The idiocies of the child protection bureaucracy

A guest blog post from Manifesto Club member Nigel Drew:

I was recently given a first-hand account of a teenage asylum seeker, made homeless by deportation of his carer. The Social Services felt it was OK to leave him homeless over the Easter holiday and refused to let his teacher offer him a spare room for the night while it was sorted (they were not cleared for fostering! Presumably this means hotels must be cleared for fostering if children are accommodated). Instead Social Services insisted he go into a homeless shelter with the drunks and addicts.

How did we come to this ridiculous pass? The most natural human reaction to children felt by the vast majority of us is to protect and nurture our youngsters. However, laws are passed and policies promulgated by a group of politicians who have absolutely no understanding of children or adolescents, in fact many of them have isolated themselves from their own children by sending them to boarding schools. Then the policies are enacted by a cadre of “jobs-worth” people, who have to watch their backs, afraid of being pilloried for some mistake. Possibly some of these people actually get satisfaction from a perverse sense of power, certainly there are so many cases where they have not stopped to ask themselves if the resultant outcome is actually the best in the individual case. Yes, we are all different, so are youngsters, different ones need different solutions to their problems and these may not always fit the mould of rigorous guidelines.

So where are we with these over-zealous guidelines. To be classified as a risk one only has to be a bit eccentric, lonely or too gregarious, too poor or too rich, a member of an organisation percieved as fundamentalist (so presumably all Roman Catholics), live in the wrong area, have “the wrong” sense of humour, etc., and woe betide anyone foolish enough to refer to any young person as “a friend”, that would be seen as highly suspicious; but youngsters need varied adults to rely on, interact with and act as role-models. Imagine growing up on an island, occupied by only yourself and your parent(s)!

All the extra paperwork, checking, etc. not only has a financial cost that we can ill afford at this time, but it has significant social costs. Overall, the feeling in society of such authoritarianism is oppressive and it actually damages the youngsters themselves. This latter arises because on the one hand society is so obsessed with protecting them from everything adult; tasting alcohol, being disciplined in any way, hearing any reference to anything sexual, and so on. Whereas, on the other hand and by the same protectiveness, withholding any effective sanction from those few who seriously misbehave and thereby exposing the majority of sensible youngsters to potential threats from their peers and certainly damaging their education. No, I do not advocate corporal punishment, but withholding the threat of some serious punishment, such as separation from one’s peers into say special classes has the same effectiveness as just telling thieves and murders “now don’t be so naughty” and leaving it at that.

Soon we will be living in a society where half of the people will be paid to watch the other half; there is a historical precedent and not from so far away.

So let us stop being silly and accept that most people are well-motivated and that only those who have actually misbehaved deserve sanction. Disband a lot of this unnecessary blind structure and accept that people and circumstances differ and we have to apply rules intelligently to each individual case. Bring back common-sense and accept that sometimes mistakes will be made. However, in a free and open society, where children do not feel oppressed and are comfortable with most adults around them, they will say when something is wrong, listen to them and act accordingly.