I don’t really know why, but I find I’ve been haunted all weekend by the story of the mother who hit her child on the arm with a hairbrush because he wouldn’t get dressed for school. Maybe it was a bank holiday awareness of the difficulties of bringing up children; maybe it was just wondering whether I had the nerve to write this. Who knows.
But I do have the nerve, so I’ll say it: this seems to me to be a story that accelerates the fear that all parents share, it seems to me, of the emerging atmosphere of witch-hunt created by the child abuse industry. Of the government-sponsored demand for perfect middle-class child-rearing in the approved New Labour style.
None of this suggests that I want to encourage hitting children – quite the reverse. Or that it doesn’t matter – of course it does. Just that loving parents make mistakes, and sometimes spectacular ones, and that sane authorities need to distinguish between these and child abuse.
But no, the mother who snapped has finally been given a 12-month community order. They have taken her child away (he’s eight) and say he may be allowed to come home once the sentence is over (by which time he'll be nine). Nor is she allowed to discuss it with him on their two-hour weekly permitted meetings.
It seems to me quite extraordinary, brutal even, that this ever came to court. There has been no suggestion that the child is in danger, or that the mother (who has just had a breast removed) is a danger to children. Yet these same authorities seem quite capable of allowing real tragedies to happen like Baby P and the horrific rape by Baby P’s grandfather.
If you doubt that there is a new tyranny emerging here, think of these two things:
1. The poor child, taken away from an apparently loving home with no immediate prospect of coming home, at the age of eight. Despite all the rhetoric of ‘what’s best for the child’, children must apparently expect punishment by the child abuse lobby for their own involvement in parental mistakes.
2. My own nervousness about writing this at all. I am not at all sure that, by voicing this kind of concern, I will not myself become a target and a figure of suspicion.
Those seem to me to be prima facie evidence that we have stumbled into a new tyranny. Worse, it is one that is punishing children and undermining our ability to tackle the real child abuse which undoubtedly exists.