11.12.1998

A misguided crusade that will break up families

A misguided crusade that will break up families
 
Lynette Burrows defends parents' rights
 
IN PREPARATION for the government's imminent consultation paper on the family, the heavy brigades of the child-care services are mustering in the wings. 160 of them have banded together into a group calling itself the "Alliance" and their aim is to persuade the government to take away the right of parents to discipline their children as they think fit. More specifi­cally, they want smacking chil­dren to be made a criminal offence.
 
One could understand such an alliance of concerned professionals forming to fight abuses of children in care. After all, the Social Services Inspectorate reported in September that children's homes neither looked after nor protected children anything like adequately. The Minister agreed.
 
One would have thought that these abuses would have been highlighted by childcare organisations long ago; but they weren't. Instead, the one cause that has united them in collective "concern" has been an issue which, if it works as it is supposed to, can only result in even more children being taken away from their families and put into "care". What can possibly be the explanation of the rooted desire of so many worthwhile organisations to support such an assault on the beliefs and experience of millions of adults in this country? What gain can they possibly think is worth the loss caused to children and their parents by having the authorities destroy their families?
 
The answer, I believe, is the way it has been put to them. Nobody can possibly object to the aims of the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child. They are no more than what every parent wants. But the inter­pretation that is possible to put upon the word­ing of the convention, by the activists who have set up and run almost all the initiatives in this area, are for people outside the family to interpret what are "the best interests of the child" as uncontentiously stated by the convention.
 
For example, Peter Newell of Epocil Approach, ex-Chil­dren's Legal Centre, the Chil­dren's Rights Development Unit & The Children's Rights Development Office, wrote in a book in 1991 that one parental right that could be challenged under this provision of the Convention was the right of parents to "impose reli­gion on their children".
 
Even if a person is sincerely convinced that smacking a child is not good for it, why do they think they have the right to impose this view on others, using the full right of the law? The majority of children are smacked by parents who were themselves smacked. Their love and experience tells them that it had a positive effect, or they would not do it. The insufferably patronising argument used by the End Physical Punishment of Children activists — who, by the way, are prime movers 7 in the Alliance — is that parents are just too stupid to change their ideas in the light of experi­ence. As if we all grew up wanting rickets or outside toilets, just because our grandparents had them!
 
The answer to why they want to bring parents to heel in this matter lies in the example of Sweden, who these same activists always quote as a shining example of what they hope to achieve in this country. Sweden made physical correc­tion of children a crime in 1979 and the anti-smackers constantly tell us that it has had nothing but positive effects. This is utterly and completely false.
 
The Swedes have been slow to react to what is being done to their families but now have a web page (www.nkinr.org) that describes what is really happening there. Sweden has been a socialist state for a long time but their opportunity to create the parental state, where children are seen as legal indi­viduals without family ties, came when they passed laws ostensibly to support the UN Convention, but containing seemingly innocuous provi­sions that enabled state employees to decide what was the "best interest of the child".
 
This coupled with the anti-smacking law; gave social workers an entree into almost every family in the land — as it would here too. Questions asked at school result in a visit to the home and an inspection of the living quarters and kitchen. Was there too much religion, perhaps?(yes, it has happened); were there "pathological symbiotic relation­ships" in the family? —just in case there was no evidence of any kind of abuse. Even the possession of toy soldiers has been used as a reason to deprive parents of their chil­dren; and children of their home.
 
It is a horrifying read, which leaves one dazed and incredu­lous. However, if one was
inclined to think the contribu­tors (which include the only black woman lawyer in Sweden, lawyers, academics and a police chief) are exag­gerating, consider the Swedish case which went to the Euro­pean Court in 1991 and attracted the attention of The Reader's Digest.
 
The Olssen family was targeted by the authorities as being a family that "could not cope". There was no objec­tive evidence of this but, nevertheless, their three chil­dren, aged 8, 4 and 2 were abducted — that is the only word for it — when they were at a relative's house and were sent to anonymous, separate foster homes 600 miles away. It took five months even to locate their children and seven years to get their case to the European Court. The court found in their favour and awarded them £33,000 compensation. However, they did not get their children back. The only concession made to the court's ruling was that they were allowed three, two-hour visits to their children a year.
 
Now do you get the picture? Imagine those 120 children who were taken away from their parents in Cleveland because of suspected sexual abuse. The social workers were wrong and the doctor had made a wrong diagnoses. Apologies were made and compensation paid to the shat­tered families. If only the authorities had been able to say that a majority of the chil­dren had been smacked at some time, none of that climb-down would have been neces­sary. The authorities could have kept their apologies, their compensation and the chil­dren.
 
No, this is not scare-mongering. It is exactly what happened in Sweden, where prominent figures in child-care made soothing noises about what a civilising effect the new law would have. But it has been a hammer in the hand of those antagonistic to the family. If you doubt that it would be used in such a way here, I have to tell you that some social workers are already bending the rules as much as they can get away with, in their attempts to break up families.
 
To confirm this, just check with Gerry Howard, who formed the National Child Rescue Association 12 years ago and received nearly a hundred calls a week from parents who are being terrorised by incompetent, bullying social workers. Write to him at 89, Upper Lewes Road Brighton, BN2 3FF and judge for yourself whether the on-going cases which he cites on his fact sheets are not worthy of Nazi Germany rather than this country. With­out any grants from public funds, he helps hundreds of families and, when he has his web site operative and a network of branches through the country, he will be able to do more. He deserves support because, as he clearly shows, when ordinary families are targeted and destroyed by social workers, they are on their own.
 
Bearing all this in mind, it is distressing to see on the Alliance's list of supporters, no less than four Catholic organisations. One can only hope and believe that they are simply unaware of what they are doing.