Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In life, so much of what we do is a question of balance. If you eat too much and exercise too little you are likely to get fat and fat is baaaad in the current climate, very bad. But if you eat too little or exercise too much you are likely to get thin, very thin and that, too is bad. The ideal is a balance where you exercise enough, and eat the right amount for your level of exercise to maintain a healthy weight, although what that is seems to vary pretty widely from person to person. The most up to date research on elderly people seems to indicate that's a lot heavier, even into the overweight/obese category, than we thought it was.

If you spend too much time in bed you'll find it hard to hold down a job; too little the same, as you'll be falling asleep on the job. Too much time on your appearance is vanity, too little is slovenliness. Too much time cleaning is obsessive compulsive disorder; too little, a health hazard.

Unfortunately our current government seems to have shipped in a few expert advisors who don't see both ends of the spectrum. They seem to have tunnel vision about the causes of social decline and disorder, and be unable to see that there is a continuum in most areas, which needs interpretation, isn't absolute. For example, they see children out of school as a "thing", and a bad thing at that. Children out of school are children missing from education, children missing from education may slip into criminal behaviour, and are a baaaaad thing. It should be stopped.

The fact that many children out of school are electively home educated, and that this group of children is at the other end of the spectrum from children truanting or missing from school, just doesn't seem to compute. They have a marker for abherrant behaviours and that marker is not attending school and so they lump us in with all the others.

I think the recent child poverty markers are along the same lines: we know that families in which there is a low income are more likely to abuse their children, so let's round up the low income families. They're ignoring the fact that some people make a choice, a literal choice to downsize their income in order to exchange it for quality of life. To give up the commute to the city and spend the time digging the potato patch instead. Not that I think people who have a low income in general should be stigmatized as people neglectful of their children. I would fall into the alert category of low income families, and I strongly resent the idea that I am more likely to abuse or neglect my children.

If you look through the biographies of the rich and famous and their offspring, it seems that very often having more money than sense is a road to disaster, drugs, loss of purpose and a life of aimless addiction. Many of those who grew up in poverty would say that they were poor, but happy. Had little, but loved much. It's a continuum, where you cannot draw conclusions by the simple fact of a family's income.

It seems to me that the people in charge of children's services are looking for easy answers... actually, they'd be much happier if they could tattoo the potential criminals, the families who were about to fall by the wayside... they have become obsessed by identifying them, finding them, being seen to be doing something about them.

The trouble is, you can't categorize people like that. And even if you do identify a risk factor, and separate all the people who demonstrate that they fall into that category, it still isn't going to help the powers that be take a decision in the case. In the end, they have to have good judgement about whether an individual family is in crisis and needs intervention, or is doing ok.

The state makes a very bad parent. You only have to look at the group of children for whom they are the parent - those in the care of the local authority - to see what a very bad job they do of it. The children in care are less likely to achieve academically, more likely to descend into criminal behaviour. The care we offer the children who are removed from families by the state is very poor indeed. Radio 4 reported a couple of years ago that the state has lost track of many children by the time they reach 16 - children for whom they are responsible.

I feel we need to regain a balanced view of this, and see that, actually, we need social workers and social services departments who are doing their jobs properly. We can have as many identifying factors, trends and alarm bells as we (or the government) like, but in the end, what is going to matter to a child at real risk, is whether the adults responsible for ensuring their safety can actually do the job.

I know my opinion is controversial, but the other thing I would do is to recognise that the risk of a child being sexually abused by a woman is infinitesimally small, and put women in charge of good loving children's homes where they aren't afraid to hug and kiss the children. The current situation, where people are afraid to be alone with a child, and the child gets no loving touch at all from the adults in their lives is just as damaging, I do believe, as the sexual abuse such safeguards are designed to protect children from. And though it is uncomfortable for good, loving, non-abusive men to hear, it is true that most of the sexual abuse of children is committed by men. To a quite considerable degree. Please do research this yourself if you doubt me.

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