This PSHE assembly for secondary students broaches the idea of social responsibility, sensitively considering the case of Baby P as an example

This assembly explores the extent to which we expect the public authorities to take care of vulnerable people in our society, referring to times in the past when this care was not provided. It links to the recent case of Baby P and the criticisms and recommendations made relating to NHS services following that tragedy. It challenges listeners to consider how far they expect social responsibilities to belong to other people rather than themselves.

Background information on Baby P at:

Child protection information at:

[NB Given the nature of this assembly, the school should ensure that the story of Baby P is told in an appropriately serious and sensitive way]

Resources

Two readers

Engagement

[Two readers – Reader 2 should act elderly and Reader 1 as a school-age pupil]

Reader 1: Hi Grandad, how’re things today?

Reader 2: Ah musn’t grumble son. Got me telly and me newspaper and a nice cuppa.

Reader 1: [Teasingly] Yeah, and what more could a person wish for in life, eh Grandad? [Both laugh]

Reader 2: [Looks through paper] Terrible thing this Baby P business, isn’t it?

Reader 1: Yeah, that’s really bad of the social workers, letting the poor baby slip through the net like that, and the doctors as well… You’d think they’d be better at their jobs than that. They should have realised what was going on and prevented it.

Reader 2: Hang on – what about the neighbours, and the family, and the local community?

Reader 1: [Looks confused] Not sure what you’re getting at, Grandad – what could they have done?

Reader 2: Well I don’t know, but maybe they could have done something. See, in my day, we looked out for one another – everybody knew when someone was having a bad time and they’d help out as best they could.

Reader 1: Well that’s OK when it’s about lending the next door neighbour a cup of sugar or some rhubarb from the garden – but this was a bit different.

Reader 2: I know, but still it seems like we’re too ready to blame other people for everything these days and not take any responsibility for things ourselves.

Reader 1: But that’s what the social services and the health services are for, isn’t it? I mean, that’s what we pay them for?

Reader 2: I know we do, but that’s just the point – we make jobs for people and pay them to do things that we should be doing ourselves. Then we blame them when things go wrong, which just helps us to not feel so guilty about how we’ve let our world become such an uncaring and disinterested place. It just seems to me that everybody these days looks for someone else to pin the blame on instead of looking at themselves and asking what they could have done.

Reader 1: But Grandad, this was a very complicated situation and it would have been really difficult for anyone else to interfere.

Reader 2: Well that may be true, but still, you have to wonder. I mean, next you’ll be telling me that you failing tests at school is the teacher’s fault, and that the health effects of smoking are the cigarette-maker’s fault.

Reader 1: Well, maybe some of them are.

Reader 2: No son, we were put on this earth to look after one another and it’s about time we did a little more of that. Now in my day…

Reader 1: Right Grandad, I’ve got to go now – anything I can bring round for you tomorrow?

Reader 2: Yes, can you get me some of that weedkiller stuff? I said I’d put it down on Mrs Jones’s lawn for her – she is an old woman after all.

Reader 1: Grandad, she’s 76 and you’re 89… shouldn’t it be the other way round?

Reader 2: Well son, you’ve got to help out where you can, you know…

Reflection

Leader: The case of Baby P is very serious; a small child died. The final blame obviously lies with the people who inflicted the injuries that led to his death, but many people think that a number of care professionals could have saved him if they’d done their jobs better.

In this country we have a whole range of people whose jobs are to look after others; especially the most vulnerable members of our society. They’re paid and trained to do their jobs, and they have the full backing of the law behind them to make sure that they can protect people in need. They have it written into their job descriptions that they have a ’duty of care’ towards others. When they fail in that duty, it is right that we should ask questions and seek answers to those questions. But is that the whole story?

Although we can’t take the blame away from them entirely, perhaps we should be asking ourselves this: is every vulnerable child, or every troubled person, the responsibility of others?

In the past, there were not as many authorities or official bodies of people set up to protect vulnerable groups. No-one is saying that things were better this way – there were probably many people who could have done with more protection from those in authority – but there was often a strong sense of community. People looked out for others and responded to their needs whenever possible, without questioning whether it was their job.

Perhaps it’s not our place to jump right in and help out – we could make things worse or even put ourselves in danger. And yet… [Pause]

There’s still the nagging worry that giving others an official ‘duty of care’ is an easy way to avoid our own duties towards those who live in our communities. Perhaps we should try to think that there is a duty of care on every human being on the planet that extends to every other human being. Imagine such a world… a world where everyone cares for everyone else (1).

The Christian faith speaks about the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is the idea that the world becomes the kind of place fit for a heavenly king – a world of justice and fairness, of kindness and equality. A world, in fact, where it is everyone’s duty to care for everyone else. Christians believe that such a world can be brought about now… by us.

What are you doing to create such a world? Are you carrying out your duty of care for others?

Response

Leader: Let us remember Baby P and children like him everywhereHelp us to stop such things ever happening againLet us remember all the people in the world who are vulnerable and in needHelp us to respond to their needs whenever we canLet us remember those in the world who need our careHelp us to care for themLet us remember what our duties towards others are

And help us to exercise them

[Amen]

(1) If it is appropriate in your context you might like to add:

Jesus taught that it was the duty of every person to see him in the needs of others. In the gospel of Matthew (chapter 25, verses 31to 46) Jesus asks his followers why they did not help him when they saw him sick or feed him when they saw him hungry. They asked when this had happened and he answered by telling them that every time they saw anyone in need they saw Jesus himself. ’I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me .’ Jesus made it clear that we all have a duty towards each other and that we should treat each other with the same kind of care and respect with which we would treat a person if he were Jesus himself.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2009

About the author: Joe Walker is Head of RE & Psychology at Liberton High School in Edinburgh. As well as being a well-known author he was winner of Secondary Teacher of the Year at the Scottish Education awards 2005.

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