BBC refuses to pull baby programme

MARK NICHOLLS BBC chiefs have refused to pull the plug on a controversial reality TV show which puts babies in the care of teenage couples.

MARK NICHOLLS

BBC chiefs tonight refused to pull the plug on a controversial reality TV show which puts babies in the care of teenage couples.

MPs and children's charities had urged the corporation to think again about screening The Baby Borrowers, which is due to be aired on BBC3 on Monday night amid concerns that it amounted to “an abuse of children in the name of entertainment.”

But today, BBC deputy director general Mark Byford said the programme had not been a “mistake” and the corporation did not feel it was necessary to remove the programme from schedules.

Eight of Norfolk and Waveney's nine MPs - including former home secretary Charles Clarke - had written to the BBC urging a rethink and the show was also condemned by a succession of children's charities.

Today, in an e-mailed response sent to North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, Mr Byford insisted precautions had been taken to safeguard the children.

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He also offered the MPs assurances that far from “rebuffing” concerns raised by the Norfolk Local Safeguarding Children's Board, the BBC had been in extensive correspondence with it and gone to great length to address concerns and reassure its members of the “serious intent of the programme and the priority given to the safety of the children involved.”

The TV series sees 25 children aged six months to 14 years handed over to the 24-hour care of 10 inexperienced teenage couples - with some disastrous mistakes. All underwent a psychological evaluation.

The children, many from Norfolk, were filmed in houses on the outskirts of Norwich and two sets of parents last week told the EDP they had been happy with what went on.

Mr Byford's reply to Mr Lamb said: “The safety of the children was of paramount importance to everyone involved with the production. Extraordinary steps were taken to safeguard them - extensive screening systems; the presence of a trained child-care professional 24 hours a day; and the presence of the parents of the children who were able to monitor and to intervene should they be unhappy with any aspect of the child's handling.

“For your information, filming on the programme finished without incident.”

In his e-mail, the deputy director general maintained that the programme “aimed to highlight the problems posed by teenage pregnancy in a manner which reaches those young people most at risk.”

He added: “I am sure you will agree this is a matter of vital concern and our hope is that the programme, and the accompanying learning materials being made available to schools, will make a valuable contribution to a debate of national importance.”

He said that the programme-makers liaised with the Norfolk Local Safeguarding Children's Board and took seriously the concerns raised with them, on several occasions offering “firm assurances of the welfare and safety of the children involved in the programme.”

Mr Byford concluded: “In the circumstances you will appreciate why we do not feel that this programme is a mistake, nor that the BBC should consider removing it from our schedules.”

In response Mr Lamb said: “I am disappointed that they are intent on continuing with this. To some extent the debate has been conducted without the benefit of seeing the programme but the focus of my concern and of others has been about the principle of using children in this way.

“Now we will see the programme and we can decide what we make of it but my concern remains about using children in this way.”