Has Valentines had its day?

Valentines Day is approaching and as a singleton I loved it. One year I even organised a Valentines Singles Ball so I could match make all my friends. But as a mum I’m just too knackered and jaded to celebrate. I’ll buy a card from the supermarket that my other half won’t appreciate (we have different senses of humour and he’s so not into soppy) but I won’t be going to a restaurant, squeezed in next to several other couples to save on space (nothing romantic about that) and given a very expensive ‘set’ menu.  I also won’t be visiting a spa because I’ll just feel self consious with lots of half naked men around and that’s not really helping with the relaxation part. So is it just me or do others feel this way? Has Valentines had its day?

I thought I’d have a look around to see what stories are being picked up becuase as every PR knows ‘special days’ can increase the ‘newsworthyness’ of your new product, service or campaign. Here are my two favourites:

Lidl the budget supermarket are asking couples to kiss in front of their app built for the occassion. Great engagement idea but will it incrase sales (I doubt it):

Lidl’s Valentine Kiss: digital campaign runs across 25 European countries

Red roses can cost up to £40 a stem, so entrepreneur Sophie Rumble decided to set up her own online shop to make them affordable and give profits to charity.
Image

Key search engines to block child abuse images

I’m really pleased to hear that Google and Microsoft have agreed to block as many as 100,000 search terms for child abuse images. And I’m glad that David Cameron is backing this ‘vote winning’ campaign.

What I can’t understand is why the major search engines needed a push from the Government to do this? Surely it could have been a good PR/CSR exercise? A major online audience in the UK is mums so you might think that would be in the search engines interest to win this audience over. 

And whilst the government will be pushing the search engine organisations to act, the biggest problem is that most child abuse sites are hidden networks whose web addresses are passed on from person to person rather than promoted through search terms.

Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: 

“A better solution would be to spend £1.5m on hiring 12 child protection experts and 12 co-ordinators in each of the police regions to hunt down online predators”.

I hope that the government listen. It’s not just the responsibility of the search engines like Google and Bing to put an end to child abuse. We all need to act to prevent pedophiles from harming our children. Personally, I’d welcome more education on how to keep my child safe then at least I could do my bit.

However let’s not forget that ‘this is a win’ – albeit a small one – in the battle against child abuse. 

Suicide sites for kids

A few years ago I remember a stream of media stories about Bridgend, a town in Wales where there seemed to be an abnormal number of children committing suicide. I don’t remember being particularly aware of the issue before then but ever since it seems that the media regularly report stories about children who’ve been bullied so badly that they feel suicide is the only way out.

I’ve never been bullied and so can’t imagine how awful life is for children who feel that they have no way out. As a mum I worry about how I would handle this happening to my children. I hope I could I prevent them taking the final step, but perhaps they wouldn’t feel able to tell me how they feel. Perhaps they would think it might worry, embarrass or even anger me. Perhaps they would be too frightened to tell. I don’t know. I hope I never need to.

What I do know is that whilst children may be unable to find help to prevent them taking their lives, there’s plenty of information on the web to help them to end it. I did a quick Google search and there’s a wikipedia site featuring the top places to commit suicide, and plenty of other sites that tell you how to actually do it and give tips (no link because I’m not going to promote them).

Shy Keenan an author and prominent child abuse campaigner says her 14 year old son was “bullied to death” and used sites like this to help him do it. She’s now campaigning to ban these sites. And she’s not alone. In June Patti Boyle claimed that suicide sites had helped her son to plan his death. She called on David Cameron to ban suicide sites. If this is what it takes to reduce the number of deaths from suicides then I really hope the government will act upon it.

Even one child taking their life is too many. If there is a campaign that will help these children then join it.

Why ‘Sweetie’ makes me feel better

As a mum, one of my biggest fears is that my children will fall prey to a paedophile. Just a quick internet search reveals some scary statistics: According to the NSPCC 18,915 sexual crimes against children under 16 were recorded just in England and Wales last year. And the UN says that there are an estimated 3/4 million predators searching for child porn on the internet at any one time.  The media is also full of stories about children who have been abducted: Just think Madeline McCann & Michelle Knight both in the news right now. John Bush jailed this week and Jason Watts pleading guilty to child sex offenses. It makes me feel sick and it’s worrying that no child is guaranteed safety. 

But there is a small light in the fight against internet prowlers. ‘Sweetie’; a computer generated 10-year-old child was created and used by charity Terre des Hommes to unmask potential sex offenders willing to pay to see her engage in sexual acts on camera.

I was shocked that so many people had fell for this trap – 20,000 predators actively approached her! But I was also pleased that someone had taken the initiative to do something about this shocking crime.  Sweetie has had some criticism mainly from those who point out that this is for law enforcement to implement, that innocent people could get caught up in it, or that Sweetie might encourage others people to get involved. I don’t know whether this has happened and I’m certainly no expert on child abuse but I personally think it’s far better to do something and try to make a difference than to sit around discussing it without making any headway. In all of my years working in PR I know that awareness raising alone can lead to big changes. 

I’m still going to worry and feel sickened by the stories I read, but I will research information on how to protect my children, and feel hope that Sweetie will lead to change in how the world tackles this problem.

Sweetie-virtual_image_campaign_to_stop_webcam_child_sex_tourism

 

Who’d be a mum?

As a mum there is nothing worse than hearing stories about children who have been killed or dissappeared: The four year old cruelly starved to death by his mother and step father. The two children strangled by a python. And the Madeleine McCann case which has new leads every couple of years.

It’s all so unjust and it just makes me want to cry for the poor innocent children. But even worse it brings out traits in me that I didn’t know I had. I’ve found myself trying to work out exactly how far we live from the nearest reptile shop and if that’s far enough to avoid any deadly snakes that escape. I worry if she disappears from my sight for more than a second that someone might snatch her. And woe betide any man who smiles at her.

I really want to trust the world and to feel that she is safe so that I can give her the freedom to learn and explore but I’m scared about what might happen. Being a mother certainly changes you. It also makes me think about all of the silly and dangerous things that I did when I was younger and thought I was invincible. and then of course I start to worry more!

Eco solutions to poverty

As part of my job, from time to time I get to travel the world and see some of Practical Action’s work and collect communications materials. My team then use these to encourage people to donate to our cause or to influence for policy change. My latest visit was to Sri Lanka where I some interesting projects including work with lagoon fishermen. Attached is a video I made on my Samsung Galaxy phone (so excuse the quality).

Gisele Bundchen – helping to end the #killerinthekitchen

I’m pressed for time (going on my hols) so rather than write a story I’m going to be really lazy and just post a press release from Practical Action becuase I think this story is really important: http://practicalaction.org/killerinthekitchen

With action on tackling malaria making real progress – The World Health Organisation hopes to eradicate deaths from the disease by 2015* – supermodel Gisele Bundchen has teamed up with charity Practical Action to push an even bigger development issue.

In developing countries where access to energy is scarce, 3 billion people cook on open fires inside their homes, filling them with toxic smoke which kills more people than malaria every year – almost 2 million.

Everyone needs energy to cook food, heat the home, earn a living and access medical care and education, yet in Sub Saharan Africa, on average, 2 in every 3 families live without electricity – in Kenya just 18 per cent of homes have power. 

To mark the UN’s Year of Sustainable Energy for All, global supermodel and UN Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bundchen, travelled to Kenya with Practical Action and experienced the realities of energy poverty first hand.

During her visit Gisele took part in a dawn firewood collection with women in Kisumu, Western Kenya, who still cook on traditional fires that fill homes with toxic smoke. She experienced the many hours it takes to cook a simple breakfast for the family and visited homes where babies slept next to smoky fires.

Practical Action is working with women like these to install improved cookstoves and smoke hoods which remove up to 80% of the toxic smoke inside homes vastly reducing the number of people dying from lung cancer, acute respiratory diseases and suffering eye infections caused by their cooking habits.

Gisele said: “Millions of lives are lost every year because of smoke inhalation and just as many women and children will be living in energy poverty in 20 years’ time if nothing is done, that’s not development – that’s injustice.

“But there is hope, Practical Action’s cookstoves are a very effective solution.”

Practical Action works closely with communities providing them with the skills, tools and confidence to challenge their poverty. For many the dream of being able to access energy is a distant reality but by ensuring that development is owned by the community and is sustainable, provides people with the opportunity to work themselves out of poverty

With action on tackling malaria making real progress – The World Health Organisation hopes to eradicate deaths from the disease by 2015* – supermodel Gisele Bundchen has teamed up with charity Practical Action to push an even bigger development issue.

In developing countries where access to energy is scarce, 3 billion people cook on open fires inside their homes, filling them with toxic smoke which kills more people than malaria every year – almost 2 million.

Everyone needs energy to cook food, heat the home, earn a living and access medical care and education, yet in Sub Saharan Africa, on average, 2 in every 3 families live without electricity – in Kenya just 18 per cent of homes have power. 

To mark the UN’s Year of Sustainable Energy for All, global supermodel and UN Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bundchen, travelled to Kenya with Practical Action and experienced the realities of energy poverty first hand.

During her visit Gisele took part in a dawn firewood collection with women in Kisumu, Western Kenya, who still cook on traditional fires that fill homes with toxic smoke. She experienced the many hours it takes to cook a simple breakfast for the family and visited homes where babies slept next to smoky fires.

Practical Action is working with women like these to install improved cookstoves and smoke hoods which remove up to 80% of the toxic smoke inside homes vastly reducing the number of people dying from lung cancer, acute respiratory diseases and suffering eye infections caused by their cooking habits.

Gisele said: “Millions of lives are lost every year because of smoke inhalation and just as many women and children will be living in energy poverty in 20 years’ time if nothing is done, that’s not development – that’s injustice.

“But there is hope, Practical Action’s cookstoves are a very effective solution.”

Practical Action works closely with communities providing them with the skills, tools and confidence to challenge their poverty. For many the dream of being able to access energy is a distant reality but by ensuring that development is owned by the community and is sustainable, provides people with the opportunity to work themselves out of poverty

 

 

My trip to see Practical Action’s work in Bangladesh

Here in the UK we’ve probably had the biggest rainfall in years. There have been regular news stories about floods affecting people, houses and roads (apart from the hosepipe ban debacle), and it’s all very inconvenient, and for some, costly.

But imagine living in Bangladesh where nearly a quarter of the country is regularly flooded and at times 50% of the country is underwater. Where people’s livelihoods are swept away in the monsoon season – and others become stranded for months on end. In June around 100 people died and 250,000 were marooned when floods swept the country. Life during the monsoon season in Bangladesh is more than inconvenient. That’s why Practical Action is working with some of the poorest communities to help them prevent the devastation caused by flooding and the unpredictability of the rainy season caused by climate change.

I recently visited some of Practical Action’s work in Bangladesh. Here’s my video blog about what I saw:

Are parents unknowingly putting kids at risk?

I don’t know about you, but buying my child’s car seat was actually harder than choosing my car. I hadn’t the first idea about what to look for or whether I need to spend a little or a lot. I just knew I wanted her to be safe and comfortable.

So I started off in Mothercare where I specified my priorities.  Their staff suggested a rear facing seat and in particular Maxi Cosi and Britax because of the rigorous testing these companies do. Wondering if I was being ‘sold’ the most expensive seats I did some research. It turns out that rear facing car seats are much safer for children. However the reason that global manufacturers don’t generally sell them here is that apparently parents in this country don’t want to buy rear facing seats. The few that are on the market only cater for children up to about 15 months, or are really expensive because they have been imported. Bizarrely other  countries do recommend and mass sell rear facing seats. Hilary Osborne from The Guardian says:

In some European countries parents are advised to use them until a child is four years old, while guidance in the US suggests using rear-facing seats until a child turns two. And most of the manufacturers we are familiar with in the UK are making these seats for the overseas market.

I can’t understand it, if our problem is that parents in the UK don’t want rear facing seats then we are knowingly, or unknowingly putting our children at risk. Surely every parent wants to put their child’s safety first? I spoke to some friends and their reasons for not choosing rear facing were ignorance and cost, but if manufacturers have done their research and parents once informed still don’t want rear facing seats there is a real problem.

An article from the Mail Online says that the problem is even worse  and parents are putting children in front facing seats even before they reach the legal weight of 9kg! It also cites a report from Motors.co.uk which said:

‘Despite numerous studies stating that rear facing car seats are up to five times safer for children, our  research exposes a shocking lack of awareness, information and availability of rear facing car seats in the UK.’

So should it be the responsibility of the government to give parents more knowledge? There’s plenty of support given  to parents on breast feeding and weaning, what about helping them with car safety too? The government is looking to change the law so that all children up to the age of 15 months will legally have to use  rear facing seats. Hopefully this will help and also open the market to more rear facing seats. I still don’t think it goes far enough and the government could do more to educate us parents, but at least it’s a step forward.

What about Manufactures and sellers? Should they take some responsibility? Maxi Cosi and Britax do sell rear facing seats, although the ones for older children are over £300 but could they do more to educate parents and could the other manufacturers that don’t seem to sell the rear facing seats for older children introduce models to the market? What about  shops such as Mothercare, Halfords, and Mamas and Papas that have specialist advisers, should they stock more rear facing seats for older children and explain their benefits to parents?

And what about us as parents. Is your child rear facing? If not, what’s your reason? Could you be doing more to research the options? Should we buy rear facing seats so that demand increases and manufacturers start to sell more at a cheaper price?

Lots of questions I know but hopefully it demonstrates that there are lots of opportunities for everyone to make a difference.

Buggy and TV culture is preventing children from walking

I couldn’t believe it when I read the Sunday Times last week and on the front page was an article about children who are unable to walk by the age of three.

According to Louise Casey, the government’s Director General on troubled families :

SOME three-year-olds are apparently unable to walk because they have spent so much time strapped into buggies and left in front of the television

I imagine I’m pretty far from being part of a ‘troubled family’ and perhaps I can’t empathise with them (I once thought that a friend’s one year old that couldn’t walk was suffering developmentally) but what kind of parents think this is normal, why isn’t this picked up sooner and who is letting them get away with it?

It always surprises me that children are only monitored by health visitors until about 8 months and then could slip through the system until they go to school – especially if they don’t have their immunisations.  Again maybe I’m wrong and ‘troubled families’ are spotted and continually monitored, but this doesn’t look like the case.

And it gets worse, the Daily Mail picked up on the Sunday Times’ story, this time quoting National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby who said:

‘It’s an extreme case, but more frequently we hear of children who can’t speak when they come to school.’

He also went on to say that there are children who start school still wearing nappies. Nappies at 5 years old, surely that’s just laziness and expensive too, or maybe it’s lack of education!

I may be uncomplimentary towards these parents but there is actually something in it. As a first time mum I had no idea what to do and whilst there was lots of support for breast feeding, and my local SureStart centre was brilliant for entertaining and educative play, there were plenty of other things that I was clueless about and didn’t know who to ask – for example how do you teach a baby/toddler right from wrong, how do you phase out breast or formula milk at one years old? I’m pretty sure my doctor got fed up of seeing us and the internet couldn’t always answer my questions.  So who else can you turn to? I certainly didn’t know and as I said before, I imagine that I’m pretty far from the pen portrait of a ‘troubled’ parent.
In my opinion all parents need lessons in how to bring up kids. We no longer have a society where parents learn from their parents, and although the internet is a great information provider sometimes you can get lost in conflicting information.