The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “families”

Austerity bites

Community Care have reported a 20% rise in funding from the S.17 budget (an emergency fund available to Social Services to support children in need under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989).

This is clear evidence of the rise in poverty and social deprivation since the introduction of cuts to welfare benefits and the rise in sanctions introduced under the previous (coalition) government.

There is clearly a worrying trend here, but it is also evident that while savings appear to have been made by the government in one area of expenditure, there have been consequential rising costs in another.  It is with huge relief that George Osborne has, in today’s financial statement, withdrawn the proposed swinging cuts to Tax Credits, or at least to allow rising wages under the new ‘living wage’ to come into effect first.

Just imagine how much greater the impact would have been on local authority budgets if it were not for food banks.  But food banks cannot fill the whole gap – nappies, travel, clothing, including school uniforms, toiletries and other essential household items, or cash for electric and gas meters, are not covered.

Picking up these costs is still cheaper for the local authority than taking a child into foster care – which they would have to do if the alternative is that the child is being classified as physically neglected because the parent cannot adequately feed or clothe their child.

I’ll say no more – for social workers reading this I’m merely teaching my grandmother to suck eggs – and anyway, the article says it all better than I can.

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British values

Since Jeremy Corbyn’s entry into the Labour leadership race there has been a phenomenal rise in interest in politics, which I have been following.  I found this comment on a recent Facebook post that seems to sum up so much of how more and more people seem to be feeling these days.

Lydia Smith Dear Mr Cameron,

My children’s school has asked them to undertake a homework project on what “British Values” means to them. Although I’m happy to support them with their homework, I admit I’m struggling with the concept of “British Values” and what they are supposed to mean.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value our children because they are our future. Yet under this government, 3.6 million children in Britain live in poverty. Mr Cameron, as a direct result of tax and benefit decisions made by your government since 2010, this figure is set to rise to 4.3 million by 2020 (http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures). And you have imposed massive cuts on Children’s Centres, which were designed to help lift the poorest children from poverty.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value and protect our environment. Yet, Mr Cameron, you are ignoring local government opposition and forcing fracking upon our country, which poses significant risks to our environment and risks poisoning our water supply. You are also failing to protect Britain’s national parks and protected wildlife habitats from destruction through fracking. You have cut subsidies for renewable energy, but continue to subsidise non-renewable and nuclear energy. What kind of environment can our children expect to inherit?

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we look after the sick, which is why we have a free healthcare system, the NHS. But Mr Cameron, our NHS is now in financial trouble, isn’t it. The NHS has just reported a £930m overspend in the first financial quarter of this year, and we both know that this is as a direct result of the actions this government has taken: short-sighted financial planning and sweeping cuts to the public sector. I find myself wondering how long the NHS, free healthcare, and therefore caring for the sick regardless of ability to pay, will survive under your government.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value our education system. But this year, your government introduced the most severe funding cuts to education in years, which has affected jobs, morale and subject availability. Since Michael Gove was made Education Minister, our government has attacked and undermined the teaching profession, making greater demands upon our teachers while cutting resources and funding. There have been hasty, sweeping changes to the exam system; my daughter worries whether her qualifications will mean anything at all once she leaves school.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, everybody’s right to education is valued. But since you have become Prime Minister, university tuition fees have trebled and you have scrapped maintenance grants for the poorest students. I now find myself wondering whether my children will be able to go to university at all, even if they are bright enough for Higher Education.

I want to tell my children that Britain values human beings over corporate greed. Yet you seem on the verge of signing up to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would give enormous power to multinational companies at the expense of consumers and workers.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value disabled people and believe that they too make a valuable contribution to our society. Yet you have practically removed all of Britain’s support structures for disabled people. In fact, because of your government’s violations of the rights of disabled people, Britain is the first country ever to face a high-level international UN inquiry into its breach of disabled people’s rights.

I want to tell my children that it is a British value to offer help and sanctuary to those who have nothing because they are fleeing war or persecution. Yet we are now facing the largest refugee crisis since WW2 and the UK houses just 1% of the world’s refugees. Of 4 million Syrian refugees, just 143 have been resettled to the UK. Furthermore, in 2010, the UK pledged to end child detention for immigration purposes, yet just last year, 40 children under 5 were held at detention centres in the UK. (https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/tellitlikeitis)

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value human rights. But your government wants to scrap the Human Rights Act, so your government will be able to overrule the European Court of Human Rights, meaning far less protection for our people from human rights violations in the UK.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value our laws which are designed to protect our people and our environment. Yet one of the first things you did as Prime Minister was remove and weaken many of our existing laws, benefiting business at the expense of individual people and our environment.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value freedom of speech and freedom to protest so that when good people make bad decisions, we have the voice and power to speak up against what is happening. Yet what use is freedom of speech when the British government callously ignores even widespread opposition to its decisions? What good is the freedom to protest when you pass laws to silence British trade unions and pressure groups? There is no such thing as freedom of speech or protest when you make people afraid to speak out, Mr Cameron.

I want to tell my children that British Values mean being brave and kind, tolerant and inclusive, caring and sharing, honest and integrous. Yet these are not exclusively British Values, Mr Cameron, and – it must be said – values which are hardly being demonstrated by the current British government. These are values that are intrinsic to being a good person, regardless of nationality. You don’t have to be British to be a good person. The reverse is also true: not all British people are good people, Mr Cameron.

When I asked my young children what British Values meant to them, their response was, “We are brave and kind and honest. We care and share. We look after our world. We care about other people. We look after babies and children, people who are sick, poor people, disabled people and homeless people.”

If even the youngest children in our society understand that these qualities are something British society should aspire towards, why doesn’t the British government?

A society is only as good as the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members, Mr Cameron, and I’m very sorry to say that I could not find any examples of my children’s “British Values” in your government. Where do I even begin with the hypocrisy of trying to instil “British Values” into the next generation by a government who fails to lead by example? Perhaps we are trying to teach “British Values” to the wrong people.

Thankfully, bravery and kindness, tolerance and inclusion, caring and sharing, honesty and integrity are being nurtured in the next generation, without the need for these values to be labelled as “British”. Perhaps, Mr Cameron, you should spend more time in British classrooms, in the presence of our children and our teachers – you might actually learn something. Then again, I rather suspect you are beyond redemption.

 

How poor is poverty?

In a world where poverty is measured in terms of material wealth, I have found myself asking myself this question again and again in recent years.

I think of the man living alone, in England, in a one bedroom flat with no more than a table, chair, bed and a few kitchen utensils to his name, yet with regular social gatherings with friends he can rely on he describes himself as completely content and wanting for nothing.

I think of the Andean mountain village community in Ecuador who struggle to raise the $2 per child charged by the school to provide their children with a bag of sweets and biscuits on the last day of term before Christmas, the only Christmas present those children will receive. The children make no complaint, they are no different from their peers. They live a life of daily adventure, exploring their environment, taking risks European parents would quail at, getting all the attention they need and want from their parents and extended families, with no shortage of food or clothing. Just no Christmas presents. To all intents and purposes theirs is a life of poverty, and even though they know they don’t have money to spare they only recognise themselves as poor when someone draws it to their attention.

I think too of the Mongolian nomadic people who could lose their whole livelihood when a harsh winter follows a dry summer, a combination that can kill off all their livestock. A harsh life that can be seen in their eyes, in a climate where the relatively rich (in livestock) can be brought into utter deprivation due to the circumstances of their climate. For this reason many have moved into the capital city where there is only a little evidence of wealth in a country that is innately poor.

One quartz miner's makeshift home.

One quartz miner’s makeshift home.

And then I see the home of a quartz miner in the mountainous deserts of Namibia: an old North American pick-up dragged high into the mountains, its wheels long gone, the interior seating beyond sagging; a mattress laid out in the flat bed of the rear of the truck, tent canvas spread out to cover the mattress and an area beyond that servers as a kitchen and eating area. A home has been constructed here. Inside it is clean and tidy. Nearby is a pit toilet, dug into the ground with three walls and a door for privacy, but no roof – a roof is hardly needed in a country where there is no rain. A huge water cistern stands on a trailer nearby. There is so much apparent hardship in this life, living conditions that some have described as appalling. The ground is barren, no food will grow here. When they have enough quartz to trade the miners drive into the nearby town, like the pioneers and gold diggers of the American West, their route worn as tracks through the rocky landscape, where they trade gemstones for money, food and water. How much choice do they have about their lifestyle? To me it seems hard and lonely – the miners are all men and most if not all seem to live alone in this barren land. It’s not a lifestyle I would choose but what would they say if we were able to ask them about living in poverty? Would they consider their lifestyles as deplorable as we might in the West?  They work hard and their basic needs for food and shelter are met.

As one of the last remaining traditional African tribes, the bare-breasted Himba women who live in the wilderness areas of Namibia’s Kaokoland trade posting for photos in exchange for basic foodstuffs such as sugar, salt and rice. Or at least those who live near the more well-used roads do. Those who live deeper into the wilderness know more the suffering of hunger, when the rivers rise and close the roads during the wet season, preventing the tourists, the people who pay for their photos with packets of food, from driving the flooded roads. The land is all but barren, crops are scarce. Some of the Himba have chosen to abandon their traditional lifestyle, moving instead into towns and villages, often selling the jewellery and crafts for which their people are known. Such transitioning is hard but that is no doubt better than experiencing the pain that can be seen in the eyes of the women when they look at their flaccid breasts that are not making enough milk to feed their babies as they beg you to take their photo so you will give them food.

How poor is poverty?  I make my own judgements on these situations, based on my own experience of living in a relatively wealthy country, although I am by no means relatively wealthy within that country.   What I see is that poverty and wealth come in many guises but, materially speaking, sometimes even the relatively poor can seem relatively rich, while sometimes the relatively rich are also insanely rich, in a world where material wealth often doesn’t bring emotional happiness or spiritual contentment but where severe poverty destroys lives and human potential.

Moralities: Discussing Abortion

Earlier this week BBC European news reported: “A controversial bill in Spain to end women’s right to abortion on demand is set to be passed after an opposition challenge was defeated in parliament.”  Abortion on demand was only introduced in Spain in 2010 in legislation passed by the Socialists.  Since then the ruling power has moved to the conservative Popular Party.  The new legislation will restrict abortion to cases of rape or where the mother can prove that having the child will pose a severe risk to their physical or mental health.

Discussing abortion (but not rights)

Abortion raises many conflicting opinions.  The reporting quotes ‘rights of the child’, protestors in particular talk of women’s rights.  The Catholic Church supports the new legislation.

For myself, I could wish abortion did not exist (other than mother nature’s will).  But wishing won’t make it go away.

I can only begin to imagine the mental and emotional anguish of having my body nurturing a new life created from a traumatic beginning and I could wish that no child was conceived because of rape.  I could wish that rape did not exist.  But wishing won’t change things.

I don’t believe any parent truly wants a child with disabilities* and I could wish that no child was born with severe disabilities.  But wishing won’t help them or their parents.

* This is not including societies where a disability, especially in a child, is seen as an advantage when it comes to begging.  If acute poverty did not exist and begging was not necessary then I still doubt that any parent would truly want a child with disabilities.

I could wish that all children were planned and conceived within a loving and stable relationship.  I could wish that no child was unwanted.  I could wish that no child was conceived from incest or sexual abuse.  I could wish a lot of things but wishing doesn’t change reality.

The “good old days”

There was a time of course when abortion was not legally or readily available, although to some extent it has always existed: the medicine woman who knows of a few herbs that will do the trick, the back street abortionist with her famed knitting needle.  Women desperate enough have always found ways to end an unwanted pregnancy, despite the risks to their own health in these practices.  And often, in their time, for very good reasons: it’s only a hundred years ago that in England a pregnancy outside of marriage  resulted in the woman being imprisoned (for life) in a mental health institution and her baby forcibly removed at birth.  Pregnant teenagers and young women might be lucky and sent to a maiden aunt somewhere in the country where they could give birth in secret and return, childless, to their family, the family reputation still intact, the ‘future’ of the girl restored.  Even as late as the mid 1970’s something like this happened to a 15 year old relative of mine, who was sent to a young mother’s unit for her pregnancy and birth.

Those were the not so good features of the ‘good old days’.  But there was one aspect of life 100 years ago that we have since lost: the value placed on family and community.  A young couple facing the birth of another child in an already overcrowded home might have the option of one or more of their children living with aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.  Such as when, in the early 1900’s, after the death of his father and with the family sinking deeper into poverty, my grandfather went to live with a childless aunt and uncle.  In many African, Caribbean and Latin American cultures today it is still possible to see communities where parenting is seen as the responsibility of the wider family group, where childcare is shared, where children are loved and absorbed into the community without stigma or concern.

Alternatives?

Are there alternatives to abortion?  Not many.

Pregnancy outside of marriage is no longer stigmatised.  It no longer carries the shame.  Illegitimacy is no longer stigmatised.  In fact the word illegitimate is increasingly falling out of use.  However, before the 1926 Legitimacy Act a child carried the stigma of illegitimacy until death regardless of whether or not their parents later married.  After 1926 legitimacy was granted providing the child had not been conceived while either parent was married to someone else, but it was not until the 1959 Legitimacy Act that children were legitimised regardless of whether either of their parents had been previously married or their marriage annulled for some reason.  That should have been great news for my father but to this day he still feels the acute shame of his generation, of having been ‘born out of wedlock’.

What this means is that there is a realistic option to abortion inasmuch as giving birth and caring for the child is an option today in a way it was not an option 100 years ago.  And certainly that has been an choice for many if the cries and criticisms of the likes of the Daily Mail castigating profligate ‘single mothers’ is anything to go by.  They can’t win can they.  Condemned by pro-lifers for opting for abortion, condemned by the government and press as scroungers and wasters if they don’t.

Which only leaves one other option: adoption.  And here I return to my ‘wish list’.  I could wish that society was more tolerant of women who choose to give birth and then willingly allow their child to be adopted.  It’s no easier a decision than abortion, in some ways it is more difficult.  Both result in emotional pain.  But abortion can be done in secret.  Adoption is very public.  We live in a society where it is automatically assumed that a pregnant woman will want to keep her child: after all, she would have had it aborted otherwise.  Standing up and say, ‘Yes, I’m pregnant but I’m choosing to have my child adopted because …..’ takes a special strength of character, and support from those closest to her.

The role of the Church and other religions

It’s all very well for the Catholic church to support the change in legislation in Spain, severely restricting the option of abortion.  It goes completely with religious beliefs that life is sacred, that abortion is murder, that only God can give or take life.  But focusing on topics like this is taking the easy option – and legislation doesn’t change human behaviour.  It’s also not real life for a significant proportion of society.  The church (and other religions against abortion) should be asking why women want abortions, why there is rape and incest, why families struggle and break down.  And then the really hard question: what can they do to support society so that the cause of what they perceive to be the ‘problem of abortion’ is tackled rather than the symptom.

In doing so, perhaps religions will also be helping young women to choose the open difficult path to adoption rather than the secret path to abortion.  Then at least young women will have three genuine choices when faced with an unwanted pregnancy rather than just two.

Good parenting?

An Australian mum, angry of the attitude and lies of her teenage daughter and her daughter’s friends, auctioned the ‘One Direction’ tickets she had bought them for her daughter’s birthday present.

Business Insider (US based online news) refers to the ‘blistering and shaming message’ and said this could ‘scar her daughter for life’

Mirror (US based online news) described the mum as ‘wonderfully unforgiving’

John Boone on ‘E’ picks up on the mum’s use of the word ‘trollope’ to describe the girls’ behaviour

Perezitos uses the terms ‘highly unusual’ and ‘strange’ ‘form of punishment’ to describe this mum’s actions

Uproxx said “I’m not sure whether to applaud, or call the authorities” because of this punishment for being ‘lippy’

Gigwise refers to the mum’s ‘blistering and angered rant’ picking up in the title the use of the mum’s word ‘trollope’

International Business Times took the cautious route and made no judgement in their report

So what’s it all about?  Well, here’s the eBay entry for the ticket sale:

“THIS AUCTION IS FOR ALL 4 ONE DIRECTION TICKETS IN SYDNEY OCTOBER 25th. You  can thank my daughters self righteous and lippy attitude for their sale. See  sweety? And you thought I was bluffing. I hope the scowl on your bitchy little  friends faces when you tell them that your dad and i revoked the gift we were  giving you all reminds you that your PARENTS are the ones that deserve love and  respect more than anyone. And your silly little pack mentality of taking your  parents for fools is one sadly mistaken. Anyhow. Your loss someone else’s gain  who deserves them! THE TICKETS ARE SEATED IN ROW O section 57. REMEMBER AUCTION  IS FOR ALL 4 TICKETS and will be sent registered post.

…OH YOUR FRIENDS THOUGHT THAT A FEW PRANKS CALLS WOULD PUT ME OFF SELLING  THE GIFT WE BOUGHT FOR THEM for YOUR BIRTHDAY because YOU all LIED to us about  sleep overs so you could hang like little trollops at an older guys HOUSE?????  Pffft!! I find it HIGHLY amusing that you girls think you invented this stuff.  Tricks like this on OUR parents is how HALF of you were conceived …..And why a  lot of your friends DONT have an address to send that Fathers day card  to!!! I’m not your friend. I’m your MOTHER. And I am here to give you the  boundaries that YOU NEED to become a functional responsible adult. You may hate  me now….. But I don’t care. Its my job to raise a responsible adult..not  nuture bad habits in my teen age child.”

Certainly she didn’t pull any punches.  Her daughter and her daughter’s friends can be in little doubt as to the cause of the loss of their privilege.  The overall impression I get from the other commentators above is one of shock and a degree of disapproval.  But was this mum right?  Or, was the punishment excessive?

On the basis of the eBay listing I applaud this mum.  She’s right when she says she’s not her daughter’s friend, she’s her mother, and it’s her job to raise a responsible adult.

One often recommended form of discipline is withdrawal of privileges.  It has to be something that is valuable to the child/young person in order for the withdrawal to be effective. It also needs to be reasonable and of a scope to fit the misdemeanor.  Clearly this mum is very angry at being lied to and upset that her daughter is putting herself in vulnerable situations.

Unlike grounding or removing TVs from bedrooms, this is a short, sharp withdrawal of privilege, but one of sufficient magnitude to be effective.  Her daughter won’t forget this lesson in a hurry.  It won’t have done her any long term harm, she is unlikely to need therapy to overcome it (as suggested by Business Insider).  It will have demonstrated to her, and her friends, that her parents have authority and that they love her enough to have the courage to use that authority.  She will know that you cannot lie to and disrespect someone, including your parents, and not get some kind of consequence.

I believe parents have a job to do.  A difficult job.  Too often parents want their children to like them and let them do things that are not in their long term best interests.  It takes courage and determination to guide a child through the turbulent waters of adolescence, to be their parent, not their friend.

Hopefully this girl will grow up to appreciate that.

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