Friday, 12 September 2008

When the sun shines

I feel we really have to grab it. We spent a lovely hour in the park this morning. L is being Barnaby Grimes at the moment and he was having a good time chasing squirrels and so on – in full costume minus the topper, which we can’t afford. Pearlie was whizzing down the slope on the skateboard – working in tricks like high fiving Leo and picking up things off the ground as she passed. It made me very grateful to be home edding.

It struck me that the recent piece in the Independent was very sad, for several reasons. The fact of children kept locked up in institutions, in this country, while my children are free to play in the sunshine, is sickening enough on its own. The awful tragedy of children withdrawn from school and kept in starving isolation –in a street of terraced houses not unlike our own – is another bitter indication of the place and times in which we live. And the leap from these awful things to the journalist’s view that only regular local authority checks can ensure the safety and education of my own children, is depressing. These are, presumably, the same local authorities that he calls to account for abandoning permanently excluded children to wander the streets. This is what Johann Hari had to say,
“The law here needs to be altered so local authorities regularly interview home-schooled kids.”

Why? Are we to believe that this would keep children safe and ensure that they thrive? Another news story this week indicates that state ‘checking’ can be a woefully inadequate way of dealing with the plight of children being abused. If a consultant paediatrician can fail to notice grave injuries, including a broken back, in a toddler known to be at risk of abuse, what else can go unnoticed? I don’t have any easy answers. But I don’t see how pouring money into mass monitoring exercise would be anything other than a waste of resources that could be used where they are really needed – in saving children.

I realised when reading the article that it is likely that I would agree with Johann Hari on many things. I do believe that many children in this country are abandoned, in one way or another. I don’t have a rosy notion that family life always means love and care. Adults, including parents, fail to care for children – hurt them, abuse them, neglect them and sometimes kill them. But I am appalled (like Johann Hari) at the way children are failed by the state too. So, why does he think this state is to be relied on to ensure the safety of yet more children? It does a pretty lousy job looking out for those who are relying on it for a start in life. People in prison are thirteen times more likely than those in the general population to have been in local authority care as a child. State intervention often doesn’t (in spite of the best intentions of those who work in social services) result in an improvement in a child’s well-being, especially in the long term.

Sometimes children will be saved by state intervention. Sometimes families need access to professional services for therapy of all sorts, which the state provides. These are the realities of the world we live in and I don’t deny them. I’m glad those services exist. But, do I think the state should waste my money and the time of over-stretched social workers or education welfare staff on routinely interviewing my children? No. My kids have had a busy day today. At the moment they are running a stall on the doorstep. They’re selling old toys and cheese straws that they made together. They’re fine. You can believe that because I love them. I would never knowingly fail them. That is the case with the majority of all parents and home educating parents are no different.

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