Parents or professionals: who decides?

(This is cross-posted from the K802 Module Blog accessible only to registered students. The aim of posting it here is to provide a flavour of the ideas, themes and debates featured in K802 Critical Practice with Children and Young People.)

For a week or so towards the end of the summer, the British media were dominated by the story of Ashya King, a five-year-old boy whose parents removed him without medical permission from a hospital in Southampton where he was being treated for cancer, and took him abroad.

(Photo via

It was interesting to watch the way that press, television and radio coverage of the story unfolded, and to notice how public sympathies shifted over time. To begin with, much was made of the fact that Ashya’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Was this another example of parents rejecting the sound advice of professionals on the basis of unusual religious beliefs?

But then popular opinion, at least as reflected in the media, began to change – for two reasons, I think. The first was that more information about the case emerged, and it became clear that the parents acted as they did because they believed their son wasn’t receiving the best possible treatment for his illness. Specifically, they thought Ashya would benefit from proton therapy, which was not provided by the NHS, but was available in Prague.

The second reason for the change of public mood was the couple’s arrest in Spain, where they had gone to raise funds by selling a holiday home, and their temporary separation from Ashya. The British media, and some politicians, expressed outrage. Now, public sympathies were very much with the parents – and there was widespread anger at what was seen as the over-reaction of the British and Spanish police.

The Ashya King case was in the news at the same time as the scandal over widespread child abuse in Rotherham, where police and professionals seemed to have done little to protect hundreds of vulnerable girls from sexual grooming gangs. There was quite a lot of comment on Twitter and elsewhere about the mismatch between the two stories: why so little action to catch real abusers, and so much attention to parents who were only seeking the best for their child?

The Ashya King highlighted some intriguing dilemmas and debates that keep recurring in relation to the needs of children and young people. Who gets to decide what is in the best interests of the child – parents or professionals? What is the state’s role in determining the welfare of a child or young person? And what about the child’s own voice in all of this: if Ashya had been a little older, should he have had a say in what treatment he received?

Many of these questions are discussed in K802. For example, Unit 1 of Block 1 Conceptual context explores how ‘common sense’ ideas about children and their welfare are reproduced by media stories. Unit 2 discusses issues of culture and diversity and raises the question of how to balance the cultural (and religious) identities of children (and their families) with notions of children’s rights. And Unit 3 returns to the vexed question of how best to enable children and young people to have an active voice in decisions about their welfare.

If these questions and debates interest you, or are relevant to your work with children and young people, why not follow this link to find out more about K802 and how you can register.


Coincidentally, BBC Radio 4′s Inside Health programme yesterday included a discussion of the Ashya King case and the implications for working with parents and children. It featured our former Open University colleague Dr. Liz Forbat, now at the University of Stirling. You can listen to the programme here, though the link is likely to be removed after a few days.

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Welcome to new K802 students

A warm welcome – and good luck – to all new students starting K802 Critical Practice with Children and Young People next week. We’ll be re-posting selected items from the Module Blog (visible only to registered students) on this site, to provide a flavour of what current K802 students are talking about.

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Child abuse – or love’s young dream?

(This is re-posted from the K802 blog for registered students – as an example of the posts to be found there, and as an illustration of the kind of issues covered by the module)

I don’t know about you, but the news story  last summer about Megan Stammers, the teenager who ran away to France with her schoolteacher certainly gripped our household. It wasn’t just that our family had taken the same high-speed train from Paris just a few weeks earlier, or that the shopping street in Bordeaux where they were arrested was one we knew well from our own stay in the city. What really prompted heated discussion around our kitchen table was the issues that the story through up – about adult responsibility, the age of consent, and the definition of childhood.

Because the schoolgirl in question was still only 15, she was legally a child and therefore cast in the news coverage as the victim of an abduction by her 30-year-old teacher, Jeremy Forrest, who ran the risk of being accused of child abuse and branded as a sex offender. This outraged at least one teenaged member of my own family, who thought the girl was old enough to make her own decisions, and for these to be respected, however wayward they seemed to others. And, of course, if the girl had been just a year older, and the teacher perhaps a few years younger, the media might have told the story differently: as one of two romantic young lovers running away to seek their happiness.

The story provides a useful illustration of some of the issues discussed in Block 1 of K802. Do we tend to construct children and young people as passive ‘victims’ – even when they’re almost adults – and thus deprive them of ‘agency’ and responsibility for their own actions? Does this influence our response to issues such as teenage pregnancy, for example? And to what extent are our reactions culturally conditioned? After all, 15-year-olds in some societies (and in our own society, in centuries past) are often married with children, and thus treated as responsible adults. Does this mean that all our attitudes to children and childhood are socially and culturally constructed? Or are there certain basic, universal ideas associated with childhood that we should hold on to?

None of this is to take away from the rather sad realities of this particular news story. Inevitably, it ended badly, with the teacher in custody and the schoolgirl back at home, presumably heartbroken. Perhaps the TV pundit who said he felt sorry for both pupil and teacher, because at the end of the day they were both just a couple of rather immature children, had it about right.  What do you think?

Posted in Gender, K802 2012 | Leave a comment


The Open University module Critical Practice with Children and Young People is currently ‘in presentation’ – to use a bit of OU jargon. In other words, students are part-way through the module – they started back in October 2012 – and will finish in June.

If you’re interested in studying K802,then follow the link to the OU website to find out more. The next presentation begins in October 2013 – but it’s never too early to express an interest and start planning!

2013 could be the year in which you take a step up to Master’s level study - and to improving your academic and professional prospects.

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Changing course

There’s been a change of personnel at the K802 team – the Open University team that’s responsible for the Masters module Critical Practice with Children and Young People.

Rachel Thomson, who co-edited the Reader with Martin Robb, and contributed a chapter on ‘Troubling boundaries between the personal and the professional: teachers becoming mothers’ (as well as starring in our Youtube video!) left the OU at Christmas to take up a new post, as Professor of Childhood and Youth Studies at Sussex University. We wish Rachel well – but we’ll certainly miss her.

In Rachel’s place, we’ve welcomed to the K802 team our colleague Andy Rixon, who also wrote a chapter for the Reader, entitled ‘Childcare social work: perspectives on the professional’.

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Looking for a new course for October 2012?

It’s not too early to be thinking about your study plans for the autumn. If you work with children or young people, and already have a first degree, but want to progress academically as well as professionally – why not take a closer look at Critical Practice with Children and Young People (K802), a core module in The Open University’s highly-respected Masters in Childhood and Youth?

There’ll be more posts about the course in the coming months – so watch this space. And if you’re interested, do take time to browse through some of the older posts on this site – they’ll give you a flavour of the course.

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A new year of K802 is about to begin…

Registration for the October 2011 presentation of the Open University Masters module Critical Practice with Children and Young People (K802) has now closed.

The K802 module website is now live, so if you’ve registered for the module, you’ll be able to log in via your OU ‘StudentHome’ page. That’s now the place to get updates and join in K802-related discussions – the site even has its own blog, exclusively for K802 students and tutors.

The K802 year starts officially at the end of this week – on 1st October. So if you’re a new student, about to start your studies on the module – good luck, and we look forward to meeting you over at the K802 site!

All of this means there’ll be rather less activity on this (public) blog in the next few months. We’ll be back with news, views and updates, later in the year.

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Countdown to a new year of K802

The next presentation of the Open University’s Masters module, Critical Practice with Children and Young People (K802) begins in just over one month’s time – on 1st October 2011. However, it’s not too late to sign up for K802: registration doesn’t close until 22nd September.

Coincidentally, that’s also the date that the K802 website goes ‘live’: so, if you’ve registered for the module, you’ll be able to access all the online learning materials, discussion forums and social media tools you need from that date.

If you’ve already registered for K802, we look forward to working with you over the coming year. If you haven’t yet signed up: what are you waiting for?

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Study for a PhD with the OU

The main focus of this blog is the Open University MA module Critical Practice with Children and Young People (K802) – but maybe what you’re really interested in is studying for a research degree? Perhaps you’ve already done some Masters-level study, possibly involving some experience of research, and you’re passionate about a topic that you want to explore further.

If so, you might be interested in this ad:

The Faculty of Health and Social Care at The Open University is seeking high-quality applications for funded full time studentships and self funded part time students.  The Faculty’s research focuses on issues such as ageing and later life; reproductive and sexual health; death and dying; living with a disability and/or long term condition; children and young people; parenting and families. Our research draws on various methodologies and forms of analysis and much is based on multidisciplinary work across the social sciences, in particular drawing on medical sociology, critical psychology, anthropology and other critical, applied social sciences

The Faculty has a lively post-graduate student community undertaking wide-ranging research both in the UK and internationally. 

Studentships commence from autumn 2011. Applicants must normally reside in the UK for the duration of the studentship.

For detailed information, and to apply online, go to; or contact Faculty Research Office, Tel: 01908 858373 or e-mail  Closing date: 12 noon on 31 August.  Interviews to be held in October.

Equal Opportunity is University Policy

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Professionals walking on egg shells?

In a speech earlier this year, prime minister David Cameron argued that what he called ‘state multiculturalism’ has failed:

Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.  We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.  We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.

The speech echoed some of the concerns raised by Heidi Mirza, in her contribution to the OU module K802 Critical Practice with Children and Young People (though it’s fair to say the author probably wouldn’t agree with all of the prime minister’s conclusions). In a chapter in the module Reader entitled ‘Walking on egg shells: multiculturalism, gender and domestic violence’, Professor Mirza, who is based at London University’s Institute of Education, argues that an ‘overly sensitive multicultural approach’ has had negative consequences for black and minority ethnic young women, particularly those who are victims of so-called ‘honour’ crimes. The argument of the chapter is complex and difficult to summarise here, but it challenges those who work with children and young people to think about how sensitivity to cultural diversity might conflict with a respect for universal human rights – including the rights of the child.

Mirza’s chapter is a key text in Unit 2 of K802, which goes under the heading ‘Culture, diversity and practice’. Another important resource for this unit is an article by Pragna Patel of the campaigning organisation Southall Black Sisters, which explores the impact of multiculturalism on schools and highlights the dangers – particularly for girls – of over-emphasising a ‘singular religious identity’ which might come into conflict with their identities and needs as young women.

Marise Gowenlock of Multicultural Family Base, Leith, interviewed for the K802 DVD

The issues raised by Mirza’s chapter and Patel’s article are difficult and controversial, but of vital importance to professionals working in increasingly diverse, multi-ethnic settings. One of the DVDs produced for K802 is a case study of Multicultural Family Base, a social work project in Leith, Edinburgh which, as well as working directly with a variety of ethnic communities, seeks to prepare professionals to work with children and families in a multicultural society. The DVD includes video footage of social work students interacting with groups of young people and parents, as well as audio interviews with both trainees and experienced professionals.

The unit on culture, diversity and practice forms part of the first block of K802 – which explores the conceptual context of work with children and young people. The blocks that follow look in turn at the changing organisational context, and the overlapping personal and professional contexts, of everyday practice.

If you work with children and young people and want to contribute to this debate, feel free to leave a comment on this post. Better still, why not register for K802, and take part in discussions with students from a variety of backgrounds in different parts of the UK, about this and other key issues facing today’s workers in children’s and young people’s services?

Posted in Culture, Gender, Learning materials | 2 Comments