Children in care

Many problems afflict our poor country: problems such as the Pademic, the climate emergency, and the ever more threatening voices of grievance-groups unable to forgive historic injustices.

But what may well turn out to be the most ominous of all was highlighted last week when a report commissioned by councils in England predicted that the number of children in care would rise to 100,000 by 2025. Nor is the problem confined to England. Already there are 15,000 children in care in Scotland: a higher proportion than England, which has ten times our population. And just as the problem is not confined to England, neither is it confined to the Scottish mainland. It is among ourselves, right here in the Western Isles.

The immediate response to the report was concern over the strain on council budgets but, that, surely, is the least part of the problem. The real concern is the human misery behind the statistics. The number of children in care is rising because the number of dysfunctional families and broken homes is rising; and the impact on children is horrendous.

There are, clearly, situations where there is no alternative to having the child taken into care, but despite the best efforts of hard-pressed staff, life in care means that all your companions are from dysfunctional families and carry with them all the resentments and behavioural problems that such a background brings with it. This cannot but cast a deep shadow over a child’s future, and to see just how deep, you have only to note how often the background reports called for by sheriffs contain the words, ‘Put into care as a child.’

Why do families break up? In the most glaring cases it is because of an abusive parent, usually a father, whose violence finally drives the mother to seek shelter for herself and her children elsewhere. That is her absolute right. No woman is bound, even by marriage vows, to endure life-long abuse from a husband or partner.

But sometimes the break-up of families is due to policies introduced by government itself. The clearest instance of this is ‘easy divorce.’ Every government from Moses to the present day has had to enact divorce laws of one kind or another, because what were once loving relationship sometimes become toxic, and society has to make sure that women and children are protected from the fall-out. The hardness of the human heart means there must be some provision for divorce, but it also means that it cannot be allowed on frivolous grounds.

At least one ancient Jewish Rabbi is said to have sanctioned divorce on the ground that the wife burnt the soup. We haven’t quite reached that point, but we have reached the point where parliament has sanctioned no-blame divorce. Once, you had to prove infidelity, wilful desertion, or cruelty. Now, if one partner wishes the marriage dissolved, he or she has only to be patient, a court will grant their request, and the state will declare the marriage dissolved; and then someone will have to explain it to the children.

One or other partner may be delighted, and many one-parent families succeed in making a go of it, but no one is left unscarred, especially the children. Some cope, but many don’t, they end up resenting the one parent they are now required to live with, find their own way of making that resentment plain, and are rescued only by being taken into care. Their home has fallen apart, the parent they are assigned to cannot cope, they gradually fall out of control, play off one parent against the other, start missing school, and find acceptance only in dangerous peer-groups.

But for many couples, easy divorce is not enough. They prefer the even greater freedom of living as partners, rather than as husband and wife. But though they may not have a Marriage Certificate they are still bound by God’s order, and that order laid down a simple principle: couples must raise together the children they have produced together. That is what we have lost; and that is why so many children are in care.

But if government sanctioned easy divorce, it has also poured holy oil on the gender revolution, further destabilising family life. A father suddenly decides he’s gay and moves out to live with another man, or a mother decides she’s a lesbian and her lover moves in. Then, to add to the mix, a father decides he’s a woman, or a mother would prefer being a man, or a child decides to seek transgender counselling.

From these many directions, then, family life is increasingly under attack. Instead of one father for life, and one mother for life, one father succeeds another, or one mother another, until eventually neither parent is either your father or your mother, nor is your sister your sister. It is then left to the Child Care Service to deal with the collateral damage: children.

As with all statistics, those on children-in-care can easily be distorted. Of 12 million children in Britain, only a small fraction are in care, and fewer still will feature in background reports. On the other hand, the number in care is only a small fraction of those in trouble or in danger, and this is what matters. A growing number of children in Britain are growing up poor, confused, angry, rebellious, disengaged from education, hooked on drugs, trafficking in drugs, and carrying knives for self-defence. And, I fear, without the slightest interest in the great idealist causes of our time, whether it be the climate emergency, Black Lives matter, or even whether the monarchy can survive the American actress, Meghan Markle.

One day our children will rule the world. Let’s take care, then, which hands rock their cradles.