Parents fear 'bleak future' for young

Leonard Doyle looks at the blight of despair
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"They've taken away the fields where we played as children and built a sports centre that nobody around here can afford to use," said Julie Atkinson, one of the parents whom Barnardo's interviewed for its report, The Facts of Life: the changing face of childhood.

"The recreation grounds have been snapped up by speculators and kids are forced to play on the street. But that's not on either, because traffic has increased so much and because they risk being mugged or threatened."

Ms Atkinson, 32, unemployed and a single mother, lives in Cudsworth, Yorkshire. She is especially fearful for the future of her daughter, Rebecca, four.

"If I look back to when I was a child, there was no question but that I would get a job on leaving school," she said, "but there is absolutely nothing for young people today."

She said children "grow up too quick and are surrounded by crime and the fear of poverty". "What will happen to people who are not given a dream of a better life? Everybody has to have a dream," she said.

The same lack of optimism was found by Barnardo's across the country.

Whether the parents interviewed were single or raising children with a partner, working or unemployed, the outlook was largely the same.

Another unemployed mother, Debbie Gray, 28, is raising four children - eight, six, four and one - alone. As a teenager in Newcastle she wanted to become a children's nurse and passed her entrance exams, but there were not enough places.

She lives on income support on a council estate where crime is rampant and where several of her neighbours make a living from drug dealing and burglary.

"If a child of 10 or 11 damages a car around here people are fearful to report it because of reprisals. The adults fear the children."

She complains that cutbacks in the local school mean classes have doubled up and two teachers have been fired. "The outlook is very bleak," she said.