I’m sitting watching my four year old granddaughter writing a story and I’m marvelling at the miracle she is. I’m thinking how fortunate she is too: she is surrounded by people who love her and provide for her every need. People like me who put everything else on hold when she’s around and dance to her tune! Six am and you want to paint, Toots? Course you can, let me help you get everything out that you need. Read you story twenty seven of the day? No bother. Park? Putting my shoes on. This child has a wardrobe full of clothes, is never cold or hungry, has been abroad on holiday, been to the zoo, the circus, the cinema! Goes for swimming lessons, tennis lessons, gym club! The list of her experiences is extensive and she’s only four. More that any of that though, she is totally, absolutely and unconditionally beloved: there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her and the same is true for her extended family.
I contrast this with the latest report from Holyrood, home of the Scottish Parliament, into the realities of life for children with an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent. There are estimated to be some 60,000 children at risk in Scotland today. Children who have been let down by the parents and families that are supposed to love and care for them; let down again by the system designed to protect them when they are at their most vulnerable. For years the authorities have agreed that taking children away from their parents is the wrong thing to do, that the best place for them was in the family home however dysfunctional the family was. “Not in the child’s best interests,” they said. Finally, they asked the children and so the evidence in this report comes from the children themselves and “out of the mouths,” as they say. Children reported that they felt they had been abandoned to abuse and neglect long after they should have been removed from the family home. They said the hearings to determine their future were intimidating and stressful and no-one listened to what they had to say. Many had experienced a “merry-go-round of placements,” in and out of homes or foster care, always being returned to the family home where they were further neglected and abused. Generations of children robbed of a decent childhood because of misguided policies, lack of adoptive/foster parents/care homes, inadequate places of safety. Most of all, inadequate and irresponsible parents.
This isn’t about the attention paid to the parents though, or the money and resources spent on them, or about their “rights” it’s about the vulnerable children: how we protect the ones we have and prevent there being more in the future. Some have suggested radical measures such as mandatory contraception and sterilisation so that addicts never become parents and I would offer an observation on that idea. A few years ago I spent weeks on a professional development course which explored all the ways in which children needed to be nurtured and cared for to ensure they grew up to be healthy, happy and well-adjusted adults. Naturally, we discussed the effects on children when they didn’t experience a nurturing environment as they grew up. At one seminar we watched a news report from the United States which detailed how addicted parents, mothers, had to accept long-term contraception or lose their benefits. I thought it was a good idea and said so; seemed sensible in the light of our discussions in the previous six weeks. I was absolutely shot down in flames by the educational psychologist on the course who couldn’t believe I would deprive these poor people of their right to be a parent, and this was the clincher: having a child might be the only creative thing they ever did!!!
My parting words on walking out of the course? “Get them some colouring books and crayons!”
Just an observation.