Peter Beresford argues that children are being let down by
protection policies with the wrong priorities.
What is worse than losing a child? One mother once said: “It
took me a year before I fully realised what had hit me, and then I
fell apart.” As doctors announce plans to produce human clones we
might ask why, when so much money looks set to be spent on this,
societies seem to put so little into looking after the children
they already have.
The child rapist and murderer is the bogeyman who haunts our
waking dreams. But what about the much bigger toll of children and
young people killed in traffic accidents, those who are the victims
and conscripts of adult wars, the targets for sexual exploitation,
or the key markets for cigarettes, alcohol and crack cocaine?
In our world the imagined sins of the parents are certainly
visited on the children, as asylum seekers and victims of poverty
It is as if there is an undeclared war against children. It is
evident in social policy – as in school sports and music – where
youth services and support have diminished, but resources are found
for curfews and custody for the resulting dissidents.
The tragedy of James Bulger has been framed in terms of the evil
of children, not the failure of adults who stood by and did nothing
as he was led to his death.
Our organised efforts to look after children have so far failed
them pitifully. The state care of the 1970s and 1980s has since
been shown to have created gulags of sexual abuse. Child care
social workers, pilloried by politicians and press, have long been
inadequately trained, managed and resourced.
Dominant news and social values mean that the Channel 4
programme Brass Eye on paedophilia got more headlines and political
reaction than the sexual abuse of children ever has.
Perhaps it is time to rethink the idea of child “protection” in
social care. No one is suggesting that children and young people
don’t need protecting, if only from the rest of us as adults. But
protection may not be the best conceptual framework to help make
It’s a one-sided idea, which encourages the imposition of
externally set agendas. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from
the emphasis of the service user movements on liberation and
emancipation, rather than protection, although they are no less
concerned with protecting rights.
Voice, choice and credibility are the three characteristics
which young people institutionally abused in council care were most
clearly denied. All three have always figured centrally in the
demands of service user movements. Policy and practice must be
based on prioritising them.
Television has brought us programmes on Hitler’s wars,
sexuality, women, henchmen and scientists. This week a new
satellite series offers Hitler’s Children – The Man Who
Murdered Innocence, by embroiling children in the Hitler Youth
Movement. At that time, Erich Maria Remarque, the author of All
Quiet On the Western Front, the most famous novel of the First
World War and himself a teenage German soldier in that struggle,
wrote: “Young people don’t want to be understood. They want to be
left alone.” There is still much we as adults can learn from
Yvonne Roberts in on holiday.