Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: Government monitoring of family life - March 05

From Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I've got a sink full of dishes to wash, so I thought I'd come and blog about the issue we've been debating in our house this week: To what extent (if at all) should the government monitor and interfere with family life?

The reason why this is a pertinent issue for us just now is that I've been walking around with a printed copy of the draft DfES/LEA guidance on HE and a red pen, uttering a lot of expletives. Naturally, I was asked for my reasons. On other occasions I've plundered my teenagers' minds to get another opinion. The views of people who don't inhabit HE lists might be very different, for all I know. It's hard to know how much our opinions are formed by our environments.

I think the general consensus on the HE lists is that Government should be the 'parent of last resort' and should otherwise butt out of family life. I agree with this view, though, in fact, I even have problems with the Government being 'parent of last resort', especially as they seem to be now thinking about threatening defaulters of SAOs with Care Orders, in other words "Do as you're told or we'll remove your children." This is not child care, this is an attempt at parent-manipulation. I don't think it truly has anything to do with the welfare of children.

Tom and I were discussing this yesterday. "But what about the children who are being horribly treated at home?" he said. "The ones who need to get away. Who would help them if there wasn't a State-run child protection system in place?"

"Well, in the days before there was a state-run child protection system in place I suppose they were helped by their family, friends and neighbours," said I. "Wouldn't that be a better system? Being looked out for by people who care just because they do, rather than because they're paid to?"

"Yes, but what about the kids who don't have that kind of voluntary care network? People hardly see their extended family these days, let alone their neighbours. Some kids will be really isolated and the only way anyone can help them is by force, with a care order."

"Are care orders the solution? Are children's homes the best place to be for kids like that? How do you know foster families are to be trusted? It's a fact that once a child has suffered abuse, they stand out like a sore thumb to other potential abusers, who know the signs to look for. So an abused child is likely to attract other abusers probably until he or she is adult enough to be able to stop looking and acting like an abuse victim."

"So, what are you saying? Just abandon them to their fate instead?"

"I don't know. But the system relies on human nature, which is always going to be fallible. Mistakes are made. Children are removed who ought to have been allowed to stay with parents. Huge mistakes of that nature have been made in the past. It's frightening."

"But it's a price worth paying if it saves just one child."

"I don't know if it IS a price worth paying! Not if you're a parent whose child has been wrongly taken and you're denied access or communication. You don't know if your child is OK, or even where your child is. Your child might be badly treated. I don't think that's a price worth paying. Surely, it causes far more damage than it solves when these scenarios still take place."

"So what's the answer?"

"Work out why child abuse happens. Solve what's wrong with society. But they'll never do that because to fix society would require a huge adjustment to the balance of power. Instead, they give us a sop of a system that doesn't help much but pretends to, then they hold it over us as a threat, itself an abusive act."

Tom laughed at this, "Yeah, and in the intervening 50 years? Just leave kids to suffer."

"It wouldn't take 50 years. Maybe 5 or 10, that's all."

"Well, 5 or 10 is too many."

"OK," said I, thinking about the draft guidance again. "So, should HE families be monitored by the authorities?"

"Yes, to ensure they're receiving an education."

"But we'd have failed their little bullet points if they'd tried to apply them to us, many times throughout your HE. You'd have been sent back to school. How does an outsider tell the difference between an autonomously educated child (like you) and one who is just allowed to watch TV all day if he wants (like you)?"

"OK. You can't. They shouldn't check. They should assume it's OK."

"Right, but what about a hypothetical child who's not on a school register because his parents want to hide the fact they're abusing him?"

"That should be a child protection issue, not an education issue."

"And the hypothetical child who's not on a school register because his parents don't care if he's out mugging people and taking drugs?"

"That's a Police and a child welfare issue, not an education issue either. They should leave education issues out of it."

But that's the problem, isn't it? It's good that Tom (who doesn't inhabit the HE lists) reached the same conclusion the rest of us have, but the Government has reached a different conclusion. Since they made 'educational neglect' an issue of child welfare, it no longer makes sense.

The difference between a child who does his own thing and ends up successfully educated, happy and healthy and a child who does his own thing and ends up a hopeless drug addict and/or a criminal is not an educational issue. Education has nothing to do with it. I think, having observed both outcomes in a variety of families and given it a LOT of thought over the years, the difference is whether a child feels loved at home.

The financial status or parents' IQ is irrelevant. What matters is whether the parent has 'bonded' with the child, whether the parent sees the child as a separate person in their own right and whether the parent respects the child's views, choices and opinions. Anything else, in my opinion, counts as abuse.

The kind of parenting that's good for children is by default natural and instinctive. A species only survives when its offspring are healthy, and distress leads to ill health, so for parents to inflict distress on their offspring is unnatural and something must be amiss to cause this to happen.

If we can work out what this is, we'd know how to create healthy societies. But confusing education issues with child welfare issues is a step in the wrong direction and I don't know how this can be salvaged.

I'll go and wash the dishes and think about it some more.

posted by Gill at 8:59 AM 9 comments


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