Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Everything and Nothing

Presumed Guilty

A few decades ago the joke about justice was that an accused person was innocent until proved Irish. For Irish, now read “bullied parent”. The current child protection procedures and the proposed laws to penalise parents for their children’s bad behaviour provide a charter for child bullies. They can be as anti social as they like and their parents will be punished – not them. It is a power too far.

Of course the typical teenager would not use such a power against its parents – but then the typical teenager is unlikely to be bunking off schools or indulging in anti social behaviour on the street. The mistake is to assume that parents of anti-social, excluded or truanting teenagers either condone or ignore their child’s behaviour and do nothing to try to stop it.  Undoubtedly some parents do not care but there are, I believe, a great many who have taught their children community values, provided loving and supportive homes, acted as reasonable role models, set firm and fair guidelines and adopted the recommended parenting techniques but still find themselves faced with an abusive and sometimes violent child.

What do the parents do? Curefews don’t work – they are ignored; grounding won’t work unless your home is secured like a prison – the child will run away, climing through windows or sneaking out in the night;  listening and talking don’t work – you risk verbal abuse, sometimes violence. The child acts as differently from the parent as it possibly can. It stays out all night, it doesn’t come home from school. It leads its friends’ parents to believe that it is being abused, kept prisoner, being unreasonably treated at home. Its parents try to get help – but nothing is available.  The assumption is that it’s the parents’ fault: inadequate parenting skills, not enough love, not enough positive encouragement, inconsistent discipline, too strict, too lax, too aggressive, too much shouting, not enough listening…..

The routine parenting classes can even make things worse. At the one I went to the tutors didn’t seem to grasp what the parents (all volunteers giving up their Saturday) were telling them. One woman who had been abused by her alcoholic teenage daughter for two years was told to tell her daughter that the abuse and swearing was totally unacceptable and that she should stop it now. This was not a case for “choices and consequences”, because there was no choice. The poor woman didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What, she asked, did they think she had been doing for two years?

The nightmare gets worse. The child’s invincibility is confirmed when it gets slightly injured (small scratch or bruise) while it is physically attacking its parents. In my experience, if you are a parent your right to reasonable self defence (trying to push it away or hold it still) does not extend to protecting yourself against your child (because you might hurt it!!). The police accept the defence – but not the social services. They will put you through child protection procedures without even interviewing you first. You are presumed guilty and they are rescuing your child. It is even doubtful whether proving that your child abused you will help. Apparently most abusive children were abused themselves and no doubt the parents are the most likely suspects.

So what chance of family reconcilliation? What chance of justice?  Most damming of all – what chance for the child? Is it really in the child’s interest? Does it help a child who has been bullying its parents to punish its parents? (Imagine the headlines if the victims of a playground bully were the ones excluded from school).

Despite their trauma, distress and often mental health problems caused by the experience, the parents are still the people most concerned about their child’s interests and welfare. Whatever the child has done to them or or caused to be done to them, the parents still want to see their child grow up safe, healthy and happy, fit into society as a well adjusted person and make the most of its opportunities.

My concern is that some of the children in this position may need serious help for underlying illnesses (whether mental or physical) and the assumption that their behaviour stems from the abuse or inadequacies of their parents is preventing them from getting the help and services they really need. Even if you don’t care about the parents and agree with the presumption of guilt be careful that your hasty, well meaning and politically correct beliefs are not further damaging the child they are designed to help.

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