It’s Children in Need this week.
Forgetting the cultural drive to be good or bad, right or wrong, I have to admit I have been increasingly uncomfortable with Children in Need (CIN) for the past few years. A perspective which has been voice by others in recent days across social media.
So, stepping into the murky grey of real life, here are some of my thoughts.
Why is Children in Need good?
- Being generous is great.
- Helping others is one of the best parts of living well.
- Putting our money into places with people who need it – is fantastic.
- Raising awareness in the diversity of people in the UK and abroad is brilliant.
- Raising awareness of great charities and organisations is good.
- Creating and serving community makes the world go round.
- Raising millions of pounds in one night has been done in any other way.
Why might Children in Need be bad?
Children in Need is dripping in pity porn
Children are shot with grey tones and sad music before the hero (funded by CIN for 2-3 years) comes in and brings colour to that once sad child’s life. Pity porn objectifies people rather than valuing them as the assets they are. It perpetuates the idea of ‘other’. Othering creates ‘us and them’ which dehumanises rather than portraying the complex reality of everyone’s life.
CIN shows us those poor people who need our help – who aren’t as lucky as we are. But then they become a little more like us with some cash from CIN. Too often the argument about why we should include and value people with disabilities (especially those with autism, learning disabilities and Down’s syndrome) is focused on them being nearly ‘normal’.
“Look they have relationships.”
“Look they smile all the time.”
“Look they can have a job.”
This stance simply fuels the culturally accepted norm that our value is in our productivity rather than our humanity. That same is better than different. There is another way. If we saw people, their differences and challenges, and it swelled in us a feeling of valuing them – rather than pitying.
Instead, of pity-based charity, we could label and acknowledge the necessity and beauty in diversity. We could value people, along with the support they need, and use it as a standpoint for creating a truly asset-based community. We could abandon the pity porn and use our energy instead to put leaders in place who will ensure services aren’t on their knees. We could engage in the charities in our local area. Find people within arm’s reach and support them not only with money but our precious time and energy too.
Children in Need is pacifying an inadequate system with glitz for a night
CIN could be seen as trying to paper over the cracks of a broken system full of obstacles and hurdles. Which has neither the capacity nor resources to meet need. CIN places a higher value on the palatable and pretty which only further marginalises those who need support.
In short, CIN mirrors the hoops of parading, proving and being scrutinised which families like mine are needed to jump through in order to access the services set up to support them.
We might sit on our sofa’s Friday night and when a story really touches us, or we are entertained, we’ll dig into our pockets to donate. Then the powers at CIN will decide where our money goes. For families like mine, professionals assess the services required. We are asked to explain and justify our needs. Then the professional wanders off and someone on a panel who doesn’t see the tired whites of our eyes decides whether the need is great enough or not.
Instead, could we maybe create a system not founded on hoops, suspicion and conflict. Rather established on ears which are prepared to listen and understand.
We could be held by a collective belief that families, professionals and services
all want what is best for children
– not just for a night.