These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

This chapter continues arguments from Chap. 3 in terms of how new spaces opened up for children to be ‘expert’ in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and in terms of how the voluntary sector played a significant role in soliciting, mediating, and presenting children’s experiences and emotions. While the previous chapter focused on public policy spaces in which children would be able to speak—notably through the mediated forum of public inquiries—this chapter considers how, through voluntary sector intervention, fora emerged in the classroom and the family home. While the previous chapter focused on children who had faced abuse, this chapter considers the attempts of charities, teachers, and parents to engage with all children, looking to prevent abuse from happening. This shaped a significant difference: notions of childhood vulnerability and powerlessness, key in adult categories of the previous chapter, became less present here. Significantly also, while Chap. 3 assessed interest in accessing children’s experiences, and in taking them as expert, this chapter argues that charities also played a significant role in looking to inculcate expertise in children. Children were thus constructed in this time as both expert and as potentially expert.

The family home and the school, the key areas of investigation in this chapter, were permeable spaces; each shaped children’s everyday lives, but necessitated that children perform different versions of self—private and public, family and peer.Footnote 1 Despite the differences in these spaces, child protection education sought to offer similar messages in both, disseminating similar films and television shorts, manuals, and fiction. These materials are the primary focus of this chapter. The materials were produced by the Central Office of Information, commercial businesses and, significantly, by small organisations in the voluntary sector. Key amongst these was Kidscape, whose materials recur throughout this chapter. Founded in 1986, Kidscape was a relatively small children’s charity—with less than ten staff for much of its lifetime—however also one which amassed significant influence in policy, family homes, and teacher training.Footnote 2

Importantly, the storybooks and films in this chapter are not read in terms of how parents, carers, or children behaved in the past. Rather, they are analysed as reflections of the shifting spaces in which children were able to act, behave, and indeed learn to feel.Footnote 3 These materials provide evidence ‘of manual-writing behavior and values’ and access to powerful adult constructions of childhood agency, entitlement, sexuality, experience, and emotion.Footnote 4 By taking these commerical and everyday objects seriously, the chapter traces how a public, professional, and voluntary vision of childhood ‘expertise’ emerged in the mid-1980s and was—perhaps surprisingly—able to bypass the broader moral and sexual politics of this decade. At the same time, this chapter demonstrates that long-standing hierarchies between adults and children were not fundamentally disrupted by new visions of childhood experience, expertise, and emotion. While the following two chapters argue that relationships between parents and professions were fundamentally changed in the mid-1980s, interactions between children and adults proved harder to reform.

Child Protection Education

In America, amidst heightened public and political concerns about child abuse from the mid-1960s, charities and researchers created educational storybooks directed at teenagers and children.Footnote 5 Despite much transnational interchange in terms of child protection research, this specific cultural and literary practice did not transfer to Britain until the 1980s. Indeed, even from the late-1970s, researchers in Britain expressed cynicism about whether such texts were needed or specific to the American context. Following a conference in London in 1978, including speeches by Ruth and Henry Kempe, the executive director of the National Advisory Centre for the Battered Child, Roy Castle, remained cautious about believing that child sexual abuse also occurred in British family homes. He told the Daily Mail that he had ‘taken note of the concern expressed in America’, but that his group would be carefully researching and finding local reports before determining ‘whether Britain has the same kind of problem’.Footnote 6 This statement expressed the significance vested in research by this centre but also a level of belief that British homes may be unaffected by abuse, or that this may be an ‘imported problem’.Footnote 7

Scholars of history and social policy have already paid attention to the significance of the mid-1980s as a time in which policy-makers, press, and publics became increasingly concerned about child sexual abuse, which emerged as ‘the child protection issue’, to the exclusion of media focus on physical and emotional abuse and neglect.Footnote 8 What has not yet been subject to academic analysis, however, is the role of small children’s charities in terms of shaping these developing concerns. Kidscape emerged in this heated period. The charity was started when the American educational psychologist Michele Elliott mortgaged her London flat to fund a pilot project from 1984 to 1986.Footnote 9 Working with 14 primary schools in London attended by 4000 students, Elliott provided workshops for parents, teachers, and children. These workshops discussed strategies through which children could protect themselves, focused on ideas of bodily autonomy, the rights to say no, and warning against keeping secrets. Indicative of the success of this approach, and how it chimed with this moment, Elliott received thousands of enquiries whilst conducting her pilot programme and decided to establish Kidscape in 1985.Footnote 10

The inception of child protection education was separate from, but linked to, broader trends in sex education over the late twentieth century. In schools, sex education had developed significantly earlier than child protection education, in the early twentieth century as part of hygiene teaching.Footnote 11 In the immediate post-war period, the Ministry of Health lobbied for sex education to become a key component of public health. While the Department of Education initially resisted this, concerned about political implications, sex education was included in public health education from the 1970s and 1980s.Footnote 12 While sex education developed in schools, and with new materials produced for homes, formal child protection education, provided by commercial or state sectors, did not emerge until the mid-1980s.Footnote 13 Testifying to this, when the feminist theorist Jane Cousins Mills started researching her sex education book Make It Happy in 1978, she found that none of the sex educators, child psychologists, parents, or doctors she consulted raised the subject of child sexual abuse.Footnote 14 Notably however, and indicative of the distance between lived experience and political expectations at this time, the teenagers who Cousins Mills spoke with discussed sex education and sexual abuse in tandem.Footnote 15 Indeed, formal child protection education was preceded by informal community enactment, for example through personal warnings about specific individuals.

Before formal child protection education emerged, a significant moral politics was surrounding sex education. From the 1960s, ‘pro-family’ and morally conservative groups, such as the Responsible Society and the National Viewers and Listeners Association, argued that sex education was fuelling a breakdown in family life and the corruption of childhood.Footnote 16 Controversial sex education films tested the boundaries of this moral politics. To take one example, the film Growing Up (1971) featured video footage of naked people having sex (rather than drawings) for the first time in the English-speaking world out of the pornographic context. The film also lobbied for the age of consent to be lowered.Footnote 17 In the 1980s likewise, sex education films challenged social stigma by teaching about HIV and AIDS. Progressive sex education advocates of this decade argued that such education could improve children’s individual self-expression and empowerment, and would not confuse or distress them.Footnote 18

Child protection education emerged in this context. Like much sex education, it offered a vision whereby children would become empowered experts through the consumption of information. Unlike sex education, child protection education to an extent managed to bypass the sexual politics of the 1980s, and notably to avoid contentious debates around sex education and the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality.Footnote 19 While sex education was often ‘sub-contracted’ to voluntary organisations, such as the Family Planning Association, significantly smaller charities—such as Kidscape —were key providers of child protection education.Footnote 20 While child protection education had its critics, as this chapter will go on to demonstrate, it did not attract the broader levels of moral ire that faced sex educationalists. This was despite the fact that child protection education was to be offered to children from infancy—whereas sex education would often only be offered when children reached puberty.Footnote 21 Broadly, child protection education became subject to cross-party consensus as a ‘positive’ phenomenon, and as an ‘appropriate’ response through which to enable individual children to protect themselves from abuse. This was to an extent an individualistic vision, placing responsibility for child protection on to children themselves, but also one which sought to conceptualise children as having the potential to hold expertise, and which relied in part on state, carer, and community action.

Education Through Fiction

Detailed examination of Kidscape’s storybooks makes clear the vision of childhood which underpinned the organisation’s work: one of childhood as capable, powerful, and mutually supportive. Two key pillars of the Kidscape programme—bodily autonomy and the right to say no—focused on engendering individual expertise into children. The fiction books, however, also presented models whereby children already held this form of expertise, and were highly capable of enacting such principles. In one of the Kidscape storybooks, focused on the Willow Street Kids, children called Amy and Gill noticed that their friend, Julia, was upset. By speaking with Julia, they realised that her uncle was abusing her, and gave her the confidence to report this to her mother.Footnote 22 Gill explicitly stated, ‘I think kids can help each other sometimes, don’t you?’Footnote 23 In another example from the book a child, Deidre, received phone calls from a prank caller who said ‘rude things’.Footnote 24 Following advice from her older sister, Deidre blew a whistle down the phone, and the man did not call again. Deidre repeated this advice from her sister to another friend.Footnote 25 In this engaging vision of childhood, children were able to resolve their own problems through peer support. The books sought to inculcate a form of empowered childhood expertise, but also emphasised that children already held such potential.

Another key pillar of the Kidscape programme was about warning against keeping secrets. This tenet relied on a wider context of adult responsibility. In the fiction books, if children did choose to disclose their problems to an adult, a positive vision of their reactions emerged. Children in the Willow Street Kids stories received help from their mothers and their fathers equally, as well as from members of their extended families and teachers. One teacher in the Willow Street Kids series—Mrs Simpson—stated that ‘personal safety was one of the most important lessons’ for her students.Footnote 26 Fathers, mothers, and other relatives in the stories were all supportive of child protection education, and highly sensitive when children disclosed cases of abuse.Footnote 27 When Julia told her mother that her uncle was abusing her, her mother emphasised that this was not Julia’s fault, she was not angry, and that her only wish was that she could have stopped this sooner.Footnote 28 Julia’s father added that the family would work together to make decisions in the days to come, and that they would ensure that Julia was safe.Footnote 29

The representation of parents as trustworthy was significant. This was created in a context where research increasingly identified family members as the primary perpetrators of abuse. At the same time, this representation was also produced as sex education initiatives had to defend themselves from the critique of family values campaigners.Footnote 30 Notably, the representation of fathers and mothers as both supporting children was in contrast to other educational materials produced in the 1980s, which focused predominately on mothers.Footnote 31 Child protection education in this moment thus could provide a more radical representation than sex education, because of the perceived moral worth of child protection. At the same time, child protection education also sought to draw a series of balances: offering a complex representation of family life but also mitigating broader right-wing anxieties; representing children’s individual empowerment but also describing a context of adult support.

These books offered a significant new contribution into debates around child protection in mid-1980s Britain. Children were represented as holding the potential to be expert, which they could realise through the consumption of consumer texts. Notably, children in the books would seek out adult help in their own time, and on their own terms, to an extent redressing power imbalances within the family. While these books focused on child protection, they also offered broad messages relevant to children’s daily interactions with classmates at school and with relatives. In this way, child protection work was conceptualised as a reflection of the social position of children more broadly: a connection that earlier debates did not always make. At the same time, to an extent the focus on individual, rather than structural, factors in child protection cases continued, given the individualist focus on ‘consent’ and children’s empowerment, for example through peer support. While broader debates about sexual attitudes shifted from focus on ‘public morality’ towards individual attitudes and behaviours, Kidscape materials addressed individual children, families, and communities in tandem.Footnote 32

Representing ‘Truth’?

Kidscape’s response to these tensions—between individualism and family support, and between representing family life and defending ‘the family’—was to emphasise that their stories were ‘true’. The prefaces to the organisation’s storybooks often insisted that the stories within were ‘all true’, and ‘told by children whom they have happened to’.Footnote 33 This interest in authenticity—and in describing experiences as stories—was also visible in their books’ plotlines. For example, contemporary research supported the idea that children tended to rely on one another for peer support: a survey by ChildLine published in 1996 found that over 30 per cent of the 2500 people between 11 and 16 questioned would be most likely to confide in another young person first if they had a problem.Footnote 34 Looking to represent a broad demographic range of children, the books also portrayed, through illustration and text, children of different ethnicities, races, and genders, again acting in contrast to the ‘invisible norm’ of parenting manuals of this period towards discussing the white, male, and middle-class child.Footnote 35 Interest in challenging structural inequalities was key to Kidscape’s broader work, and Elliott criticised the disproportionate media coverage given to middle-class children, for instance.Footnote 36

Such work marked both an interest in addressing all children as expert, or potentially expert, and also a new level of concern about representing children’s experiences in an ‘authentic’ way, representing stories which were judged as ‘true’ because they came from children themselves. These interests had broader resonances across children’s literature and the voluntary sector. The idea of informing children about complex issues through literature, for example, was also present in the Children’s Society 1986 book Bruce’s Story, about fostering and adoption.Footnote 37 Broader concerns about representation and authenticity in children’s literature were visible in new texts such as John Rowe Townsend’s Gumble’s Yard (1961), and in the critique and practice of children’s book editor and author Leila Berg.Footnote 38 The work of Kidscape was thus drawing on broader trends, and was not an isolated phenomenon. At the same time, it offered something new in child protection education. Crucially, the organisation turned interest in children’s experiences, visible in Chap. 3, into concrete advice about how children could be heard and empowered as expert on an everyday level. The idea of representing experience in an authentic or ‘true’ fashion was a means to connect with children, but also a mode through which to defuse broad tensions about the moral politics of child protection education.

While navigating the moral politics of sex education, Kidscape’s approach was not without contemporary critics. Carrie Herbert, a child protection consultant, questioned whether the books fully represented the challenges for children of saying ‘no’ to adults.Footnote 39 Herbert emphasised that many adults continued to struggle to refuse people in authority. Further, she argued, this individualistic advice could leave children experiencing feelings of ‘guilt and failure’ if their abuse continued.Footnote 40 More broadly, through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, feminist critics raised similar questions about how women and children could enact resistance in a patriarchal society.Footnote 41 Would the experiential and emotional expertise of children, once encouraged by storybooks, ever be taken seriously? Thus, doubts remained about whether children would be able to apply their new expertise in practice, and about potential gaps between theoretical models and lived experiences of childhood expertise.

These problems were not fully resolved or discussed in texts of this period, not least because of the significant burden placed on the voluntary sector, and on relatively small organisations such as Kidscape, to provide answers. This reliance on the voluntary sector in education was not entirely new, but nonetheless left small groups holding powerful positions in shaping child protection, and, further, in constructing a vision of childhood expertise that developed outside of the sexual politics of the 1980s. Significantly, this vision of childhood challenged an earlier conception, visible in the early-to-mid-twentieth century, and guiding much work in Chap. 2, of children as deeply innocent yet corruptible.Footnote 42 Instead, Kidscape texts presented children as simultaneously expert and potentially expert, empowered and ready to be empowered by the consumption of fiction.

Child Protection Films

This vision of childhood was also visible in short films about child protection. Charities, governments, and companies first produced child protection films in the 1970s, and the use of this medium was popularised from the 1980s in America, Canada, and Britain, with growing awareness that children were the ‘most voracious viewers’ of television.Footnote 43 In Britain, the Central Office of Information made some of the earliest films of this nature, creating six films about childhood safety in 1973. The one-minute films centred on Charley the cartoon cat and dealt with topical concerns of the day—matches, drowning, hot stoves, hot water, leaving the house, and strangers. Symbolic of how the earliest child protection films operated, these materials addressed children as passive actors, using simple messages. In Charley —Strangers a narrator, a small boy, accompanied Charley on a trip to the park. An older man approached and asked if the companions would like to see some puppies. While the narrator leapt at this opportunity, Charley reminded him that his mother said he should not ‘go off’ with people he did not know.Footnote 44 On telling his mother how he avoided this situation, the boy received an apple.Footnote 45 In this film, the primary threat was a mysterious, shadowy, stranger, whose features were not illustrated. Charley —Strangers thus exemplified the 1970s conception of ‘Stranger Danger’; the idea that the key threats to children were easily identifiable strangers.Footnote 46 The best thing for children to do was to run away from such strangers, and to report them to parents.

Children were not addressed as completely powerless in this narrative, and indeed the filmmakers made some efforts to make their materials appealing to younger viewers, using a cartoon and employing Kenny Everett, a popular broadcaster, to voice the piece. There is evidence to suggest that the Charley films remained influential in popular memory. In 1991, dance act The Prodigy used Charley’s mews in their debut single, ‘Charly’.Footnote 47 In 2006, a poll conducted by BBC News of nearly 25,000 readers found that the Charley cartoons were the ‘Nation’s Favourite Public Information Film’.Footnote 48 While potentially well liked and well remembered, however, the Charley films were not necessarily effective at teaching children about child protection. Indeed, in 1987, internal correspondence at the Central Office of Information suggested that children remembered the film’s key messages, and that they remembered the cartoon cat, but that they did not remember to enact these strategies in practice.Footnote 49 Again, a concern about the ability of children to absorb expertise through cultural or consumer mediums developed.

Based on engagement with children themselves, small contemporary children’s charities offered further evidence that these films were not necessarily informative. In 1984, Kidscape interviewed 500 children between the ages of five and eight. Nine out of ten of these children knew that they should never go home with a stranger, but could not identify or define what a stranger looked like.Footnote 50 Children believed that strangers were always ugly, wore masks, smelt bad, had beards, and wore dark glasses.Footnote 51 Six out of ten children said that a woman could not be a stranger and eight out of ten that the interviewer, who they had never met before, was not a stranger because she ‘didn’t look like one’.Footnote 52 In press, Elliott offered further criticism of these films as unnecessarily one-directional. Writing for the Times Educational Supplement in 1986, she wrote that films should introduce children to this sensitive and important area in an ‘interactive’ way, ideally through discussion with an adult.Footnote 53

This critique echoed that made by psychologists about road safety programmes in the 1940s and 1950s—that children did not remember lists of instructions, should be engaged, and could be critical of the patronising tone of the films.Footnote 54 Notably however, while there were continuities in debates around children’s safety, there was also change. Policy-makers of the 1940s and 1950s chose to interpret the ‘lesson’ of road safety research to show that no kerb drill could be effective, and thus that they should clear children off the streets.Footnote 55 In the 1980s, filmmakers began to focus on how public information films could further engage children, partially by working in partnership with children’s charities. Following their earlier critique, Kidscape went on to work closely with a television puppet show called ‘Cosmo and Dibs’, part of the BBC schools television series, aimed at the under-fives, and aired between 1981 and 1992.Footnote 56

The Cosmo and Dibs programmes featured four-minute sketches where human presenters worked at a market stall with brightly coloured, animal-like puppets, and conversed about topical issues. In 1987, Elliott advised the BBC while they produced five special episodes on the theme of ‘Keeping Safe’. In the episode ‘Harry’s Cousin’, the presenter Harry saw the puppet Cosmo tell his address to a stranger.Footnote 57 Harry warned Cosmo that while it was ‘very nice to be friendly’, children must be careful as well, because some people were not ‘kind or nice’. Harry reassured Cosmo that saying no, for example if someone wanted to touch or stroke him, or if he did not feel safe, was not rude.Footnote 58 In the programme ‘Observation’, the puppets practised describing a stranger who had stolen a candlestick from their market stall. In ‘Secret’, Cosmo asked Dibs to keep a secret, that he has broken a jug, but ultimately learnt that it was better to tell others the truth.

These episodes disseminated key lessons inherent in the Kidscape programme: never keep secrets, you can say no, and you have bodily autonomy. Rather than presenting a unilateral monologue, the sketches replicated an interactive conversation between adult and child, portraying Cosmo gaining access to increasing levels of information through dialogue with Harry. Another strategy of engagement was the use of children’s television characters who were already popular. The show also presented complexity. In one episode, a man approached the stall, and was regarded as suspicious, but ultimately was revealed as Harry’s cousin. This reflected the idea that, in life, children would need to be cautious, because it was difficult to tell who dangerous people were. Echoing broader Kidscape materials, these films addressed children as intelligent and informed. Reflecting this, in 1987 the Times Educational Supplement gave the producers ‘full marks’ for suggesting that children needed ‘an active sense of self worth’.Footnote 59 The newspaper suggested that self-worth and child protection should be taught at the same time as numeracy, as a necessary part of childhood development.

At a similar time, those working in state departments, as well as in children’s charities, began to address children as active subjects in child protection films. In 1987, a spokesperson from the Department for Health and Social Security told a conference on child protection that one of the most effective preventive measures against child sexual abuse could be ‘to give children strategies to protect themselves’.Footnote 60 In the same year, the Central Office of Information released a campaign called ‘Children Say No’, a series of 60-second television fillers.Footnote 61 One featured children singing a song which insisted, for example, that, ‘If a grown-up tries to trick us we say No. No. No’. Children also sung that they would respond ‘no’, even if offered a sweet or a treat, because the ‘best defence’ was to ‘act with common sense’.Footnote 62 The song’s refrain of ‘common sense defence’ was akin to Kidscape’s ‘good sense defence’ programme, again suggestive that this charity wielded some influence. By producing a song, the Central Office of Information sought to make their message simple and to engage children who could memorise the tune and repeat it.

This interest in children’s ‘self-worth’ and engagement with television materials was all part of a moment in which, in these limited mediums, children were re-conceptualised as holding the potential to develop expertise. This vision of childhood stretched further than in materials produced by Kidscape, but was by no means universally adopted. Indeed, concurrently politicians were also discussing whether and how children’s ability to watch film and video should be restricted in the ‘video nasties’ debates.Footnote 63 In discussions around road safety as late as 1990, advice offered to parents in Leeds argued that children of ‘all ages’ were ‘immature, impulsive, unpredictable, lacking in skill and experience’ and that, ‘even at 15 he or she is still a child’.Footnote 64 Local and issue-related variation remained, with the Leeds example notably rejecting the idea that children could hold different levels of expertise at each developmental stage. Nonetheless, in terms of child protection specifically, and in part because of the influence of small children’s charities, a significant vision of childhood emerged, in which children could be equipped with practical expertise from infancy. This vision was in part individualist—the individual child would be the key respondent to child protection concerns—yet it also relied on dissemination of key materials by parents and teachers.

Gatekeepers: The Home

While new books and films addressed an empowered child, adults continued to manage the purchase, consumption, and use of these products, notably governing the ages at which children would access these messages. Recognising the authority of the parent and teacher, indeed, Kidscape aimed their products broadly at the ‘under-fives’, ‘six- to eleven-year olds’, and ‘twelve-to-sixteen year olds’, but also advised that adults may determine when children were ‘ready’ for each text. Adults would decide, likewise, when children may read the books in their daily lives, and who with—whether on their own or with parents, teachers, grandparents, or other adults.Footnote 65 This demonstrates that concerns about child protection did not always function to disrupt established relations between parents and children; they sometimes reinforced them. Relevant adults, in contact with children on an everyday level, would be responsible for drawing the boundaries of children’s developmental stages.

Reflecting the significance of adults as purchasers and consumers, as well as gatekeepers of acceptable materials for children, reviews of these products placed adult testimony as key to establishing their worth. In 1985, The Times asked a psychiatrist, a general practitioner, a social worker, and a teacher to review five of the ‘more serious’ child protection films. While preferring films said to offer clear delivery and minimal gimmicks, notably all panellists critiqued this ‘crude’ tool for dissemination.Footnote 66 Preceding the first edition of the Willow Street Kids, likewise, were endorsements from a member of social services, a NSPCC team leader, and two child psychiatrists. The quotations presented testified that ‘there is nothing frightening or disturbing in it’, it is ‘very tactful’ and ‘not at all threatening’, and that the personal safety theme ‘develops very appropriately throughout the book’.Footnote 67 Here, quotations from individuals with traditional sources of expertise—from social work, psychiatry, and the long-standing children’s charity the NSPCC —defined the boundaries of appropriate child protection education in the home.

One of the key perceived barriers to the consumption of these products was around their use of language. To ameliorate this, the Kidscape books described genitals as ‘the parts covered by bathing suits’ or ‘private parts’, based on Elliott’s concern, also echoed by parental rights groups of the period, that discussing the penis, vagina, or sex in relation to abuse may conflate the concepts in children’s minds.Footnote 68 The Times reported in 1985 that the film company Oxford Polytechnic had cut what they called a ‘penis song’ from their programme Strong kids, safe kids. This decision reflected concerns that parents would not give children permission to watch the films, and anxieties about children’s responses.Footnote 69 The choice of words in these products was thus governed both by ideas about the understandings and sensitivities of children and of adults. Notably, contemporary debate posited a distinction between children who had faced abuse and those who had not, with publishers questioning whether only the latter category would find explicit language ‘frightening’.Footnote 70 This again reflected wider concerns in sex education—with the use of explicit language (penis, testicles, vagina) only emerging in 1960s handbooks directed at older children.Footnote 71

In part, the interest in directing these texts towards parents reflected concerns about whether they may provoke negative childhood emotions, with an implied assumption that children who had faced abuse may develop different emotional ranges to those who had not. The primary purpose of these books was to help in ‘opening up discussions … in a non-frightening and practical way’.Footnote 72 The idea was that children would then be able to question adults about the meaning of the products, and would not be distressed, with concern from contemporary commentators that child protection films may ‘mystify’ or ‘possibly even harm’ children unless used in a ‘carefully prepared context’.Footnote 73 Notably, the primary descriptions of childhood emotions in these texts were in sections addressed to teachers and parents. While the child characters in the books did not discuss their emotions, manuals advised teachers and parents to help their children to discuss ‘happy or sad’, ‘angry, hurt, fearful, sad, disgusted, mean, or furious’ feelings, for example by making collages and through role-play and discussion.Footnote 74 The books emphasised that children may have a variety of reactions to abuse and violence, but that all were ‘normal’ and ‘okay’.Footnote 75

To an extent, these texts were designed to educate adults as well as children, teaching adults about child abuse and prevention, and calling for them to pay attention to children’s inner emotional lives. No More Secrets for Me (1986), a book sold in America and Britain and written by a teacher and a clinician, contained both guidance to parents and a story for children. The text’s preface argued that the ‘most effective way’ of eradicating child sexual abuse was ‘to teach children to be aware of what could happen’. However, the text also emphasised that if parents were more aware, they too ‘could be more effective in protecting their children from assault, whether from inside or outside the family’.Footnote 76 Notably, this book was introduced by a male psychologist, who argued that the ‘role of men in today’s world’ was ‘under pressure at home, at work, and in bed’, and that a man may, as a consequence, become ‘tyrannical to his family’.Footnote 77 Problematic power dynamics and assumptions continued to shape child protection debate, and arguments about child protection became proxies for broader arguments and anxieties about social change.

The direction of these books and films to parents as well as to children thus reflected a system of long-standing hierarchies that were not disrupted by the introduction of child protection programmes. The texts constructed a strict division between ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’, with adults acting from a position of greater power as producers and consumers, family leaders, teachers, and reviewers of these materials. The materials addressed parents as the caring protectors of children. Parents were advised to act on behalf of their children, and to maintain ‘limits, structures and boundaries’ in their children’s lives, acting as ‘parents first and friends second’.Footnote 78 The vision of parenthood was a positive one—with parents able to ‘decide what is best for their own’—but also one entwined with ideas of protectionism, boundaries, and restriction.Footnote 79

Parents as Teachers as Parents

Teachers, as well as parents, were gatekeepers in shaping how and when children accessed child protection education, particularly as the state imbued schools with new legal duties in this area.Footnote 80 The Children Act of 1989 placed duties on local education authorities (LEAs) to assist local authority social services departments acting on behalf of children in need or enquiring into allegations of child abuse.Footnote 81 In 1995, Circular 10/95 stated that every school should have a designated member of staff responsible for child protection and that the LEAs should have a list of these teachers.Footnote 82 A specific model of the compassion and abilities of teachers underpinned these additional burdens. Through the 1990s, educational researchers argued that teachers were well placed to detect child abuse and to enact child protection education because they were ‘caring people’, in close and regular contact with children, and because the majority of abuse occurred within the family home.Footnote 83

Many teachers were reluctant to take such a key role in child protection education, feeling ill-equipped to work in this new area. In 1989, the Guardian quoted Peggy, a deputy head in an inner city comprehensive of 750 pupils. Peggy stated that teachers were reluctant to teach children about child protection because of the ‘emotions’ involved, but also that she still felt responsible, and that ‘you can’t walk away from the problem’.Footnote 84 Research by ChildLine testified that schools were enacting child protection measures in very different ways. Drawing on evidence from children’s calls, the charity reported that some schools referred children to ChildLine and operated as safe spaces for children to report family violence. In other cases, however, callers reported that their teachers had: told them to come to terms with their parents’ problems; immediately told their parents what they had reported, triggering physical retaliation; or disbelieved that ‘such a nice father would behave like that’.Footnote 85

In 1995, the Department for Education and Employment made funding available to support child protection training.Footnote 86 However, the courses offered were neither widespread nor effective. A study by Rosemary Webb and Graham Vulliamy published in 2001 noted that four out of five teachers had had no training from their local authority, and that even trained teachers credited their knowledge to personal experience, not training.Footnote 87 LEAs were struggling to provide sufficient training as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s reforms reduced their numbers and linked their funding to specific government targets.Footnote 88 Teachers trying to provide child protection education faced further challenges when trying to assess how school policies on abuse interacted with broader school environments, for example in terms of teachers’ authority over pupils, policies on bullying, and biases around race and class.Footnote 89

The shift towards teachers gaining authority in child protection education functioned in opposition to broader trends of education policy in the 1980s, in which parents were gaining more influence. The Education Acts of 1980 and 1986 mandated that school governing bodies would have the same number of parent governors as LEA governors, and also gave governors new responsibilities over the curriculum, discipline, and staffing.Footnote 90 The 1986 Act stated that governors must give parents clear information about the school’s curriculum, produce an annual report, and hold an annual parents’ meeting.Footnote 91 In terms of sex education more broadly, the parent was also gaining more power: the 1986 Act gave governors responsibility for sex education; included a requirement to consult with parents; and enabled parents to withdraw their children from sex education classes.Footnote 92 The confidence of teachers to engage in sex education also fell following guidance about responsibility to promote ‘family life’.Footnote 93

In this context, the voluntary sector became increasingly important as a provider of child protection education and as a support to teacher training. Kidscape was again significant, providing training for teachers and detailed lesson plans.Footnote 94 In terms of training, Kidscape offered short courses to train teachers in their methods focusing on: identifying the signs and symptoms of child abuse; learning about how offenders targeted children; developing basic questioning skills; thinking about the role of professional agencies ; and, most significantly, techniques for teaching children how to protect themselves.Footnote 95 There was popular appetite for these courses: within months of the first workshops in 1986, Kidscape had a waiting list of over 800 schools and was dealing with over 120 inquiries a week.Footnote 96 By February 1987, the Kidscape programme was reaching more than 1000 schools who catered for almost 250,000 children.Footnote 97 Assessments of the effectiveness of the workshops were broadly positive, with teachers reporting substantial improvements in their knowledge of abuse and their ability to teach child protection after attendance.Footnote 98 The reach of Kidscape in this period demonstrated the successes of the charity, the concerns from teachers around this area, and the lack of broader state-provided training opportunities.

Kidscape also distributed many of their lesson plans and books. Kidscape’s lesson plans produced three age-banded guides for under-fives, six- to eleven-year olds, and twelve-to-sixteen-year olds, encompassing lesson plans around bodily autonomy, self-determination, and assertiveness, and drawing on storytelling, role-play, and question and answer sessions.Footnote 99 These materials were relatively popular. For example, an under-fives colouring sheet was funded and sponsored by the Metropolitan Police, which distributed over 500,000 copies between 1990 and 1994.Footnote 100 The different lesson plans constructed differing, and ‘age appropriate’, ways in which schoolchildren would be able to become ‘expert’. The under-fives programme instructed teachers to work closely with children to discuss and explain Kidscape’s key messages, using puppets, colouring-in, and role-plays.Footnote 101 Spaces for interactivity remained, for example in terms of colouring-in sheets featuring Cosmo and Dibs and inviting children to draw their bodies and themselves saying no, and to practise running and thinking about who they could tell their problems to.

In the Teenscape programme, for twelve-to-sixteen-year olds, a more active model of childhood emerged. Students would discuss lessons in pairs, away from teacher involvement, and the programme advised them to write to newspapers and to approach local radio stations to ‘present their views’.Footnote 102 In one key exercise, the children would pair up and label themselves ‘teenager’ and ‘adult’. The teenager would make a statement to the ‘adult’, which the adult would repeatedly deny.Footnote 103 The students and teacher subsequently joined together to discuss collectively how difficult it may be for some children to challenge adults.Footnote 104 This represented an extent to which these models did seek to subvert adult-child relations, particularly for adolescents, as well as to manage them. Again, a clear model of child development emerged, with children capable of holding increasing levels of expertise in child protection as they aged. As with Kidscape’s work with parents, however, there would also be flexibility in terms of the specific enactment of these programmes, with each teacher deciding when and whether it was ‘appropriate’ for children to complete the colouring-in activity, and how much ‘drama’ to inject into their role-plays.Footnote 105

Nonetheless, the addressing of children significantly below the age of 11 in education relating to sex was relatively unusual in this period.Footnote 106 Facets of the government’s broader sex education agenda were visible here—in terms of foisting ‘responsibility’ onto children and ‘respect for themselves and others’.Footnote 107 At the same time, the broader Department for Education focus on using sex education to show the ‘benefits of stable married life’ or the ‘responsibilities of parenthood’ was absent from child protection education.Footnote 108 Also significant, the emphasis on the ages of different children, and their ability to attain and perform expertise, was not so present in the materials describing children’s experiences and studied in Chap. 3. These materials were drawn from, and then written about, children, rather than directed to them, and represented a more homogenous and singular view of an ageless, genderless, classless child.

In addition to reflecting and reshaping relations between students and teachers, child protection education also represented a broader challenge to the relationships between teachers and parents. The Kidscape under-fives guide recognised the need to manage this relationship carefully, and opened with warning that it was ‘recommended’ that teachers sought the consent of all parents before teaching children these lessons, as well as providing guideline ‘parental decision forms’.Footnote 109 At the same time, renewed concern around child sexual abuse in the 1980s also partially increased teachers’ authority over parents, amid rising awareness of the prevalence of familial violence as well as limited evidence, from contemporary newspaper and televisual coverage, that many parents wanted teachers to take the primary responsibility for child protection education.Footnote 110

Thus, the moral and legal frameworks guiding sex education and child protection education were notably different. In terms of the latter, while the teacher was not seen as a parent, he or she was increasingly represented as a pastoral caregiver. As such, the teacher became more responsible, and to an extent more accountable, for the child’s welfare. In part, teachers acted in partnership with parents, providing child protection education to all children, but they also acted in conflict, with the teacher also deemed responsible for monitoring family life. Child protection education was firmly directed at children themselves, and such materials addressed children as active, intelligent, potentially expert subjects. However, such materials also magnified long-standing tensions between groups of adults; in this case, between parents and teachers, who had to negotiate how best to inculcate child expertise.

Child Experts and the 1980s

Chapters 3 and 4 of this book have in tandem assessed how debates around child protection developed new spaces for children’s experiences, emotions, and expertise to be constructed by and expressed within public policy, family homes, and schools. These shifts built on longer-term developments. The emphasis on listening to minorities, and on thinking about family violence, owed much to second-wave feminism and the refuge movement. The work of Kidscape and children’s fiction around child protection drew on thinking about ‘authenticity’ in 1960s children’s literature, notably by Leila Berg. Kidscape’s presentation of parents as capable of deciding ‘what was best for their own’, and acting on ‘instinct’, echoed the post-war parenting manuals of John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott, and Penelope Leach.Footnote 111

While the developments in these chapters echoed longer-term changes, they were also reshaped in the distinct social, cultural, and political spaces of the 1980s. From the mid-1980s, media and political concerns about child sexual abuse reached new levels, drawing on long-standing knowledge from the voluntary sector and social services. Concerns about child protection were mobilised by feminist critics and by small charities to challenge and reshape broader ideas about children’s position in society. By couching their discussions in terms of ‘child protection’, a framework which had become politically powerful, these groups were able to develop relatively radical programmes. For example, child protection education discussed consent with children from infancy, bypassing contemporary concern from conservative campaigners about child development and the maintenance of ‘innocence’ until ‘adulthood’.Footnote 112

This suggests, first, that discussions about child protection have not only acted as proxies for broader social and political concerns, but that they have also functioned as a shield for the promotion of specific agendas. Second, this shows the gaps in the policy implementation of Thatcher’s agendas on ‘personal morality’, ‘family values’, and ‘Victorian values’.Footnote 113 Rhetoric around these ideas was reflected in the formation of policy about sex education, homosexuality, and censorship. However, the Thatcher governments were also pragmatic, and their social and moral agendas varied: the governments also rejected conservative shifts around abortion, contraception for the under-sixteens, and embryonic research.Footnote 114 While conservative shifts were made in sex education more broadly, child protection education to an extent developed outside of state control, and in a range of radical and progressive directions. In these contexts, a new, but historically grounded, vision of childhood expertise and child development emerged.

The voluntary sector fundamentally shaped this vision, acting influentially within the gaps of Thatcher’s moral projects. Again, the idea of the voluntary sector as providing children’s services, and as acting in a ‘moving frontier’ with the state, was not new to the 1980s. Notably, independent voluntary agencies had long played a significant role in providing information about sexually transmitted diseases and contraception.Footnote 115 However, this moment, following rising concerns about child sexual abuse, also saw the increasing significance of small voluntary organisations, such as Kidscape. In addition to the development of large and ‘professional’ ‘ non-governmental organisations’ over this period, small charities began to emphasise their size as a strength, facilitating innovation, responsiveness, speed, and critique. Despite their small size, the work of these charities was used as a justification for state retrenchment.Footnote 116 Teachers, in particular, were not receiving significant state support for their child protection work.Footnote 117 The influence of Thatcher was cultural, as well as economic: the focus on individual consent, rather than community action, echoed Thatcherite emphasis on ‘the individual’ or ‘popular individualism’, in development from the 1960s and 1970s.Footnote 118 Following the second-wave feminist moment, and the increasing focus on small numbers of women as industry leaders, influential female figureheads led Kidscape and ChildLine. Media interest in strong women cannot be separated entirely from the cultural and media interests in Thatcher.

Overall, therefore, the construction of children as experiential and emotional experts drew on longer term trajectories, but was also a process magnified by, and influential within, the shifting cultural, political, and economic contexts of the 1980s , themselves shaped, but not wholly defined, by the agendas of Thatcher and Thatcherism.Footnote 119 The politics of experience as expertise extended beyond focus on children alone in this period, and indeed the following two chapters trace how parents, to a greater extent than children, were able to mobilise media and political interest in their emotions and experiences from the 1980s. Adult leaders of children’s charities, likewise, were affected by this politics. For instance, Elliott , the leader of Kidscape, described the bases of her expertise variously as deriving from her status as a mother, as a former teacher, and as an educational psychologist.Footnote 120

While parents and later survivors became increasingly significant as experiential experts from the 1980s and 1990s, childhood expertise met with new challenges. Growing concerns about childhood violence were significant, particularly following the murder of James Bulger by two boys in 1993.Footnote 121 Expressing a resurgence in discussions of parents’ rights, Harry Hendrick cites a High Court ruling in March 1994 in support of a childminder’s right to ‘smack’ children in her care with parental permission, and a level of ‘interpretational backlash’ against the Gillick ruling, which in 1985 enabled children to access contraceptives without parental permission.Footnote 122 The development of parents’ advocacy movements further complicated the interpretation of children’s experiences from the late 1980s and particularly in the 1990s. As the next chapter shows, parents who had been falsely accused of abuse began to challenge social work around children, and to call for the further instatement of privacy in family life, creating a more complex terrain for seeking out children’s testimonies. Nonetheless, social policy interest in children’s experiences, emotions, and expertise also continued through the 1990s and 2000s, for example in medical journals looking to access the accounts of child patients and in political rhetoric around how children were not only ‘possessions’ but ‘individuals’, not just ‘future adults’, but ‘part of our society now’.Footnote 123


This chapter has explored how successive governments, public health campaigners, and small charities sought to make children expert in the everyday work of child protection. In Britain, this was a new interest which emerged from the mid-1980s, though it followed and drew on research and personnel from American counterparts who began work in the 1960s and 1970s. This analysis is significant in two key ways. First, it demonstrates that public, political, and professional interest in childhood expertise developed significantly in the late twentieth century, in part motivated by concerns about child protection. Children’s charities and psychologists became increasingly convinced that children could become expert, and newly invested in developing programmes to inculcate expertise. This analysis shows that growing public interest in understanding children’s experiences was inflected by analysis of emotion; the expression of which was seen as a marker that adults had accessed an ‘authentic’ child testimony.

The second key facet of this analysis is in further exploring the extent to which adults mediated, represented, and shaped the ways in which children were made expert in the late twentieth century. Voluntary sector organisations run by adults were particularly significant in providing child protection education, often operating aside from state leadership or the priorities of larger voluntary organisations. On an everyday level, parents and teachers would determine whether, when, and how children were able to read storybooks or watch films about child protection. Culturally, adults also governed the production and creation of child protection products. While adults working in this area sought to represent the ‘true’ stories of children, and to produce their works collaboratively, at times the child subject which emerged was a very abstract one, not demarcated by class, race, age, or gender. While this chapter therefore traces the development of experiential and emotional expertise—the key theme of this book—it also shows that the processes through which this expertise was realised, manifested, and limited would vary significantly for children, parents, and survivors.