Friday, 3 December 2010

can we get real with children

i'm slightly heartbroken after reading this guardian article, 'a year in the life of a foster parent', because... it's something i really wanted to do. want to do. i did know it was that bad. i could tell from the stories i hear at work, the parents i meet and the social workers i meet, that it is that bad. that the system really is that much the opposite of child-centred, that social workers really are that offensive, that judges really are that clueless, that children really are that screwed-over. i knew that if i foster children that i will be powerless in a system that dumps children with me, then with someone else, and never asks them what they need. i knew i could ask them what they need, but i'd be powerless to give it to them.

i guess i'd been telling myself that i only know about the domestic violence cases, and these are only a small amount of all the reasons children are taken into foster care. i told myself that in the other cases, the right decisions might be being made.

the article includes four year old twins who have been removed from their parents due to concerns for their safety. they are placed in foster care, with regular visits to see their parents (it's not made clear whether the visits are supervised and/or overnight, etc). the twins tell the foster carer that they have been severely physically and sexually abused and that they never want to see their parents again. you might expect this to be the end of their contact with their parents, particuarly in this era of hysteria and ultra-caution around childhood sexual abuse paedophilia, right? i've imagined myself as a foster parent, getting disclosures like this and - of course - being able to say "those people will never do that to you again" etc etc. and being able to keep that promise. i don't know what i was thinking. the twins are interviewed and a bureaucratic, police and courts process takes many weeks. then it is decided that they are too young to make decisions about whether they see their parents, and (in a glorious and very typical example of kafkaesque contradictaryness of social care and the CPS) that they are also too traumatised to give evidence in court. therefore no court, therefore no end to their contact with their parents.

and what sticks in my head is - did anyone explain anything to the children? it seems like the foster mother really wanted to, and was traumatised by her powerlessness to protect them. but what could she actually say that was true? not "you are safe now", not "you don't have to go through that again", not "it's good that you've told me this because now i can help you"...

i know fuck all about children or parenting, but it just seems blindingly obvious that they need to be told what is happening to them, and if in doubt about what has happened to them, asking seems to be a good option. whenever i have heard about 'suspected sexual abuse' cases, asking the child concerned has not factored at all. what happens is: abuse is suspected, child is hauled in for medical examination (as if bruises/injuries have anything to do with 90% of sexual abuse!!), evidence is given to police who give it to CPS, CPS decide whether the evidence is over 50% likely to prevail in court... while this is happening (which takes up to a year) the child cannot be given counselling/therapy because it could prejudice them giving evidence in court. when that process is all over (and obviously out of the tiny number that go to court only a tiny number convict the abuser), counselling/therapy is usually conviently forgotten by social care as it is too expensive. when i have argued for play therapy for my clients' children i get the "oh you know, the waiting lists are really long", as if it's not worth getting the children onto the waiting lists at all. and if they do ever get to the top of the waiting list they get like 6 weeks!

all of which is a painful reminder that this society is not interested in protecting children from sexual abuse. and especially not in supporting children and adults who have survived sexual abuse. it's interested in busting paedophile rings, sure, but that focus is on criminalising the wrong kinds of sex, not in articulating what abuse it, and stopping it.

and my final question would be, out of the people i love who were abused by their families, how many of them would rather have gone through the social care (and courts) system, rather than staying with their families?

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