say they would use their children's mobiles to track them without consent pretty short shrift, and concludes:

"in our child-centric society the mobile phone keeps parents and children bonded in both senses of the word. It builds relationships by maintaining regular communication but it also ties the child to the parent and vice versa. Sooner or later children have to break free and take responsibility for their own actions and sort out their everyday problems.

"Breaking free also means shifting from total allegiance to family to bring in new allegiances to the peer group. Paradoxically, parents see the mobile phone as a way of retaining parental control while children are using it to build their peer group relationships out of the reach of interfering parents."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Good Childhood Inquiry

The Children's Society has launched an inquiry into the state of childhood. Its Chief Executive, Bob Reitemeier, writing in the Telegraph today points asks:

How is it that in the United Kingdom we are wealthier than ever before yet have failed to translate material gain into a better life for all our children? As has been reported, research into children's wellbeing published last month put the United Kingdom close to the bottom of a table of 25 European countries. Only the Slovak Republic and the Baltic states fared worse. What good is wealth if it doesn't make us happier?

...The confusion surrounding childhood is a result of the contradictions and uncertainty that we demonstrate in our relations with children. On the one hand, we see children and young people as vulnerable and in need of protection. On the other, we see them as a threat to society.

That, in a nutshell, is why we concern ourselves with children's civil rights. Children suffer the same kind of madonna/whore projection of which feminists complain - although in this case it's more of a cherub/demon split. What it indicates is an inability to see children as ordinary human beings of average virtue, but until children are recognised as individuals with human rights to exist, occupy space and express opinions - rather than as a management problem or the repository of adult fantasy or benevolence - it's hard to see how things will get better.

There's an opportunity to put in your own three ha'porth online at the Good Childhood Inquiry website.

NHS IT systems: going awfully well...

Computer Weekly reports that:

More than 110 "major incidents" have hit hospitals across England in the past four months, after parts of the health service went live with systems supplied under the £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS

...the systems installed so far are basic early releases which have only a small number of the planned features. Most safety-­related clinical systems, such as the e-ordering of test results and the prescribing of drugs, which will generate the bulk of transactions, have yet to be implemented. Once they are, "major incidents" could potentially affect many more patients than those that have hit the NHS this summer.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Only trying to help

From the Register:

The government has set out its "vision" for helping the disadvantaged of British society by sharing intelligence about them across the public sector.

...The government's plan to help the disadvantaged was outlined in its Social Exclusion Plan on Monday. The moral basis of the Plan was "rights and responsibilities". That is, the right of the government to interfere in the lives of people it thinks don't know what's good for them, and the responsibility of these "customers" to acquiesce.

As it stated: "The parent of an at-risk child should be given support, but it is also incumbent on them to take this support."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

NB: 'At Risk' doesn't mean what people think

A thoroughly frustrating item on children's databases this morning on R4 'You and Yours', which you can listen to again. Unfortunately none of us involved in the Information Commissioner's report (due out soon) can comment to the media on the subject at the moment, and so couldn't take part in the programme. The net effect is that a glaring inaccuracy has been perpetuated.

Both within ARCH and elsewhere, several of us have done our best to get important messages across, but this morning took us backwards again. Hmm, maybe we should hire an aeroplane and smoke-write slogans across the skies:

  • The Information Sharing Index has not been designed as a 'child protection' measure
  • The information-sharing idea pre-dated the Laming report into Victoria Climbie's death
  • 'At risk' no longer means 'at risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect'
It is this last point that is so crucial, and yet the programme chuntered on with all participants bandying the term around as if the definition hadn't been changed. The Children's Minister was neatly let off the hook of explaining just how the Index fits in with the other components of the 'Integrated Children's System'.

'At risk' now means at risk of not receiving services that arguably might prevent a child from:
  • becoming a criminal
  • failing at school
  • becoming pregnant in her teens
  • becoming 'socially excluded'
The Government estimates that 3-4 million children (one-third of the child population) will need 'additional services' to avoid these outcomes.

As for child protection and Victoria Climbie, the poor child who has become a logo for the information-sharing agenda, see our post on Monday

And please, if you can think of a way of getting the message over to people that this system means every child and that detecting abuse is only one, small sub-category, we'd love to know. We're obviously getting something terribly wrong.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Information-sharing for all

We get the feeling that the Government has decided the only way it can get the whole 'transformational government' agenda through is to pick up the ball and run like hell:

Much more information about both individuals and business will be shared across the public sector, the government will announce today.

The proposals would, for example, allow people to tell government once when they move house, allowing local authority, tax, driving licence and other records to be updated automatically.

Ministers are to publish a "vision statement" saying that more information will routinely be shared across departments "to expand opportunities for the most disadvantaged, fight crime and provide better public services" and in other instances "where it is in the public interest".

Existing safeguards on the sharing of medical, taxpayer and criminal records will be maintained. But the government will argue that within the existing law, much more information could be shared than is routinely the case.

Here at ARCH, we're having another of our Cassandra moments

And another thing

Almost forgot to say that Carlotta and Dave Hill have done some excellent writing about yesterday's Telegraph letter on the state of the nation's children.

Predicting trouble

All in a rush this morning, but two good articles in Community Care here and here on the plans to spot pre-delinquent foetuses.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Whatever happened to child protection?

The Friday Project is talking about the latest 'social exclusion' buzz and making the link with the Information-Sharing Index:

Blair is talking about helping people, while at the same time demonising them. It's as though he's incapable of getting away from the tabloid agenda. When he uses expressions like 'off the rails' and 'menace to society' he's conflating the minority of youngsters who are committing serious crimes or are actually dangerous with those who are a bit of a nuisance, or just deeply troubled. It's like saying we need to screen all adults to simultaneously prevent armed robbery, parking on double yellow lines and depression.

A much bigger problem is how any of this will work. At this point it's worth mentioning the government's planned central database on children, which will surely be the machinery for monitoring children and their families. This is essentially a massive database of all children in the UK, adding new information and collating existing records held by doctors, social services, etc. Whether it will be as successful as the massively-behind-schedule and over-budget central NHS database has not been explained.

Another thing that has yet to be explained is why 'child protection' has vanished from the radar. It was the justification for the introduction of the Index and all its related systems, and Victoria Climbie's name was repeatedly held up as a shield against criticism of the information-sharing agenda. Indeed, Margaret Hodge's mantra, as the Children's Minister responsible, was: "Child protection is more important than privacy". To this day, there are those who still believe that the correct name of the Information Sharing Index is the 'Child Protection Index'. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Child protection is not the priority. The focus is on assessing 'deprived' families in order to predict a child's propensity for crime and educational failure. After all, these cost money. What about abuse and neglect? They may involve only a tiny proportion of the child population, but they are by no means restricted to any particular social class or income bracket. Nor, for that matter, is alcohol abuse: but note the subtle juxtaposition of deprivation and alcoholism in Tony Blair's
'social exclusion' speech last week, conjuring up nightmare visions of slum-dwelling gin-swillers. Pity the child of the alcoholic, middle-class professional, who has the added pressure of keeping up appearances.

Midwives and Health Visitors already assess (or should do) any potential risk of harm to a child or unborn baby. Social workers already intervene - before birth if necessary - to protect the child of dangerous, unstable, substance-abusing or uncaring parents. So who is in this new group of people who need watching? Why do we need a completely new system to recognise them, rather than strengthening what is already there?

'Child protection' has served its purpose and now occupies just one category in a large-scale tracking project: by 2008 the Government will abolish the local Child Protection Registers altogether, relying instead on its database network to pick up abuse alongside a million other concerns. This simply isn't good enough. Genuinely abusive parents are in a completely different category from the "socially excluded" and it takes real concentration to spot them.

Yes, we're angry. And disgusted. A steady 75 children a year die at the hands of their parents; a few thousand more are injured physically or mentally. Sure, it's a small number, and only a fraction of the number of 10-17s who commit offences, but something seems to have gone terribly wrong with the priorities here.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Surveillance gizmos

We mentioned 'Flexispy' the other day (the 'world's most powerful spy software for mobile phones', which enables a buyer to 'secretly record every SMS [text] message, view their call history, and more!')

Now, via Spyblog, there's an item on Outlaw (the IT and data protection law site) on this very subject. According to Pinsent Mason's legal expert on surveillance:

"A piece of software which allows a user to track another person's mobile phone use would be almost impossible to use in the UK without breaking the law"
Naturally the firm supplying flexispy, Vervata, disagrees and points out that it can be used for "child abuse prevention" - in other words, the usual commercial attempt to legitimise surveillance and tracking tools. The Home Office also "confirmed that Vervata was not committing an offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act."

Strange, then, that Flexispy's
website specifically advertises the use of this gadget to "catch cheating spouses!" We've been looking at the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861 and pondering what would constitute counselling an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990

Any thoughts welcome.

Young people's views on information-sharing

A new report on the Government's information-sharing plans, prepared for the Children's Commissioner by the NSPCC, finds that:

Young people were suspicious of the motives behind the creation of the children's index, which will allow professionals to share information about 11 million children, a study by the children's commissioner for England said.

Many of those questioned believed the system would be "incredibly intrusive" and deter them from using sexual and mental health services for fear this would be disclosed to their school or parents.

The young people who took part in the various sessions arranged by the NSPCC raised a huge number of issues, from fears about the safety of their personal data to concerns that they could be labelled or stigmatised. They were also clear that teachers should not have access to information:
They were adamant that teachers should not get access to the database, regarding them as very different professionals to social workers or doctors. Teachers had no right to know about their personal lives, the children said.
Fair enough. Would adults want their employer or line-manager, who has to be worked with every day, to know which public services they were using?

There's also the risk of breaking the 'sealed box' approach that some young people use as a coping mechanism when they are unhappy at school. A few years ago, a lot of concern was in the air about lack of parental involvement with their children's schools. It was pointed out that often it was pupils themselves who didn't want that involvement, with an accompanying assumption that they preferred to exclude their families from what they saw as their own separate arena.

When we talked to young people about this, we found that in some cases it was the other way around: those who loathed school wanted to exclude it from their private lives, so they went to school, did what was necessary, and then tried to forget all about it until the next day. The last thing they wanted was to have their school and not-school life mixed up together.

It's always a good idea to get information straight from the horse's mouth, and so it's a shame the full NSPCC report isn't online yet. The direct comments of the young people are compelling reading. We hope that will be rectified in the next few days.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Those eugenics again

A nice little soundbite from the back of this week's Children Now magazine:
"I worry that the local authorities have a tendency to socially engineer families. They have a middle class view about what the right sort of parenting is" - Markanza Cudby, family law solicitor.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The state of surveillance

Security demi-god Bruce Schneier has flagged up a worthwhile article in Business Week about surveillance, and provided a link to his own essay on 'The Future of Privacy'. Given the hell currently breaking loose this side of the pond, we suggest you go read.

Coincidentally we've just been adding details of yet another new gizmo from the 'destroy-parent-child-relationships' range to our nasty little collection: the flexispy

Cheap shot advertising

Tesco has replaced its 'Computers for Schools' scheme (which, according to the BBC, gives schools a computer for every £100K spent at Tesco) with a new voucher scheme: 'Tesco Sport for Schools and Clubs'.

To launch it in style, they've produced what's being billed as an 'international report' designed to satisfy the current dual obsession with children's bodies and children's badness. Apparently:

Children in Britain are among the most lazy in the world, a report claims. The survey found UK children spend an average of 9.4 hours a week playing computer games or watching TV, but less than one hour a day being active.

The report, commissioned by Tesco, surveyed 3,500 young people from 10 countries around the world, including Britain, the US, Australia and India. Ranking the 10 countries in order of their children's fitness, Britain came in as the seventh fittest nation.

(Um, we're not quite sure how computer/TV use is related to fitness - Australian children appear to occupy the number one spot in both cases)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

And another one bites the dust

According to BBC News:
A new computer system used to process benefits payments has been scrapped at a cost to the taxpayer of £141m, the BBC has learned. The IT project, key to streamlining payments by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), was quietly axed at an internal meeting last month. The project had been central to delivering savings of more than £60m for the DWP by 2008.
In a classic example of English understatement, the BBC notes: "It is the latest in a long series of computer problems for the government." Quite.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Not unconnected with our comments on Booth below, Ideal Government has just directed our steps to Garrick Alder's blog:

Very soon now, crime and disorder will be mapped out on a house-to-house level and displayed on the internet. The maps will be searchable by anyone, including insurance companies, and will also incorporate aerial photography. Backstage, vast amounts of highly sensitive data - including your medical notes - will be sloshed around on local government and emergency services intranet - and across the internet too. Members of the public will be encouraged to submit complaints of anti-social behaviour via email. The resulting crime maps will be used to provide information for, among other things, decisions about architecture in afflicted areas.

He explains what he found out at a meeting of his local 'Community Well-Being Select Committee'. On the agenda was the activities of the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership - a Home Office inspired body that operates throughout the country. In his words:

I was already feeling somewhat queasy by the time a PowerPoint presentation unfolded. Surely, I thought, in the name of all that is most sensible those cannot really be emergency service logs? Later that day, Bedfordshire County Council's press office kindly supplied me with a CD-ROM of the presentation. Yes, the spreadsheets glimpsed in the presentation really were pages from emergency service logs.

The level of detail included: * X and Y co-ordinates allowing pinpointing of crimes and accidents on Ordnance Survey maps * Details of crime victims including address, age and sex * Ambulance data including patient problems.

In this last category, the medically confidential information had been shaded over for presentation to the council. However, on examination it was easily readable, allowing me to zero in on the locations of the following incidents, all from October 1, 2005 * 12 cases of 'assault/rape' * One case each of 'overdose/poisoning' and 'stab/gunshot wound' * 16 cases of 'specific traumatic injuries'

...Such is the CDR partners' belief in data protection that they lifted pages of this data store for a slide show, and then simply handed it out to the public on request. And this is the sort of information that is going to be pinged back and forth.

Go read the full thing. It's gob-smacking.

The vicious, semi-criminal classes

Have you ever seen Booth's poverty maps of London? Although over a century old, they strike us as particularly relevant at the moment. Booth colour-coded London's streets to indicate the social quality of the residents. In the 'Black' position we have 'Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal':
The lowest class which consists of some occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals. Their life is the life of savages, with vicissitudes of extreme hardship and their only luxury is drink
Faring only slightly better are the Dark Blues, a class that:
is not one in which men are born and live and die so much as a deposit of those who from mental, moral and physical reasons are incapable of better work.
And so on up the social scale. Plus ca change.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Child victims

Apologies for our silence at the moment. As you might imagine, the press eruption over children's databases has put us under a good deal of pressure. Tonight's "30Minutes" on Channel 4 at 7.35 will explain something of what's going on, if you're not already familiar with it.

One thought-provoking piece in the Guardian today about public fascination with images of children who are the victims of tragedy:
Bizarrely, there is often an effort to further infantilise these near-infants. Press reports changed James Bulger's name to Jamie, presumably because it sounded cuddlier and more vulnerable than what his family actually called him, while there are newspapers and newsreaders who routinely tag murdered juveniles "little Mary" or "little Stephen".
It's understandable that people are especially disturbed by the murder of children, but it's worth considering that by sentimentalising their vulnerability, we inadvertently collude in prolonging children's status as passive victims.