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Child Abuse: The Bigger Picture

Published by Yvonne Hutchinson on Friday, November 9th, 2012 at 12:41 pm

When the Select Committee of MPs issue and edict from their ivory tower in Westminster that lots more children must be taken away from their parents, the words ‘not living in the real world’ came to mind.  In fact, I wondered how many of those MPs had ever been or plan to be foster carers.  Not quite as glamorous as swanning about in the Palace of Westminster.

Since Baby P all major local authorities have seen a significant increase in the number of children being taken into care and have been commended for it.  My local authority praised Children’s Services in a report for ‘increasing the number of children living in economically deprived areas being removed.’  I wasn’t sure if I was reading a report written in the 21st Century or an extract from a Dickens novel. 

The issue of child abuse has become so sensationalised and politicised in recent times that it’s difficult to reintroduce balance, logic or reason with the eye of suspicion falling on all parents in the wrong economic class.   But how do these MPs suppose a care system already on its knees will cope with a massive influx of kids?  Where are the children supposed to go?  And isn’t it a well-documented fact that the State is a pretty lousy parent.   

Many of the girls I was in care with went on to become prostitutes, drug addicts and repeat offenders.  More recently when I went to manage a charity which works with vulnerable women I found that, if anything, the statistics had only got worse not better!

So let’s have a look at the options our MPs and are suggesting.   Because successive administrations have called for more children to be taken into care there’s been a massive growth of independent agencies being commissioned by a shrinking state to find placements for all those kids flooding into the system.   And those agencies make big demands on the public purse and why not?  They are after all, private, profit making businesses. 

Then there are the privately run children’s homes usually housing older, children that even the privately run fostering agencies can’t place.  These are the kids that are often in hugely expensive single placement units staffed by several people who have no authority at all to stop them doing exactly as they please.  This is the kind of unit where some of the girls in a recent high-profile grooming scandal lived.  But, these particular girls didn’t become as damaged as they are in their biological home, most of the damage was done in care.

Putting children into privately run homes doesn’t look that quite so attractive, so let’s have a look at foster care.  A friend of mine has recently become a foster carer and I’m over the moon for the children that have been placed with her, they really are in safe, caring hands and the children are blossoming.  However, with ever increasing shortage of foster carers advertisements from private agencies have begun to appear on the internet that smack of desperation and if my experience of foster care is typical, I worry for the kids waiting to be placed.

I hated being in foster care, separated from friends and sticking out like a sore thumb as a black child in a white family.   One set of carers routinely gave the dog a better dinner than I got and, despite being a teenager, I rarely left the house because of the racial abuse I experienced on the all-white, northern council estate.   It was so obvious to me that to this couple I was only a meal ticket.  Not surprisingly, like so very many foster care placements, the arrangement broke down.  And the high percentage of foster care placements that break down only further damaging children, but that won’t have been given much consideration by our lofty minded MPs.

My blood boiled listening to that buffoon of an MP on Wednesday’s evening news saying social workers give parents too many chances to improve before removing their kids.  It all sounded like some Orwellian nightmare.   MPs need to stop trying to grease the wheels of their careers by jumping on the child abuse band wagon and return to sober judgement!

Blaming over-burdened social workers for not putting more children into care isn’t the solution.  What, might I ask is the point of taking children from ‘unfit’ biological parents and putting them into a highly dysfunctional, badly broken care system?  Moreover, If a parent has never had the opportunity to learn how to be a parent (possibly because they were parented by the state), what is the logic of punishing them further by tearing their children away placing them in the same care system?  Surely, the answer is better support for the parents.  Anyone who’s seen Super Nanny knows that you don’t have to be poor or evil to struggle with knowing how to raise challenging children.  But when placed in the context of economic hardship the challenge can become too much for many parents to meet without support.

What’s needed is for the vast sums of money being squandered on the current system to be redirected to training up intensive family support workers and mentoring programmes to give extra support to older kids.   This would cost a fraction of what it costs to tear a child away from everything he knows and stick him in care where he is likely to encounter the industrial scale, systematic abused of his new parent, the State.

Last year I watched a vulnerable young mother have her children removed, placed in care and then for adoption on the grounds that they were ‘at risk of emotional abuse’.  The reality was that she clearly loved her children deeply but needed some extra support to teach her how to cope.  I knew then that the hand of the State had reached far too far.  These children are now languishing in care and permanently separated from their biological mother and the woman’s life has been utterly devastated.

There’s no question that in a small minority of cases there is no alternative but to remove a child for their own protection. The sad reality now though is that most children being removed fair fare worse being parented by the state and if things continue in the direction they’re going the picture can only become more bleak.

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