Monday, June 08, 2009

"We need to embed a children's rights agenda instead of a parents' rights agenda."

So said Jacqui Newvell, a principal officer of the children's charity the National Children's Bureau, in this article.

But I've always defined my parental rights as being necessary to facilitate my parental responsibility to protect my children's rights, if that doesn't sound too convoluted. It does though, which is why we use the shorthand: parents' rights. As a Law Commission quote in this book makes clear though (and thanks to L for that link):

To talk of parental 'rights' is not only inaccurate as a matter of juristic analysis but also a misleading use of ordinary language. The House of Lords in Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority has held that the power which parents have to control or make decisions for their children are simply the necessary concomitant of their parental duties. To refer to the concept of 'right' in the relationship between parent and child is therefore likely to produce confusion, as that case itself demonstrated. As against third parties, parents clearly have a prior claim to look after or have contact with their child but that claim will always be displaced if the interests of the child indicates to the contrary. The parental claim can be recognised in the rules governing the allocation of parental responsibilities, but the content of their status wold be more accurately reflected if a new concept of 'parental responsibility' we to displace the ambiguous and confusing terms used at present. Such a change would make little difference in substance but it would reflect the everyday reality of being a parent and emphasise the responsibilities of all who are in that position.

The danger is that, as with Ms Newvell above, some people think of parents' rights in terms of power over children for their own nefarious ends - i.e., to profit or gain from them in some way. So when she says, "We need to embed a children's rights agenda instead of a parents' rights agenda," she's really implying that parents' rights and children's rights are (at least sometimes) incompatible.

In most families, of course, this isn't true at all and the parents utilise their right (responsibility) in order to further and protect the children's rights. Why? because they love them. Because anything that's of benefit to the children is of benefit to the whole family. Because it's in the instinct of parents to ensure, as far as possible, the health and happiness of their children. Who but a parent would make the necessary sacrifices to ensure this? Who but a parent experiences that feeling of sheer joy and contentment that comes from spending time with their happy child? Who but a parent feels a gnawing, unbearable anxiety when that child is not happy, or its needs are not met? This natural function can't be replicated by the state, the local authority or a children's charity, much though it may be in the interests of any of the above parties to pretend that it can.

So fine, embed a children's rights agenda. All of the home educating parents I know have never lived by any other, as far as I know. But we will assert that as parents with residence, we are the best people to protect those rights - simply because we are. And yes, poor little Khyra Ishaq died seemingly because of the sick and twisted ideas and practices of her mother and stepfather and the fact that, despite the evidence, nobody stepped in to prevent it. And yes, she had been deregistered from school. But look at this, from the AHEd anomaly campaign:

More than 360,000 children injured in schools each year
450,000 children bullied in school last year
At least 16 children commit suicide each year as a result of school bullying

So it's not just some isolated parents who cause the suffering and death of children, shocking and horrible though every single instance of it is when it happens, and yet nobody talks about mitigating the responsibility of the state or the local authority when such dreadful things happen on their watch.

The power and involvement of disinterested officials is necessary in cases like Khyra's, as is the responsible action of neighbours and the local community. It's no good saying afterwards, "We knew there was something wrong." If you know there's something wrong with a family, do something about it. If people didn't rely on the daily attendance of children at school (or otherwise it being somebody else's problem) to sort such things out, they might happen even less frequently than they already do. After all, there are such things as long summer holidays from school, which in themselves - without even thinking of the AHEd statistics above - are enough to demonstrate that school is not necessarily, as Andy Winton, the chair of the National Association of Social Workers in Education, said in the same article, "a good safety net to protect children".

It's public policy now to constantly move 'human resources' around the country, the EU - the world, even, in pursuit of jobs and for every adult to be in full-time employment and to officially promote the idea that "the best place to educate a child is actually in school," but the result of all this daily disassociation between people who live in the same neighbourhood is that people will 'keep out of it' and 'let the authorities sort it out' when something is obviously wrong, as seems to have been the case for Khyra Ishaq's family.

I don't think it's a fact that children are statistically safer in school than at home with their parents, is it? If it was, there would be moves to remove every child at birth into the care of the state, to be kept in vast institutions and looked after by strangers.

But, as Ms Newvell's words demonstrate, there is definitely an agenda afoot.


Blogger Gill said...

Mum6Kids has written more about this, as have others, no doubt. I'll link them as I read them.

8:37 am, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Here are Firebird's views.

8:40 am, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Maire said...

Great post, very clear.

10:19 am, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Allie said...

A very clear piece of writing, Gill - thanks.

I do agree with this, very much,
"The power and involvement of disinterested officials is necessary in cases like Khyra's, as is the responsible action of neighbours and the local community."

I feel that the culture we live in, at the moment, suggests 'professional' solutions to problems that will always need the courage of ordinary citizens. No regime of checks and monitoring will ever be enough if we don't face that. In the meantime, it seems, we will establish ever more extensive systems of monitoring - whatever the cost to children.

10:59 am, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

You see this issue of children's rights worries me greatly. Look at this quote:

"we dont argue that rights over kids be transferred from courts to parents, but that the only people who have the rights to kids rights are the kids themselves"

Sounds good that doesn't it? Until you realise that it was what paedophile activists were calling for in the late 70s.

Take that along with the piece from the evening standard and the fact that contact point has been nick named a paedo's directory and I am gravely concerned.

and this one about Ms Hodge, who, I believe started contact point:


11:04 am, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

And the man who came up with the contact point solution?
Well as plain old Herbert Laming heading a social services department ..
Laming had been director of social services at Hertfordshire Country Council in 1990, during which period its handling of a child abuse drew heavy criticism resulting, in 1995, in a finding of maladministration with injustice by the Local Government Ombudsman.

1:25 pm, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

And if you want it more 'official'

All these people screaming in high places for children's right's are unknown to the lay person who believes they are acting for childrens rights.
Before any one of you stands beside them first do as you would with a baby sitter CHECK THEM OUT

1:30 pm, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

and now they give Dawn primarolo the DCSF
The woman who handled the birth of tax credits that led to thousands of families being financially crippled when it was realised they had been overpaid and gov started clawing it back.
The woman who when in charge of nhs had 9 health authorities loose patient data.
The woman who says give long term contraceptive jabs to teens

7:26 pm, June 08, 2009  
Anonymous Renegade Parent said...

Thanks - this subject of parent/children "rights" has been playing on my mind for a little while now so this has helped to further my thinking.

Talk of "rights" is loaded, often implying an imposition on someone else (Jacqui seems to be implying that parental rights can be an imposition on children, for example).

Equally, this is why people are disparaging of children's rights, as though they are something to which children should not be entitled, otherwise Lord of the Flies-type scenarios will ensue.

Indeed, rights without responsibilities are a very dangerous thing - and the way that children are often deemed to be incapable of assuming real responsibilty (yet are made more than aware of their "rights") only serves to reinforce this perspective. The steady removal of responsibilities from parents has had the converse effect of blinding many to what might be commonly termed their "rights".

I certainly feel uncomfortable referring to parental rights, but have no trouble defining or assuming my responsibilities and our family freedom to live as we see fit, within the law as it stands.

Not sure where I am going with this, but I think that rights often serve to divide us, whereas freedom is something that unites us all. Maybe I need to write that blog post :-)

11:05 pm, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Barry the Jackal said...

I think what I struggle with is that they (ie the writers of these govt reports) use language in a different way, or with different implications to most of us. As is said, most of us, as parents, see 'parental rights' not as some sense of entitlement over our children, but facilitating us to exercise our responsibility to support and enable our children.

In other words, most of us are able to balance our rights and responsibilities with our children's rights and responsibilities.

But what worries me in this distinction is a shift, in their ways of using the words, from

Rights = power to make various decisions/choices, freedom to not be hindered in making these decisions, as well as responsibility for the outcome of the decisions made as a family.

Responsibilities = certain things obliged of me as a parent (and are we meaning responsibility to our children, or to the state?!), the obligation to follow certain courses of action, having to prove I'm carrying out my responsibilities as is intended.

Seems a significant distinction to me if we move from the freedom to make our own choices as a family, to having certain responsibilities reducing our autonomy.

But as someone pointed out elsewhere, if the govt have some idea that people are home-educating their children somehow against the child's will, if the children then say 'actually, we want to be home educated, we're very happy as we are and we're doing very well, thank you', would they then leave us alone? Why do I have the nagging suspicion they wont?

11:20 am, June 09, 2009  
Anonymous elizabeth said...

"if the govt have some idea that people are home-educating their children somehow against the child's will"

This argument takes them nowhere unless they plan to enable all children to have choice in their place of education and the nature of that education.

Let's hope they do!!

So if they child says I am very happy with my education and I don't want interference in it then they would indeed go away and not interfere.

They could provide some sort of optional consultancy service for children that informs them about their choices and how to acheive them. It would need to be optional, they would need to accept that there will be children/people who do not need or want such a service, that they are content they can work it out themsleves.

1:54 pm, June 09, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

Ah, but isn't it obvious that any child who says they like being HE is just saying what their parents want them to whereas any child who says they're ok with going to school is making a free and informed choice? Not that they'd ever even think about asking schooled children what they want.

10:53 pm, June 09, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fiery, didn't Graham Badman (aka Gordon Brown - same initials!) say that to Carlotta, or to someone at a meeting? When she had said home educated children like home education he said something like, "Ah, do they like it or do they just say what they think their parents want to hear?"

I mean, why on earth would that twisted thought come to mind UNLESS it was something they had bandied about to negate the 'we listen to children' rubbish (when the children don't agree with the government position).


3:37 pm, June 10, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

Oh I wasn't being entirely facetious, I'm afraid that I do think they will apply such a self-serving double standard. A child's right to choice in how they are educated will ONLY be the right to opt IN to the state approved system.

7:21 pm, June 10, 2009  

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