Four of the triggers that led to Right from the Start
Sarah founded Right from the Start following her experiences as lead author of the first Amnesty International Education Pack for Secondary Schools: Teaching and Learning about Human Rights, when she became convinced that starting with Secondary schools students was far too late. It was critically important to work with young families and their children in the earliest years.
- I set up the charity with encouragement from Amnesty
- – and knew its name had to be ‘Right from the Start’
These are four of the powerful experiences that transformed her thinking:
- At the first Amnesty International Conference for the Abolition of Torture in London in 1973, listening to the stories of two speakers in particular – a torturer and a torture victim – was deeply disturbing.
- I came to recognise the close connection between cruel, inhuman behavior and the watching of violent and pornographic material on screen. The training of torturers, in many countries around the world, includes a daily viewing of videos containing scenes of domination, hatred, extreme violence and brutal and explicit sex.
- Within a few weeks this brainwashing has the power to replace all human empathy, compassion and morality – with a fascination, pride and pleasure in cruelty and the infliction of pain, even death.The techniques and strategies, developed in Panama, are still being sold as a torture-training ‘package’ to other oppressive regimes around the world. Similar material in computer games, television programmes and on the internet is now readily available to young children and teenagers, whose brains are still growing and personalities developing.
- The link between prolonged absorption in such scenes and children’s thoughtless and bullying behaviour is undisputed – the indelible harm is becoming more increasingly recognised through recently published research. Yet, still, nothing is being done to protect children from this lifelong damage.
- In developing an Amnesty International pack for Secondary Schools, I was greatly affected by the 1988 Schools Council Report – a 3-year research programme on the mental and emotional health of children in inner city and council estate primary schools in England and Wales.
- It showed that over 70% of 5-year-olds coming into school already showed “some signs of disturbed or violent behaviour”. In stark contrast – children with strong and loving parents, who also related well to their children’s teachers, showed a remarkable capacity to make friends, learn and be creative. These children reached a ‘peak’ between the age of 9 and 12 in human qualities such as empathy, imagination, generosity, honesty, trust and a sense of fun. This gives them an emotional resilience to see them through puberty, and life. That’s when l knew that Right from the Start had to be the name of the new charity.
- In one of the first experimental NSPCC Therapeutic Playgroups, I was sitting on the floor with an abused and unloved three-year-old, so that the two playgroup supervisors could give their combined attention and support to the mother.
- I invited the child to draw a life-size picture of himself and was shocked by how quickly he drew himself – just in black and without eyes – and that he then spent almost an hour desperately trying to rub it out again until the paper was in shreds. He never looked up, and never said a word. . . . . . . . . I watched while he tried to rub himself out of existence.
- As a one-to-one Home Tutor to Secondary School pupils in Rugby who had been excluded from school for severely disturbed or violent behaviour, the one common factor between them was that they had each been traumatised, in one way or another, before they were three. I saw how desperate each one was for attention of any kind – even disgust or fear.
- They had so little experience of having been loved that they had almost no notion of what loving could mean. This hunger seemed to be at the root of their confusion, continuing rage and destructiveness.
More About Sarah
Sarah and her husband live in Norfolk. They have 4 children and 11 grandchildren.
She read Social Sciences at University and ever since has been closely involved in different ways with babies, children and their families.
She worked with children on probation, then as Home Tutor, teaching Secondary School children excluded from school for disturbed and violent behaviour. Whilst setting up Therapeutic Playgroups at the NSPCC for mothers with their ‘at risk’ children in the 1970s, she became acutely conscious of the loneliness and neglect that can be passed on from one generation to the next.
She was also active in other areas. She set up and ran a club with pupils from Lancing College – developing swimming, rowing, riding and art projects for physically and mentally disabled children and young people and, for many years, worked for the local Citizens Advice Bureau. She was on the Council of Amnesty International.