MM 2001: Family & Demography - People

December 21, 2000

Redefining childhood for the 21st century

It is high time forchildren to be heard as well as seen, says Alan Prout , professor of sociology at the University of Stirling and Economic and Social Research Council director.

Prout's book Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood (with Allison James, Falmer Press) and the £2.9 million Economic and Social Research Council project on children he led have redefined childhood for the 21st century. His work sets the scene for debate about adjusting our appr-oach to children, raising questions about schooling and the social and legal framework, and embracing issues such as lowering the voting age and giving children a more formal voice in society.

Rather than damaging children, dramatic shifts in family and community structure have strengthened them, research has found.

Prout's work has found children have an active role in supporting parents in divorce. The notion that children must be protected against the impact of family change has been shattered.

Prout began his research at the childcare and development group at Cambridge University. He was professor of sociology at Keele University when he joined the ESRC project. He then moved to Hull as director of its Centre for the Social Study of Childhood. He moved to Stirling earlier this year.

Agenda-setting expert on non-traditional families

Susan Golombok has made herself unpopular with the traditional family values brigade and is often vilified as an immoral champion of lesbian mothers. But her rigorous scientific approach to research on the effects of growing up in a non-traditional family - including families with gay parents and in vitro fertilisation and donor-insemination families - has made it hard for the traditionalists to ignore her.

Her work is setting the agenda on key moral family issues. Should gay people be allowed to adopt? Do donor-inseminated children have a right to know their fathers' identity?

Thrust into the media spotlight in 1997 with the publication of her book Growing Up in a Lesbian Family (Guilford Press), Golombok was one of the first academics to shatter the myth that children growing up in gay and lesbian households were more likely to be gay.

In May last year, Golombok's work on the children of in vitro fertilisation, donor insemination and egg donation attracted an £820,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust for her renowned Centre for Family and Child Psychology at City University.

This year, her research showed IVF children have good relationships with their parents and were at no more risk than others of emotional or behavioural problems.

Back to Millennium Magazine 2001 contents

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