The care of a child is a responsibility for us all
There have been two profoundly contrasting experiences of childhood in the news media over the last few weeks.
On the one hand, there was the joy, shared by many across the nation and the world, of the birth of a son, George, to the Duke and Duchess and Cambridge.
On the other, the horrific account of a four-year-old boy, Daniel Pelka, who died from a head injury in Coventry in March 2012.
The head injury was one of dozens he suffered and he weighed just over 30lbs at the time of his death. Daniel's mother and her partner were found guilty of his murder.
Wella SP Color Save 7 Piece Gift Set. rrp £27.50 (saving £10.00)View details
Colour Save Shampoo 250ml, Colour Save Conditioner 200ml, Mini Repair Shampoo 30ml,Mini Repair Mask 30ml, Mini Shine Define Shampoo 30ml, Mini Shine Define Mask 30ml,Mini Perfect Hold Hairspray 50ml
Terms: Limited availability. Whilst stocks last.
Contact: 01522 303163
Valid until: Tuesday, December 31 2013
The birth of Prince George was accompanied by great excitement as representatives of the world's press camped outside the hospital to catch the first sight of a child who is now third in line to the British throne.
The death of Daniel and the subsequent trial was surrounded by denunciations, not only of the murderers, but of those whose job it was to teach and protect Daniel.
Of course, this is an extreme contrast. Royal babies only come along now and again and happily the cruel and callous murder of Daniel is also very rare.
But the stark difference in the life-stories of George and Daniel raise two issues for us a nation.
First what are our economic priorities and how effective are our systems of social care and, secondly, how do we support new parents in fulfilling their role in these challenging times?
Though the United Kingdom is the sixth richest country in the world, the most recent report from UNICEF puts us in 16th position on a series of measures of child well-being of the world's most advanced economies. We are below Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Portugal, which are significantly poorer.
We have high rates of teenage pregnancy, and high numbers of young people out of education, employment and training.
The UK has one of the highest alcohol abuse rates among 11-15 year olds, and was placed in the bottom third of the infant mortality league table. Since 2010 the downgrading of youth policy and cuts to local government services are having a profound negative effect on young people age 15-19.
But it can't all be the responsibility of government: local and national. Parents and communities have a vital part to play.
For most people it is easy to conceive a child, but the reality of caring for a baby, a child and an adolescent can be extremely challenging and many of us are poorly prepared for it.
In this, one of the most important roles we play, we learn on the job: by trial and error and maybe from the example of our own parents.
When I was brought up in the industrial north-east my grandmother and my auntie lived in the same street and my uncle and his family in the next one.
My parents, as a new mother and father, had lots of useful advice and practical assistance close to hand. It is not so now in many parts of England.
We are much more mobile and many of us move to new parts of the country to work and live and new parents can find themselves lonely and unsupported.
The welfare state is stretched beyond its capacity to cope with all the demands it faces and local neighbours are hesitant about intervening or reporting issues of concern.
The churches are recovering the jobs that they ceded to the welfare state after the Second World War. Not only are they, with others, providing record numbers of food-banks across the nation, but many churches now offer training programmes in parenting and mentorship programmes for parents and children.
Without becoming a nation of spiteful informants, we need to do more to look out for the children and young people in our neighbourhood and, if we have the gifts and capacity to help, more of us should muck in as volunteers at local youth clubs and young people's uniformed organisations.
We should be committed to doing everything we can to minimise the tragic stories of innocent children, like Daniel.