One of my most memorised books from childhood was a slim volume entitled Cautionary Tales for Children by Hilaire Belloc, a series of poems describing the gruesome fates of wilful children for such offences as lying, chewing string and slamming doors.
Written in verse which captures the Edwardian emotional rigidity of his subject, Mr Belloc’s view of children makes Roald Dahl look like Mr Tumble by comparison. ‘Do as you’re bloody told... or else’ sort of sums him up.
I was thinking of him this week, as Labour announced its new policy on Children’s Health, amidst accusations of ‘going down the road of the nanny state’. It’s true that some of the most discussed aspects of the policy contain some proscriptive aspects – a ban on junk food advertising and the spectre of toothbrushing lessons come to mind – but there is a pleasing sense of joined up thinking running throughout. Breakfast clubs, rebooted NHS dentistry and, most crucially, a proper level of mental health support in schools feel like measures, which will improve not only children’s health, but also their life chances.
In particular, the introduction of 8,500 new mental health staff should go somewhere to tackling the ongoing issue of persistent school absences.
Like all good public health services, it calls out for a nursing led approach. Which in turn relies on recruitment and investment, as well as a process of building trust. As Labour edge closer to form a government, the issue of future ministers regaining the confidence of the nursing profession becomes more and more prescient.
‘Always keep ahold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse,’ counselled Mr Belloc in his most famous poem ‘Jim’. An aphorism Labour would do well to note, as they move closer to power, and the thorny problem of putting good ideas into actual practice.