Wednesday 3 September 2014

When health professionals threaten parents

I met a woman once with an exhausting history of mental difficulties who was married to a headteacher. Her husband had charge of her medication and she told me she couldn’t help noticing that, when they had any kind of argument, he increased her dose.

I mention this now because it is one of the unwritten rules of public services that people in a pseudo-parental role can often get carried away – muddled about the boundaries between their opinion about the good of the person in their care and an over-riding moral imperative.

That is, anyway, my explanation about why the health authorities – and the Crown Prosecution Service – could have been so mistaken about their arrest warrant for the parents of Ashya King, the boy with the brain tumour.

You might imagine them intervening in the case of feckless parents who didn’t care. But to have the loving parents of a very ill child put in jail in a foreign country, forcing them to abandon their child alone in hospital there, just because of a disagreement about the best treatment – that really takes things to an extreme.

Nick Clegg was the first of the government leaders to speak out on the issue, and he has a sure touch on family issues – as he had here.

There is something about the way that ‘safeguarding’ has been interpreted in public services which is occasionally tyrannical to loving parents who see the world differently to professionals.

And often, bizarrely, the child seems to be the last person to be considered, such is the zeal among the safeguarding industry to punish. Ashya King gets abandoned in hospital. The daughter whose mother lost control, and hit her with a hairbrush – an isolated incident – was removed from her parents. The supposed victims of satanic abuse in the Orkneys (a phantasm, as it turned out) were seized from their beds by police in the middle of the night.

The real problem here is that there is something about the current regime which has strengthened the Philip Larkin tendency in childcare (“they fuck you up, your Mum and Dad”) which is deeply suspicious of everything unofficial and unbiddable, like parents.

It is this tendency which has happily decanted children into care homes, where – as we know now – the real abusers lurked.

There is a Liberal issue here, which is why the Birmingham MP John Hemming has so bravely taken up the cudgels on behalf of children wrongly removed from loving families, often – as it turned out – to meet targets for children taken into care.

This is not a fashionable point of view, but the case of Ashya King is not as isolated as it seems. If you are not articulate, or middle class, you often find yourselves regarding professionals as a threat – and the sad thing is that, sometimes, you would be right to.

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