Letters & Opinion

What they won’t tell you about Child Care…

Truth is: Culture is a more powerful change agent than law!

EXTERNAL Affairs Minister Sarah Flood Beaubrun has repeatedly stated that a change in culture is absolutely necessary if the amendment to the Child Protection Law has any chance to have a serious positive impact on our St. Lucian society; and after reading it, I can see why she said so.

Speaking to the media before the last Sitting of the House of Assembly last month, the Castries Central MP stated: “The culture that appreciates and respects children is what will give life to the law. The law on its own is mere words on paper but it’s when the law is put into practice and there is a culture that welcomes and appreciates and treasures children that is when we will really see child protection at its best and maybe we would not have so much need to resort to the law because every adult at least will be of one mind to act in ways that ensure the children are safe and happy.”

I sincerely hope that there won’t be much need to resort to this law.

There are several bones I can pick with it, but the underlying problem with the whole thing is that it seems to think that Government and social workers can be an adequate substitute for loving parents. Rather than stopping the bleeding, it will simply open new wounds when it comes to Child Protection.

If any law is to adequately address this issue, there must be an understanding that the family ought to be the primary caretaker of the child and not the state.

Too often in this Act, the law allows for very easy intervention by the state whenever there’s a domestic issue involving children, and too often there is immediate recourse to separating children from their biological parents.

And while I don’t oppose separating a child from parents who are clearly a danger to them, there ought to have been more of a focus on the perpetuation of good and responsible parenting, particularly in poor households, rather than this punitive approach that is solely focused on getting children away from their parents.

Also, a law that does not provide incentives for couples to get married in order to provide stable homes for their children, is always going to fall short of the mark. Instead, as mentioned earlier, the law seeks to find practically any excuse for the state to take the place of parents.

In its Explanatory Note, the Act states that its main purpose “is to provide for the care, protection and adoption of a child and to ensure that the child’s best interest is of paramount consideration.”

Any law that is as vague as this one is potentially very dangerous. When words like “best interest” are used in laws, it leaves so much room for interpretation and so much leeway in which the Government can operate (in this case when ‘legally’ separating children from their biological parents).

Also, note the absence of the parent in all of this. And as exemplified in the Purpose portion of the Act, “3.—(1) The purposes of this Act are — (f) to ensure that if a child is temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her home or environment or cannot be allowed to remain in that home or environment in his or her own best interest, the child is entitled to special protection and assistance from the Government and his or her own name and identity is, if possible, preserved.”

In other words, if mummy and daddy can’t provide for you, Big Brother Government will step right in and fill that void. And note that “best interest” bit again.

The problem is that we’ve seen this fail all too often. Via studies carried out (particularly the foster care systems in countries like the U.S. and the U.K.) and just via empirical data and observation; we know that the Government is far from being an adequate substitute for the parent and that is why these laws should be focused on the entire family and not just on the child.

And although the Act does make an attempt to state that every effort will be made to avoid “intrusive intervention” from the Government and other outside agencies, almost everything else in the Act contradicts that.

As one of the purposes of the Acts states, it is “(e) to ensure that in deciding what action it is necessary to take, whether by legal or administrative process, in order to protect a child from harm, the course to be followed is the least intrusive intervention in the life of the child and his or her family, that is consistent with the paramount concern to protect the child from harm and to promote the development of the child”

However, when one reads further through each purpose listed in the Act, a good bit of it deals with either the placement or removal of the child from his/her home. That doesn’t sound like the least intrusive intervention in the life of the child to me.

Take purposes (g) and (h) as examples of what I mean. They read: “(g) to ensure that if a child is placed in a child care service, arrangements are made in a timely manner, (h) to ensure that if a child is removed from the home of his or her parent under this Act, whether temporarily or permanently, the child is entitled to a safe…environment”

And while (h) has stipulations that seem favourable to the family, it may just end up making this worse. As the stipulation reads: “unless it is contrary to his or her best interest, and taking into account the wishes of the child, this [safe environment] may include the retention by the child of relationships with people significant to the child, including his or her biological or adoptive parents, siblings, extended family, peers, family friends and community.”

This is the kind of thing that ends up confusing a child and permanently scarring them and this Act doesn’t seem to take this possibility into enough consideration. If it truly wanted to be as non-intrusive as possible, it would have focused on reducing the Government’s role in the life of the child and increasing that of the parents.

When one looks at the role or function of the Minister as stated in the Act, the government’s overreach issue with it becomes even more glaring.

Take these listed functions of the Minister as examples of what I mean: “(b) to promote a partnership approach between the Government and agencies or corporations respecting the care and protection of a child” and “(d) to ensure that there is coordination between Government and a non-governmental agency in a matter relating to child care, protection and adoption”

Promoting a partnership approach between the Government and agencies, but where exactly is the promotion of the stable family with tax incentives and other incentives for married couples?

Once again, too much Government and not enough family and that’s why this Act like its predecessor is doomed to fail and the lip service that it pays to correspondence with family members when needed, doesn’t make up for all of the powers of intervention it provides the Government.

Dean Nestor is from Choiseul but from young adulthood, his years were spent in Castries. He studied at St. Mary’s College from 1999 to 2004 and later pursued a college education in English Literature, History and Sociology at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College from 2004 to 2006.

After graduating from Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, he began working as a teacher from 2009 until 2016...Read full bio...

 

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