SCOTLAND’S CHILDREN’S commissioner claims that touching children is “fundamental” to their development.
Tam Baillie, has claimed that the “pendulum of safety has swung too far” as many professional carers and volunteers are scared to touch a child that is not related to them.
The comments come ahead of a meeting of a panel of child experts this week, which will debate “Touching children shouldn’t be taboo, it should be an expectation.”
The panel includes Mr Baillie and a number of teachers, care workers and academics.
Mr Baillie was appointed by the Scottish Government to champion children’s issues.
The group will look at why touching children, such as patting them on the shoulder, is almost forbidden in schools.
The debate is being held as part of a Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Edinburgh.
It will hear that touch can be help reduce stress as well as being emotionally soothing. It will also question why adults have become so cautious.
It comes after a number of high profile sexual abuse cases against children have heightened public concern. These include Operation Yewtree which is investigating allegations of child abuse by Jimmy Saville, and others.
Mr Baillie said: “The pendulum of safety has swung far too far so that we don’t have a natural relationship with children and so that people, especially males, are wary of being misinterpreted if they hug a child or whatever. There are stories of people not wanting to engage with children or not wanting to volunteer if they feel they might be under too much suspicion.
“Of course we have to ensure our children are properly protected, but we have to be much more attentive to the messages that come from children if we are to get ourselves out of the position we’re in now, which is almost too hot to handle.”
“This is a serious matter and it’s to do with how touch is actually necessary for children’s development. There is something very fundamental about touch.
Gillian Hunt, workforce learning and development manager at Edinburgh City Council’s children and families department said: “We are doing very well at keeping children and young people safe and we feel what we want to do is have a conversation about how we connect with children. We do have really mixed ideas about what is acceptable and what isn’t.
“One of the stories we have been told is about a parent sending a child on a school trip with suntan lotion and a note to the teacher to apply it to their nose and arms, and the child coming back sunburnt. Teachers are sometimes on the point of saying ‘I can’t put suntan lotion on a child’. It’s a conversation we need to have.”
Alison Todd, director of children and families of the charity Children 1st, said: “Touch can be vital to children’s development and happiness. In our early years’ work with parents and carers we talk a lot about the importance of showing children they are loved.
“We encourage parents to use physical contact, such as cuddling their children, because this can reduce stress, soothe a child and demonstrate affection.
“In other settings things are not so clear cut. Adults, for instance, may lack confidence in knowing when physical contact is the right thing to do or when it is inappropriate.”