Saturday, October 31, 2009

More on the Watford playground row

A reader has written to me with some more of the background to the row about Watford Borough Council and its adventure playgrounds:

Perhaps Watford Lib Dems were guilty of summoning up folk demons, but they felt very much already present. There have been a range of problems at this adventure playground in which health and safety and child protection play their part.

So it’s partly just a case of it being a practical problem having parents loitering around when children are actually in the care of the council (parent tells off someone else’s child whose parent arrives at end of session to find child is upset and then remonstrates with council staff etc.) and whose behaviour was becoming a practical management issue.

Partly it is health and safety – parent goes unauthorised into staff area to make cup of tea, child follows them and gets scalded, parent of scalded child threatens to sue council.

And partly it is child protection – not fear of paedophilia but custodial parent fearful that with unrestricted access of adults to play session non-custodial parent might come along and take child away.

The play area is in a white working class area - the type of voters parties get accused of ignoring and who feel disempowered and not listened to. The parents can also display some challenging behaviour when attending these adventure playgrounds.

So maybe the staff who handled it directly or the politicians were culpable in not saying to the parents "Your behaviour is causing us problems so you’re not welcome any more." But in fact this was a case where sheer common sense practicality, H&S and child protection all merged into one another. Conveying this in the right way was hard.

But the message seemed to be accepted except by a couple of people, one of whom is a disgruntled former council employee. And when the press got hold of the story the council tried to outline the practicalities, but it’s the bits that can be portrayed as being about paedophiles that get reported.

Dorothy Thornhill’s blog post reflected this feeling of not being able to do right for doing wrong. It was a response to, rather than a cause of, the controversy, and a comment on media hypocrisy rather than on the issue itself.

Of course, the last time Watford had a paedophile controversy, it involved the council rebutting accusations that its new glass-fronted leisure centre and swimming pool offered an open invitation to paedophiles to stare at the children in the pool from the street.

The same reader says the bad coverage for Watford Lib Dems arose from a local paper story that omitted any reference to the difference between these adventure playgrounds and conventional playgrounds.

This was picked up by a news agency who took the local story verbatim and passed it to national papers, who in turn ran it without contacting the council to discuss the background and details. Stripped of its local context, the story took on a different aspect entirely.


Anonymous said...

Interesting though that the Tories are citing your previous blog poston the story as evidence they are right and the Lib Dems are wrong.

Jonathan Calder said...

I've been quoted in the Commons by two different Tory MPs in the past. They are great scavengers.

Any links to these Tory citations?

crewegwyn said...

So what exactly are these Tories (referred to by Anon above) saying that is "right" - that parents should wander around these sessions as the mood takes them ???

Anonymous said...

I am one of the parents that was staying at the facility, because my child, is under five, four and half to be exact…..
The prerequisite always was that a parent/carer should always be around, if your child was under five, so to suggest, that parents just started hanging around for no reason is not true……
I will provide a link to the ofsted report conducted in 2007 that sums up, what this adventure playground is all about, everything else is just spin, to get oneself out of hot water

If the staff had any problems with the parents, they could have banned the individuals, if there warning was not heeded.....
Was all this really necessary????