Monday, 16 November 2009

Less of the 'Sorry' about the past, please

More responsibility for a far better future

The United Kingdom media seem to have responded to George Brown’s sorry apology for the ship-’em-to-the-colonies response of earlier generations to the problems of poor needful children much as I did here on Conductive World yesterday:

The world today

The media's responses, though, have shown little contemporary contextualisation and in missing this the media have missed the fundamental issue, that this apology story is not just another stick handed out by the Prime Minister with which to beat both himself and his government. They missed how the UK’s atrocious system of state child care and juvenile justice is a grievous contemporary issue. By so doing, they simultaneously demonstrated their own share in society’s responsibility for ignoring of what goes on around us, in everybody’s name and at everybody’s expense, when it comes to a certain class of children/families: 'not ours' .

The United Kingdom imprisons a most surprising number of children and young people, while those growing up in state care ('looked after' is the curent oily euphemism) may suffer serial, loveless multiple placements, dragging their worldy possesions from one 'home' to another in plastic bin bags. The sad fact is that a lot of children and young people (and their families) in this country are even now trapped in a cruel and dishonest system of child care and juvenile justice Who knows, they might even be better off in the (former) colonies!

At the moment it may seem right and proper to concentrate upon the terrible experiences of British migrant children in Australia (though we might also give a thought to those who were transported elsewhere). That done, it will be just as right and proper to account the good experiences, and those that were merely indifferent, as essential parts of a balanced history and evaluation of what happened, with proper account too of the grief, or whatever, of the families left behind.

I have no idea, I have to add, what the net outcome of what such a complex evaluation might be. One cannot other than assume, though, that any comprehensive picture would be far from simple.

How do we score, here, now?

What are the relative outcomes of growing up in care and/or subject to the juvenile-justice systems in the United Kingdom in the twenty-first century? Are these experiences and outcomes good, bad or indifferent? The unfortunate Prime Minister has been lampooned for apologising for things that happened before he was born, but there are things that are happening on his watch. What quality of care, towards what outcomes, does the state as parent bestow upon children in its care? These are not distant historical memories and on distant shores. They are here, and now.

How many such childhoods, are blighted, stunted, deformed, then go on to blend seemlessly into homelessness, crime, early pregnancy, illiteracy, chronic unemployability, addiction, welfare-dependency, homelessness, prison, addiction, ill health, de facto disenfanchisement… and then, just as seemlessly, on into new little lives with everything against them?

‘Sorry’ and responsibility

No shortage of things to say ‘Sorry’ about here, then, but ‘Sorry’ lies very close to blame or even guilt.

No politician currently in power, and no apparatchik in the state, voluntary or academic systems, can be held responsible for the evolution of the present state of child-care and juvenile-justice services. The problems are far too longstanding and systemic to apportion individual blame and we are far too sophisticated in our liberal society to tolerate ‘collective guilt’ – aren’t we?

(This is not to say that an awful lot of people should not be made to feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves for careers that have served this oppressive machine.)

But there is another more purposive and productive way of considering responsibility. Learn from the past, learn from the present, raise the sights and, still learning, take responsibility for doing something about the future. Change things.

Yes, I am sorry about what happened in the past, in the sense that I grieve, I sorrow for the so-often-unnecessary suffering and waste. I hope that our masters can also shed a tear. But they can shed buckets but will deserve few votes for their public sorrow. They will deserve votes only if they take responsibility for the future.

Disability, families and established ways

Child care and juvenile justice? Hardly major concerns for the great majority of those with an active concern in Conductive Education. They effect... well, a different class of people, not us.

‘We’ rarely experience overwheening, self-righteous bureaucracy on the hoof, we rarely find ourselves entangled in the multiple agencies of the modern state, spied upon, documented, our business discussed and dissected in secret Star Chambers, and then subject to apparently unappeallble decisions over the future fate of out children.

‘We’ here are, of course, literate, with family and friends and a little money behind us. ‘We’ do not expect to have someone on our case. To be managed. To be told what to do by a bunch of know-it-all pen-pushers who clearly regard themselves as our intellectual and moral superiors, through being party to understandings that ‘we’ could never comprehend’. On the ontrary, ‘we’ are citizens, 'we' manage our own lives, thank you very much, 'we' make our own judgements and decisions in a whole host of complex, modern-life circumstances (and that goes for how we bring up and educate our children too).

Nobody pushes ‘us’ around.

Until we have a disabled child.

Then a relatively small number of ‘us’ find ourselves trapped in the same choking and humanising webs as do an awful lot of ‘them’.

No remarkable coincidence this, as such things happen all the time, is this morning’s posting on Norman Perrin’s blog. As ever, Norman tries to be conciliatory but years of fighting for his own daughter and his own family, and fighting and refighting for other families and their sons and daughters, would stretch the patience of a saint. And here’s someone with more that twenty years of learning ‘the system', the machine that continues year by year to chew up and crush the fragile hopes of yet new generations of innocent victims… Feel his anger at:

Sorry, schmorry, leave the tears to the crocodiles. Let us instead have honesty and action, for all the children, ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ alike.

Previous posting on Gordon Brown's 'Sorry'

Sutton, A. (2009) Deceit, lies and official neglect: UK Government apologises, Conductive World, 15 September

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