Children live according to their early experience. Discuss!

Raising our kids to be good adults who make a positive contribution to our world is critical for our global future. I’m just not sure we’re consistently succeeding in this aim right now…

For example, earlier this year I discovered that state children’s homes are now privatised. It means each child knows how much it costs to keep them as a resident.

Take that fact in.

That any child knows the precise cost of their care and presumably the profit margin they attract. It feels deeply wrong. Not only have they been removed from their own family home, for whatever reason, they are now seen as a commercial revenue generator. It must be devastating and is utterly despicable as a standard for child rearing. Children and childcare should not be a business entity.

My parent’s fostered and adopted, so I do know something about the reality of introducing a child to an existing family, uprooted and sometimes traumatised by their experiences. These days Social Workers and the related institutions understand more about the integration of an adopted child with the family’s existing children, back in the 80’s there was little to no support. I support PACT the adoption charity and was asked by them to do a survey to describe the experience of adoption and support from the point of view of a pre-existing sibling. I smiled wryly at the thought this was offered back then, but was ultimately relieved that it was now considered essential to offer some level of support on welcoming and integrating the adopted child.

Social Services restructured a few years ago and one of the most difficult things for me was the removal of the Young Carer social workers. As someone with prior mental health issues, the support and understanding offered to my daughter via this department was invaluable. She was able to share her worries and challenges in a safe space with someone experienced with children facing the role of carer, for parents with both physical and mental illness. Subsequently when speaking to other health professionals about the role of a young carer, I discovered a very different attitued in relation to what is expected of that child. Many kids look after all the physical needs of a parent, feeding, dressing, and washing their parent, as well as coping with any mental health issues that may result from their disability. My daughter’s responsibilities were considerably more limited, just checking medication was taken and generally that I was mentally well. This was not a surprise to the specialist Young Carer Social Worker but others were less well-informed and I felt very judged by them.

Social Services are notoriously underfunded, and we appear surprised to hear that children are often let down by the system. There have been a number of cases of severe injury resulting in death and the investigations and resulting recommendations are rarely published. I would like to see an action plan to improve how parenting and raising children in a holistic way. It’s not just the failure of Social Services and social childcare that lets down our children, surely we need to look at the systemic causes of children being raised in care.

At the moment, the cost of living crisis could simply result in parents no longer being able to afford their child’s needs. I wrote of how hard poverty can be in my series of blogs on the reality of a massive decrease in income or increase in domestic costs on family life. However child rearing is not just about money, it’s about the skills of being a parent. If a child emerges from care or a dysfunctional family dynamic, they do not necessarily have a good model of how the parent themselves. Local toddler groups can be helpful to share tips with other parents, but with the loss of the government funded Sure Start programmes in most areas there is not much available to support new parents. Even those with good parenting role models come across problems never discussed actively within families. Parents often keep to themselves how they coped with a bout of chicken pox for example, and the assumption that new parents have someone to go to with these questions is perhaps naïve, especially with the dispersed nature of the broader family group. I was jealous of the young mothers in Manchester who grew up together and had grandmothers and aunts next door, to call on for support and babysitting.

The government focus seems to be mostly about mothers returning to work and the related childcare costs. Where has the role of the stay-at-home parent disappeared to? Why isn’t our society enabling a range of choices for raising our children? As a mum who worked full-time from the age of my child being 18 months, it’s very hard. Some days it’s impossible to be both good parent and good employee, especially as a single parent. Having spent the last two years not working much at all, time is valuable. Obviously parents need enough money as well, but there’s a well-being balance for parent and child that should not be underrated. I now have energy, not alot of spare cash but even simply that we eat better as I have more time is invaluable.

Having run local groups like the Cub Scouts and mentored young teenagers through school, these services seem increasingly important to set an example for young people of a positive lifestyle. Could we look at the failings in the system and family groups more comprehensively? Could we collectively think about reducing the number of children who end up in care and encourage and support good parenting as basic prevention? Can we please keep the cost of childcare from the child and remind them that money is secondary in the way their guardians support and parent while in care?

It’s basic but important to think of every child as a person in their own right. That child will ultimately contribute or not to our society in a positive way, and much is due to their early experience of life. When do we stop blaming the child emerging from care for their ‘failings’ in life, and instead look at ourselves and how we could improve their life experience? There are many organisations that work to do this – I for one has been thinking about how they could be better integrated to really support every child. Hopefully others are too!

Love Ruth x

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