2017 was the deadliest year of Syrian war for children, says Unicef

Report advises generation faces psychological wrecking, with most vulnerable the hardest hit

A generation of Syrian children face psychological ruin and ever increasing peril, with child deaths rising by 50% last year and the number of young soldiers tripling since 2015.

A report by Unicef saw 2017 was the worst year of the war for young Syrians, with 910 killed in a conflict that has spared them no mercy and has taken a vastly disproportionate toll on the country’s most vulnerable people.

The figures undermine claims that the war, which will soon enter its eighth year, is losing steam. Those most at risk face escalating menaces of being permanently maimed by opposing, or emotionally scarred by a litany of abuses including forced labor, matrimonies, food scarcity and minimal access to health or education.

” There are scars in children and there are scars on children that will never be erased ,” said Geert Cappelaere, Unicef’s director for the Middle East and north Africa.” The protection of children in all circumstances that was once universally embraced- at no moment have any of the parties accepted .”

Syrian children in numbers

More than 13 million people inside Syria need humanitarian assistance, more than half of whom are children, the UN says. Of the 6.1 million internally displaced, roughly half( 2.8 million) are children. Figures for last year depict an average of 6,550 people were displaced each day in Syria.

During the first months of 2018 there has been a sharp escalation in violence in Idlib, eastern Ghouta on the suburbs of Damascus and in Afrin on the Turkish perimeter. The Syrian regime and Russia have been besieging Idlib and east Ghouta, while Turkey and a proxy Arab force launched an offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in January. There also remains a lethal threat from mines and unexploded bombs left over from opposing in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

In eastern Ghouta a besieged population of nearly 420,000 people, half of whom are children, are suffering a month of airstrikes from Russian and Syrian jets, which are attempting to oust opponent fighters and the communities that support them from Damascus’s doorstep. Calculated death tolls in Ghouta range from 1,000 to 1,300 people. Children are thought to account for at least several hundred casualties.

Reaching children in need has been relentlessly difficult, the UN has said, with requests to deliver aid to opponent communities routinely denied and convoys allowed to enter often stripped of essential medicines. Humanitarian access was denied 105 times in 2017 alone- a year marked by sieges of east Aleppo and east Ghouta, which had both been strongholds of the anti-Assad opposition throughout the war.

Healthcare facilities, including hospitals and ambulance basis, have been repeatedly targeted in eastern Ghouta, recurring a pattern set elsewhere in Syria. In opposition-held east Aleppo, the healthcare network was destroyed before the area was overrun by pro-regime forces-out in late 2016. Last year alone, there were 175 assaults on health and education centres, the Unicef report says.

Medecins Sans Frontieres tells 15 of the 20 hospitals and clinics it supports in eastern Ghouta have been hit by airstrikes or shelling. Local authorities inside the enclave say the healthcare system is being systematically targeted and the capacity to care for high numbers of wounded has shrunk tremendously as a result.

” Their[ Assad regime’s] strategy is brutally clear ,” said Ghassan Chamsi, a resident in the Douma neighbourhood of eastern Ghouta.” They want to terrorise everyone into running for the borders. Either submit, or die. But don’t expect to be treated by our own .”

On almost every economic indicator, children in Syria experienced worse conditions last year than in 2016. The scarcity of food has soared across the country, with the young again suffering most for the absence of adequate nutrition. Up to 12% of young Syrians are considered to be acutely malnourished, the report says.

The psychological impact on young generations who have spent at the least half their lives in conflict, deprived of adequate food, education and healthcare, is among the most difficult risk categories to gauge.

” Their conditions require specialised therapy and services ,’ said Cappelaere.” As children, their needs differ from those of adults: as their bodies and abilities change, so must their care. These children face a very real risk of being forgotten and stigmatised as the unrelenting conflict continues .”

With opposing raging in north and central Syria, the majority of the population displaced and regional powers now more deep invested in the war than before, there appears to be little hope of the humanitarian situation easing anytime soon.

Syrian refugee numbers

Russia and Iran have both strengthened their support for Bashar al-Assad, who was losing on the battlefield until Vladimir Putin sent the Russian us air force to prop up the Syrian leader in September 2015. Iranian-led ground troops have been central to clawing back lost ground, while opposition groups, splintered and divided , no longer pose a sustained menace to the regime.

However, Idlib and east Idlib, despite sustained assaults, remain formidable obstacles to a leadership that has pledged to return all of Syria to central control. As yet, there is no plan for what to do with eastern Ghouta’s population if they are forced to flee. In Idlib, more than 2.5 million people, many of them displaced from elsewhere in the country, are crammed into a small province faced with ever increasing humanitarian needs.

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Kidtech startup SuperAwesome is now valued at $100+ million and profitable

Technology companies like Facebook and Google are scrambling to catch up to the fact that children have joined a web originally built for adults, and are employing it the style adults do — by liking and commenting, sharing, clicking through on personalized recommendations and viewing ads. But the technology underpinning apps and sites built for children can’t operate the same route it does for the grown-ups. That’s where the company SuperAwesome comes in.

SuperAwesome, only less than five years old, has been tapping into the growing need for kid-friendly technology, including kid-safe ad, social participation tools, authentication and parental controls. Its clients include some of the biggest names in the children’s market, including Activision, Hasbro, Mattel, Cartoon Network, Spin Master, Nintendo, Bandai, WB, Shopkins maker Moose Toys and hundreds of others — many of which it can’t name for legal reasons.

Now, the company is turning a profit.

SuperAwesome says it reached profitability for the first time in Q4 2017, and has reached a booked revenue run-rate of $28 million, after seeing 70 percent growth year-over-year.

This year, it expects to grow 100 percentage, with a revenue operate rate of $50 million.

Sources close to the company set its valuation at north of $100 million, as a result.

The company says the transformation to digital is driving its growth, as Tv viewing is dropping at 10 to 20 percent per year, while kids’ digital budgets are growing at 25 percentage year over year. At the same time, the kids brands and content owners are realizing that safety and privacy have to be a part of their web and mobile experiences.

SuperAwesome has flown under the radar a bit, and isn’t what you’d call a household name. That’s because its technology isn’t generally consumer-facing — it’s what’s powering the apps and websites that today’s kids are use, whether that’s a game like Mattel’s Barbie Fashion Closet or Monster High, Hasbro’s My Little Pony Friendship Club or a website from kids’ writer Roald Dahl , to name a few.

Key to all these experiences is a technology platform that allows developers to construct kid-safe apps and sites. That includes products like AwesomeAds, which ensures ads in the kids space aren’t tracking personal data and the ads are kid-appropriate; PopJam, a kid-safe social participation platform that lets developers construct experiences where kids can like, remark, share and remix online content; and Kids Web Service, tools that simplify build apps that require parental permission and oversight.

These kinds of tools are increasingly becoming critical to a web that’s waking up to the fact that the largest tech companies didn’t consider how many kids would be using their products. YouTube, for example, has been scrambling in recent months to combat the threats to children on its video-sharing site, like inappropriate content targeted toward children, exploitive videos, haywire algorithms, dangerous memes, hate speech and more.

Meanwhile, children are lying about their ages — sometimes with parental permission — to join social platforms originally built for the 13 -and-up crowd, like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Musical.ly.

“It’s very easy to come out and beat up Facebook and Google for some of this stuff, but the reality is that there’s no ecosystem there for developers who are creating content or build services specifically for kids. That’s why we started SuperAwesome, ” says SuperAwesome’s CEO Dylan Collins.

Before SuperAwesome, Collins founded gaming platform Jolt, acquired by GameStop, and game technology provider DemonWare, acquired by Activision.

Other SuperAwesome execs have similar successful track records to its implementation of company-building. Managing director Max Bleyleben was COO at digital marketing agency Beamly, acquired by Coty, and a partner in European VC fund Kennet Partner. COO Kate O’Loughlin was previously SVP Media in adtech company Tapad, acquired by Telenor. Chief Strategy Officer Paul Nunn was previously the managing director at kids’ app manufacturer Outfit7, acquired by China’s United Luck Group.

Today, the company’s 120 -person staff also includes a full-time moderation team to review content before it runs public. A need to do more hands-on review, instead of leaving everything up to an algorithm, is something the larger companies have just woken up to, as well. For example, YouTube said it was expanding its moderation squad to north of 10,000 people in the wake of the site’s numerous controversies.

Children struggle to hold pencils due to too much tech, doctors say

Children need opportunities to develop hand strength and dexterity needed to hold pencils

Children are increasingly discovering it hard to hold pens and pencils because of an excessive employ of technology, senior paediatric doctors have warned.

An overuse of touchscreen telephones and tablets is preventing children’s thumb muscles from developing sufficiently to enable them to hold a pencil correctly, they say.

” Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago ,” said Sally Payne, the head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust.” Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not be able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental motion skills.

” To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your thumbs,. Children require lots of opportunity to develop those abilities .”

pencil graphic

Payne said the nature of play had changed.” It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation abilities they need to grip and hold a pencil .”

Six-year-old Patrick has been having weekly conferences with an occupational therapist for six months to help him develop the necessary strength in his index finger to hold a pencil in the correct, tripod grip.

His mother, Laura, blames herself:” In retrospect, I see that I dedicated Patrick technology to play with, to the virtual exclusion of the traditionally bred playthings. When he got to school, they contacted me with their concerns: he was gripping his pencil like cavemen held sticks. He merely couldn’t hold it in any other route and so couldn’t learn to write because he couldn’t move the pencil with any accuracy.

” The therapy conferences are helping a lot and I’m really strict now at home with his access to technology ,” she said.” I guess the school catch the problem early enough for no lasting damage to have been done .”

Mellissa Prunty, a paediatric occupational therapist who specialises in handwriting difficulties in children, is concerned that increasing numbers of children may be developing handwriting late because of an overuse of technology.

” One problem is that handwriting is very someone in how it develops in each child ,” said Prunty, the vice-chair of the National Handwriting Association who runs a research clinic at Brunel University London investigating key abilities in childhood, including handwriting.

” Without research, the risk is that we build too many premises about why small children isn’t able to write at the expected age and don’t intervene when there is a technology-related cause ,” she said.

Although the early years curriculum has handwriting targets for every year, different elementary school focus on handwriting in different ways- with some employing tablets alongside pencils, Prunty said. This becomes a problem when same the children also expend large periods of day on tablets outside school.

But Barbie Clarke, a child psychotherapist and founder of the Family Kids and Youth research agency, said even nursery schools were acutely aware of the problem that she said stemmed from excessive utilize to new technologies at home.

” We go into a lot of colleges and have never gone into one, even one which has espoused teaching through technology, which isn’t using pens alongside the tablets and iPads ,” she said.” Even the nurseries we go into which use technology recognise it should not all be about that .”

Karin Bishop, an assistant director at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, also acknowledged fears.” It is undeniable that technology has changed the world where most children are growing up ,” she said.” Whilst there are many positive aspects to the use to new technologies, there is growing proof on potential impacts of more sedentary lifestyles and increasing virtual social interaction, as children spend more time indoors online and less period physically participating in active occupations .”

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Seen Rain Man? That doesnt mean you know my autistic son

There are no typical autistic people, despite the savant stereotypes. My son is just himself: hes me, with a coating of autism

I am so looking forward to my trip-up with my son next week. First up is Cern, in Switzerland, where my son gets an hour on the Large Hadron Collider all to himself. On Tuesday, it’s off to the National Portrait Gallery in London, where an exhibition of his crayon selfies is on demonstrate( royal attendance is rumoured ). Wednesday he’s being filmed for the BBC completing a Rubik’s Cube with one hand.

Thursday, he’s on at the National Theatre, where he’ll recite the works of Shakespeare from memory. Friday, we’re off to Vegas to win a fortune at blackjack. I’ve bought the matching suits and sunglasses and, get this, he gets to fly the plane home himself.

It is a whirlwind being the father of an autistic child– especially one as multitalented as mine. Some autistic children only have one special talent.

OK, so this isn’t true. I am the parent of an autistic child, and the first question I’m always asked when the subject of my son comes up is: ” Does he have a special talent ?”~ ATAGEND because everyone has read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and insured Rain Man, and presume all autistic children have special powers.

The charm of special powers … Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in Rain Man. Photo: Moviestore Collection/ Rex

My son doesn’t. He’s 16, is non-verbal and his life abilities are rudimentary. He’s on one part of the autistic spectrum. Rain Man sits somewhere else on a little bit made from celluloid.

I don’t expect the whole population to trawl through reams of data, instance analyzes and science newspapers on autism, but at least get to understand the basics. Let’s start with a simple question. Are all neurotypical people- those without a diagnosis of autism- the same? If your answer is yes, proceed directly to the nearest Borg recruiting office. If your answer is no, pat yourself on the back( although it doesn’t make you a genius ).

This is what it does to me- I can’t help it. I get facetious. When, for instance, we were calmly queueing to pay for some apples in Waitrose and my son decided to use them for baseball practice, pitching them wildly into the neighbouring McDonald’s, did anyone smile and think,” Oh, bless him, he’s autistic “? Or when we were wrestling on the floor as I tried to get him to stop attacking me, or when everyone’s food in a eatery is fair game- and I don’t merely entailed on our table- “were not receiving” applause , no One Show researchers begging me to bring him on for a demonstration or recreation of his baseball glories. And I’m not sure his naked trampolining is going to earn him an Olympic medal anytime soon.

Given that it’s simply bad form to tell a well-meaning stranger where to run, I have often resorted to being facetious. When my son was six, I took him to watch one of his older cousins paying football and two girls approached and began talking to him. Of course, they got properly cold-shouldered and inquired of me:” Why does he never say anything ?”

To which I replied:” He does, but only to very pretty daughters .”

But it’s not the way I’ve always dealt with it. As part of a dedicated team raising my son, explaining him to strangers has been exhausting.

So, most often over the last 16 years, I’ve been a model of polite solicitude. Like a strolling GP surgery pamphlet, I’ve divided my reactions into easily digested chunks, subheadings:” What is the Autistic Spectrum ?” and” About Diagnosis “. At other periods, I’ve countered pub banter with” No! Only because your boss is a rude, arrogant shit who won’t look you in the eye, doesn’t mean he’s autistic .” It sometimes feels like an endless battle.

This gets me so irritated because good info is out there in plain sight. On Twitter, on Facebook are millions of genuine first-hand experiences and real, of-the-moment findings. It is thus a 21 st-century species of ignorance, one that masquerades as inquisitiveness, to glean “knowledge” from media that is intended to entertain to form one’s opinion of autism. It is from the “well-drawn” character who fills us with wonder- whether it be standing next to Tom Cruise as he counts cards, or inducing us laugh with their complete lack of social understanding that “misunderstandings” can arise.

Plot devices and stereotypes are not real. You cannot reduce autism to genre conventions , because every person with an autism diagnosis is different. My son is me with a particularly tough veneer of autism: he’s a little bit lazy, determines most things hilarious and is given to bouts of self-injurious behaviour. But he’s not less than me- in any way. He’s not less.

And if you took the trouble to know him, you’d realise that in most routes he is more. That’s the kind of knowledge that everyone needs to have.

It hurts me to have to write this. I don’t like having to speak on his behalf, but he isn’t able to and I detest having to rely on supposition. It would be easier for me to state that he couldn’t care less. But I can’t say that because he can’t tell me. It hurts less when I can provide him with a blithe, devil-may-care attitude to other people’s opinions of him.

Am I overreacting and being chippy? My son’s also Jewish. Would it be OK if a stranger asked in polite conversation whether he was fond of fund? Or asked an equally ignorant is the issue of a Muslim father with regard to one of his children? Of course it would not.

The question,” Does he have a special talent ?” is not sinister in itself, but the ignorance behind it is, because it speaks of a world where just being human and getting by is not sufficient get noticed- a world where even the most vulnerable in national societies “re going to have to” aspire to Britain’s Got Talent to be seen of value.

Shtum by Jem Lester is published by Orion Paperbacks( PS8. 99 ). To buy a transcript for PS7. 64, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders merely. Telephone orders min. p& p of PS1. 99.

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These are my hardest moments as a mother. What are yours?

Cheeks burning while strangers judge your parenting abilities the child shrieking in the post office line we all have narratives of scarcely holding it together

A week ago, my five-year-old daughter depicted me a map.

It was early afternoon and I was in bed, fighting against a migraine and crossing my thumbs that my ridiculously expensive prescription drug would kick in soon. The migraine had begun early that morning and by the time I picked her up from kindergarten it was relentlessly hammering away at the right side of my skull; bringing with it the strong nausea and aversion to lighting, sound and reek it always does.

I lay down with a cold washcloth over my eyes, and my daughter busied herself with the intricate run of colouring, videotapeing and cutting newspaper into dozens of infinitesimally small pieces that are impossible to sweep up.

mother load embed

I’d been in my room for perhaps half an hour when I heard the door swaying open and her footsteps pad over to the side of my bed. She tapped my shoulder and pulled the washcloth off my eyes.

” Mummy, I built you something ,” she said in an urgent whisper. I carried myself up to my elbows and took the paper she offered me, a strangely underwhelming thing made up of dotted lines and a few urgent scribbles.

” It’s a map ,” she explained.” It shows you what you need to do .”

Then, patiently, she pointed at one scribble and explained that this was me, in bed. She told me that I needed to get up and used her finger to trace the dotted line resulting from my bed to the second scribble- the stove, as it turns out.

” You need to attain me something to eat and then go here …”- her thumb traced the second dotted line all the way to its final destination-” to my room and read me narratives .”

All at once, this map became everything terrible and wonderful about being a parent.

It was the embodiment of a child’s singular, necessarily self-centered nature; concerned with having their own wants and needs met above all else. It was stark, embarrassing proof that my child felt she needed to draw me instructions for how to properly parent her- to remind me that she needed to eat lunch( of course she needed to eat lunch, how had I forgotten to prepare lunch ?) and wanted to have stories read to her instead of entertaining herself alone.

It was the frustrating result of the contradiction you get are applied to as a single mother, where no matter how much you love your life as two( or three or four) there are times when things just really would work better with another grownup around, somebody to picking her up from school and induce lunch and rub my back and persuade me to take a second pill if the first one hasn’t worked yet, for God’s sake.

I’ve been a single mother since just after my daughter’s second birthday, and this map isn’t the first failed parenting moment I wish could be erased from the registers of time.

There was the period of time when she was two and a half and she wouldn’t wear anything but a puppy attire and I just let her, because it was warm, and she was dressed, and who cares, really?

There was the time she fell down the steps of a stone terrace and sliced her teeth through her bottom lip while I stood just a few feet away, making sure a friend’s wobbly new-walking child didn’t fall.

There was the time that she wouldn’t stop talking during my little sister’s bridal and had to be removed from the ceremony by my brother, constructing the strangest-sounding monotonous groan as she was fireman-carried away under his arm.

For me, every single one of these moments comes down to me running out of something I desperately wish I had more of- period, patience, appreciation, awareness, premeditation, sleep. It’s hard being the only one to predict and remember and anticipate and discipline. Sometimes I would dedicate anything to be able to say to a partner,” Your turning” and check out.

Of course, parenting lows aren’t exclusively the outcomes of parenting solo, they’re the outcomes of parenting while working more than a full-time job, parenting while poor, parenting when your extended family lives a continent away rather than down the block.

Often, these low points are simply an expression of the results of parenting, period. This gig is hard, and it’s sometimes hard to talk about too because the cliches about motherhood are just as tired as we are.

We all have these moments. That’s the admission you pay to join the club of parenthood: the cheeks burning while strangers judge your parenting skills; the child shrieking in the post office line; you doing precisely the thing you judged other parents for in your pre-children life.

Share your story

We all have tales of scarcely holding our shit together( or losing it altogether) and I, for one, would love to hear yours. You can share your hardest moment as a mom through the secure form below( or here if you’re having trouble viewing it ). The Guardian will publish a selection of your narratives.

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Muslim foster parents: We’d never had a Christmas tree – it made them so happy

News that a Christian child was forced into Muslim foster care caused a furore earlier this year. But, despite current challenges, these families play a vital role in bringing up vulnerable children, says Sarfraz Manzoor

About 100,000 young person run through the fostering system every year. In recent years an increasing number of the information was child refugees from Muslim-majority countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, many arriving here traumatised and in need of care.

” We estimate there is a shortage of 8,000 foster carers ,” says Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Fostering Network,” and there is a particular shortfall of Muslim foster carers .”

Those featured here were nervous that their stories would be misreported, an issue highlighted lately in the story about a white Christian daughter supposedly” forced into Muslim foster care “. The story was cited as emblematic of a greater conflict between Islam and Christianity. It has also elicited fears that the media storm could deter Muslims from promoting at a time when the need for a more diverse pond of carers has never been greater.

Sajjad and Riffat

Just before Christmas seven years ago, Riffat and Sajjad were at home when the phone reverberate. It was the promote agency letting them know that three children they’d never fulfilled would be arriving shortly. The children- two sisters and two brothers- were in urgent need of short-term care. Sajjad and Riffat had been approved as foster carers merely two months earlier and these would be their first placements.

” We were aroused, but I was also a little bit nervous ,” recollects Sajjad, 50. The couple had tried to start a family after they married, but fertility problems led to six failed cycles of IVF. They considered adopting, but eventually decided to sign up as foster carers.

Both are observant Muslims of Pakistani heritage. Riffat, 46, wore a headscarf when we gratified, and prays five times a day. How did they cope with the arrival of three white English children raised in a Christian household?

” I will never forget that day ,” remembers Riffat, who grew up in Pakistan and moved to Britain after marriage in 1997.” It truly was like being hurled in the deep aim .” They bought chicken and chips from the local takeaway for the children and the support worker told the couple about the children’s bedtime routine.

Once the children were asleep, Sajjad headed out on an urgent shopping mission.” We are Muslims and we’d never had a Christmas tree in our home ,” says Riffat.” But these children were Christian and we wanted them to feel connected to their culture .” So he bought a Christmas tree, decorations and presents. The couple worked until the early hours putting the tree up and wrapping presents. The first thing the children saw the next morning was the tree.

” I had never seen that kind of extra happiness and exhilaration on a child’s face ,” recollects Riffat. The children were meant to stay for 2 week- seven years later two of the three siblings are still living with them.

Riffat has grown used to amazed appears from strangers and people asking if the reason she has such fair-skinned children is because she marriage a white man. But she focuses on the positives- in particular how fostering has given her and Sajjad an insight into a world that had been so unfamiliar.” We have learned so much about English culture and religion ,” Sajjad says. Riffat would read Bible tales to the children at night and took the girls to church on Sundays.” When I read about Christianity, I don’t think there is much difference ,” she says.” It all comes from God .”

The girls, 15 and 12, have also introduced Riffat and Sajjad to the world of after-school ballet, theatre classes and going to pop concerts.” I wouldn’t see many Asian mothers at those places ,” she says.” But I now tell my extended family you should involve your children in these activities because it is good for their confidence .” Having the girls in her life has also made Riffat reflect on her own childhood.” I had never spent even an hour outside my home without my siblings or mothers until my wedding day ,” she says.

Just as Riffat and Sajjad have learned about Christianity, the girls have come to look forward to Eid and the traditions of henna.” I’ve taught them how to make potato curry, pakoras and samosas ,” Riffat says.” But their spice levels are not quite the same as ours yet .” The daughters can also sing Bollywood songs and speak Urdu.

” I now look forward to going home. I have two girls and my spouse awaiting ,” says Sajjad.” It’s been such a blessing for me ,” adds Riffat.” It fulfilled the maternal gap .”


Shareen’s longest promote placement is a young son from Syria:’ He was 14 and had hidden inside a lorry .’ Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Observer

A British Pakistani, Shareen( and her husband Asif, 47 ), began fostering three years ago after three failed rounds of IVF. She has seemed after children from many nationalities including Afro-Caribbean, Syrian, Egyptian and Pakistani.

When she first used to read the background reports about the children she looked after, Shareen, 48, was shocked at what they’d been through.” I just could not believe that there could be children so deprived of love ,” she says.” I was exposed to so much pain .”

One 12 -year-old boy she fostered, who had been diagnosed with ADHD, couldn’t sleep each night.” He would break the lightbulbs and chuck them in the neighbours’ garden. Whatever he could find in the room he would open up and unscrew and he would not come home at curfew period ,” she remembers.” I would have to call the police every evening .”

The key to coping, she says, was to try to understand the reasons behind the challenging behaviour.” You have to look at the person’s history ,” she says.” No child is born to take drugs or join a gang. It has happened because nobody has cared for them .” The boy objective up staying with Shareen for eight months.

She has also fostered children of Pakistani heritage and says there are some advantages.” Two Pakistani children fitted right into the house because they understood our culture; we eat the same food and shared the same speech, but when I had white “childrens and” I was out with them, people gave me funny appears .”

Shareen’s longest promote placement arrived 3 years ago: a boy from Syria.” He was 14 and had hidden inside a lorry all the way from Syria ,” she says. The son was deep traumatised. They had to communicate via Google Translate; Shareen subsequently learned Arabic and he picked up English within six months. She read up on Syria and the political situation there to get an insight into the conditions he had left.

” It took ages to gain his trust ,” she says.” I got a scene dictionary that demonstrated English and Arabic words and I recollect one time when I pronounced an Arabic word wrong and he burst out laughing and told me I was saying it incorrect- that was the breakthrough .”

The boy would operate home from school and whenever they ran shopping in town, he kept asking Shareen when they were going back home. She found out why:” He told me that one day he left his house in Syria and when he had come back, there was no house .” Now he’s 18, speaks English fluently and is applying for apprenticeships. He could move out of Shareen’s home, but has decided to stay.” He is a most varied person to the son who first came here ,” she says,” and my relationship with him is that of a mom to her son .”

Fostering has, she says, helped her to be more resilient, patient and confident.” I used to worry about who was doing better than me or earning more money ,” she says.” But after satisfying these children, those things only don’t matter to me anymore .”

Homayun and Parvin

‘ We thought we had doing well and “its time” we paid something back to society ‘: Homayun and Parvin. Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Observer

Two years ago Homayun, who came to the UK from Afghanistan in 1979, was watching the news when he saw the footage of a three-year-old Syrian son washed up on a beach in Turkey.” I thought to myself that we had doing well in this society. We had been trained, get employment creation and we also had a spare room. It was period we paid something back to society .”

So he and his wife, Parvin, 44, applied to become foster carers. The process took 12 months and, at the start of this year, they greeted two boys from Afghanistan and Kuwait- now 15 and 12.” We would have welcomed children from anywhere, including Britain ,” says Homayun,” but I was especially interested in caring for children from war-torn countries because that was the experience I had been through .”

Homayun, 51, owns a garage business and the couple have their own son, 16.” My father was an activist and he was under house arrest ,” he says.” We fled to Britain a few months before the Russians invaded the country. I know what it is like to live in a country that doesn’t have freedom, human rights and a right to education- I had that in common with the sons “were in” fostering .” His Afghan foster son had travelled from Afghanistan to Iran and then to Turkey, where he had boarded a barge to Greece. From there he travelled to France before ultimately reaching Britain. His Kuwaiti foster son had been smuggled on to a plane use false identification. When he first satisfied them Homayun was struck by how quiet the children were.

” They would not speak and it took a few months to bring them out of themselves and get them to open up .” The sons did not speak each other’s speeches and relied on Google Translate.” It was very challenging and difficult at first ,” says Homayun.” But now the younger son goes to school on his own, and uses public transport .”

Although they share the same Muslim background, he would never force his own faith on his foster children.” If I had a Christian child and they wanted to go to church, I would take them to church. If I had a Jewish child who wanted to go a synagogue, I would make sure they go there .”

Homayun also encourages them to talk to their families back in their own countries. In Afghanistan the parents talk to their son regularly via Skype.” They want him to receive something here that he never had there- an education ,” he says.” Leaving Afghanistan is a gamble; sometimes it pays off and other times it doesn’t and mothers can lose their children.”

Both sons now call him Uncle or Baba and are starting to speak English well.” If they can leave my house and go and achieve something in “peoples lives” ,” says Homayun,” something that they could not have done in their own countries, that would be a satisfying job done .”

Homayun chose to foster as a way of dedicating something back to society, but in fact both he and his wife found that the experience has enriched all of them in ways they could not have predicted.

Their son, who has autism, is now learning to share and communicate, and has started spoke of sentences.” He enjoys having the two boys in the house and they run cycling and play football ,” he says.'” Fostering has done the whole household so much good .”

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Babies may be able to link certain words and concepts, research suggests

Study indicates babies as young as six months old may realise certain words are pertained and that interaction with adults boosts understanding

Babies as young as six months old may have an inkling that certain words and concepts are related to each other, say scientists in research that sheds new light on how infants learn.

The study also found that newborns who were more often exposed to adults talking to them about items in their proximity did better at identifying a picture of an object when the item was said out loud.

” What this is saying is that it is always a good notion to talk to your child and to show interest in whatever they are interested in, and it looks like the more you do that, the better- set very simply ,” said Dr Elika Bergelson of Duke University in North Carolina, who co-authored the paper.

In the first part of the study, 51 healthy six-month old newborns took part in an eye-tracking experiment in the laboratory. Sitting on the lap of a parent, who was unable to see the computer screen, each infant’s gaze was recorded as they were presented two images on a grey background, for example “car” and “juice”.

The parent, prompted through a decide of headphones, uttered a sentence containing one of the items. The squad then tracked how long the newborns looked at the item that the mother had mentioned.

The trial was carried out 32 periods, with half of the instances showing pairs of items related to each other, such as juice and milk, and half the time presenting unrelated items such as auto and juice.

The results, published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal that the newborns appeared more at the image of the item that was mentioned by the mother when the other item on the screen was unrelated to it.

” The logic is, if newborns look more at an image after it gets named than they did before they heard anything, they know[ something about] what the word entails ,” said Bergelson.

“[ The findings indicate] babies know something about how words and concepts are’ related’ or’ go together ‘: if they had no notion that milk and juice had anything to do with one another, they would have performed similarly with the two types of displays ,” she added.

In the second part of the study, the team investigated whether the babies’ overall success at looking at the correct word was linked to their home surrounding, by recording the interactions between the newborns and those around them using video and, more extensively, audio recordings. These were then analysed by researchers for mentions of any objects or things, such as a spoonful or starrings, and it was noted whether the items were likely present in front of the newborn at the time.

The results from 41 newborns, of whom 40 had both audio and video data, reveal that the more babies were spoken to about objects that were present, the very best they did overall at looking at the correct term in the lab experiments.

” Even though they are six months olds- they are not doing much yet-[ they should be treated] as real communicative partners ,” said Bergelson.

Marilyn Vihman, prof of linguistics at the University of York who was not involved in the study, described the research as excellent and greeted the move to conduct research in the home environment. But she stressed that the study did not mean that six-month old babies “know” that words are linked.

” All the food words come in the same meal-time situation, all the clothing words and body-part terms come in the same nappy-changing and clothes-changing situation. All those words are going to be related to each other in the child’s experience and they haven’t sorted them out yet ,” she said.

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Amazon launches a subscription service for STEM toys

Amazontodayunveiled a new subscription program is targeted at mothers calledSTEM Club, which delivers educational toys to your home for $19.99 per month. The retailer says it will hand-pick which toys are shipped, and will ensure the items are age-appropriate. And by STEM, of course, Amazon means the toys will be focused on the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

The subscription program wont feature only any ol STEM toys, however, but will rather only include those that have recently launched or those that are exclusive to Amazon.

To sign up, mothers visit the STEM Club homepage, then select the age range of their child( 3-4, 5-7 or 8-13 ). The first doll will arrive in undera weeks time with free shipping. From that phase forward, a new item will arrive on a monthly basis. The service is only available in the U.S ., the website notes.

This isnt Amazons first endeavor at highlighting STEM toys on its site. In 2015, the retailer launched the STEM Toys& Games Storeas a destination for browsing through this type of product in a dedicated area.

Of course, for Amazon, the launch of the new storefront wasnt so much about trying to spark young minds and encourage learning, but to better capitalize on mothers interest in the STEM toy tendency in order to impact Amazons own bottom line. At the time, STEM toys were the second-most visited segment and had ensure the highest sales volume during the course of its prior holidays.

Similarly, Amazons interest in launching a subscription service for these toys is also motivated by being able to capture a recurring revenue stream. Like its Subscribe& Save program, the hope is that the new subscription service will encourage a sort of set it and forget it mentality among shoppers.

But whether parents will sign up in the first place remains to be seen. After all I dont know about you but we certainlyhave enough toys around here. I cant imagine wanting to receive one more every month.

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Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts, study finds

Religious belief appears to have negative influence on childrens altruism and judgments of others actions even as mothers insure them as more empathetic

Children from religion households are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.

Academics from seven universities across the world examined Christian, Muslim and non-religious infants to test the relationship between religion and morality.

They found that religious belief is a negative influence on childrens altruism.

Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others, said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Childrens Altruism Across the World, published the coming week in Current Biology.

More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral developing, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness in fact, it will do just the opposite.

Almost 1,200 infants, aged between five and 12, in the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa participated in the study. Almost 24% were Christian, 43% Muslim, and 27.6% non-religious. The number of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and other children were too small to be statistically valid.

They were asked to choose stickers and then told there were not enough to go round for all children in their school, to see if they would share. They were also indicated cinema of children pushing and bumping each other to gauge their responses.

The findings robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions( Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households.

Older infants, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, exhibit[ ed] the greatest negative relations.

The study also found that religiosity affects childrens punitive propensities. Children from religious households often appear to be more judgmental of others actions, it said.

Muslim infants judged interpersonal damage as more mean than children around Christian families, with non-religious children the least judgmental. Muslim children demanded harsher penalty than those from Christian or non-religious homes.

At the same time, research reports said that religious mothers were more likely than others to consider their children to be more empathetic and more sensitive to the plight of others.

The report pointed out that 5.8 billion humans, representing 84% of the worldwide population, identify as religious. While it is generally accepted that religion contours peoples moral judgments and pro-social behaviour, the relation between religion and morality is a contentious one, it said.

The report was a welcome antidote to the presumption that religion is a prerequisite of morality, said Keith Porteus Wood of the UK National Secular Society.

It would be interesting to see farther research in this area, but we hope this runs some style to undoing the idea that religion ethics are innately superior to the secular outlook. We suspect that people of all faiths and none share similar ethical principles in their day to day lives, albeit may convey them differently depending on their worldview.

According to the respected Pew Research Center, which examines attitudes of and practises of religion, most people around the world think it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. In the US, 53% of adults think that faith in God is necessary to morality, a figure which rose to seven members of 10 adults in the Countries of the middle east and three-quarters of adults in six African countries surveyed by Pew.

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16 Things We Forget To Thank Our Moms For

1. All the times she had to double as best friend/ counselor/ therapist/ costume designer/ hair stylist/ coach-and-four/ all-around-solver-of-every-problem-ever. I remain unconvinced that mamas aren’t actually superheroes in disguise.

2. Forgiving us when we forget to call.

3. Listening to all our pointless drama when we do remember.

4. Being the kind of person that we actually do want to become because as we all know, it’s inevitable.

5. Having the unbelievable prowess only a mother whose babes have been scorned could mama bear protects her cubs, sometimes excessively, but we love it, let’s be honest.

6. All those hours we hollered “MOOOOMMM!!” through the house to find out where our white shirt was or what time so-and-so was getting home and all the other questions we just couldn’t go to Dad for.

7. All the things she reluctantly bought us at the cash register of any dedicated store, all the clothes and things we didn’t really need( but insisted we did ). Growing up and understanding the value of a dollar actually constructs you reconsider just how much mamas sacrifice.

8. For all the home cooked meals or pizzas we didn’t have to pay for ourselves. Equally phenomenal. Equally missed.

9. Putting up with our middle school phase.

10. For dedicating us our siblings, whom we simultaneously once wished to sell and now are best friends with.

11. And oh yeah, for that whole” giving birth to us” thing.

12. For being our first, and at some points, merely cheerleaders, who were and are proud of every little thing we do.

13. All the time she spent picking us up from practises; bending over backwards to make sure we had new cleats and costumes; and were at every game, rehearsal, and play date we planned.

14. Doing her best, even when things were most difficult in the family. Moms have this incredible magical sparkle glue that keeps it all together when it would otherwise fall apart.

15. Dealing with Dad.

16. Being the boss woman of the house( and of our lives ). And for being living proof that there genuinely are people who can candidly simply do it all.

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