How often do we really stop, and I mean really stop….. and look at things ‘through the eyes of a child’.
We use all the cliche phrases over and over again, all coming from I suggest perhaps a paternalistic and protecting stance. We all know that the welfare of the child is paramount.
When completing reports Social Workers have stock phrases to use to cover the attainable wishes and feelings of a child:
“X is a baby/or X is too young to be able to express his/her wishes and feelings. However, it is expected that he/she would wish to be cared for safely and free from harm in a loving and stable environment and where his/her needs are consistently met”
“……it is not possible to ascertain his/her views. It is appreciated that he/she would wish to live with his/her parents however all children need to be brought up in a safe and loving home with carers that prioritise their safety and where they can develop secure attachments”
But in reality I suggest, this only covers the moment. These are of course the aspirations of all parents for their own children and therefore it can be assumed that this feeds into the views that professional have for the children that come into their purview for whatever reason. Guardians have a much more complicated relationship and a need to formulate a better relationship with the children they represent. They get a snapshot from visits they make either to the home, foster carers etc, residential settings and schools, or indeed observing contact with the parents and child. A snapshot is all it can be given with the time constraints and of course they must also rely on what the Social Worker reports on his/her visits.
In my experience, no matter how badly treated, whatever the neglect, even abuse…..most children wish to be with their Mother and/or Father. What they do want is the circumstances changed. They wish for their Mother or Father to be a better parent, not to misuse drugs or alcohol, not to argue and fight, not to misbehave or be abusive to them or each other. They want things to be better. They want life to be as they perceive it is with their peers.
This leads to the question – do we really look at this ‘through the eyes of the child’ when we strive to protect them. Do we really give them the chance to give their real views or do we temper their wishes and feelings with what we as professionals believe they must want, and is in their best interests.
This raises the question I believe as to how much do we really involve the child in what are life changing decisions. Should they have more involvement – at the moment sometimes arrangements are made for the child to visit the Court and meet the Judge. These meetings have to follow strict guidelines. How do we really decide whether a child has capacity to give their own instructions. Do we automatically think they are too young? Do we think we are protecting them by not letting them see the papers, not being allowed to attend Court? All very difficult decisions to make it is agreed, but are these questions that should be considered far more carefully if children are to feel in the future that they have been a proper participant in decisions for their future.
It is becoming more of a ‘thing’ for children to write to the Judge, should this become more of a normalised action. Should the Judge reply, so that the child knows that what they have said has been acknowledged and will be considered?
How much do we really take account of the child’s view. Is it that we ‘think we know best’, do we superimpose our view that a stable, settled, well cared for home is better. Of course when the phrase ‘every child would want’, is used isn’t that really us imposing our views. Do we really explain to the child why decisions are made, how they are made, and what will be the long term future?
Do we in reality consider the long term effects over and above what we have decided that is a safe, stable type of placement, whatever that might be, is the most beneficial for them. Of course it must be recognised that a placement which is a family placement should be the optimum, as this can lead to or even include remaining contact with the birth parents.
In most environments where children are participants it is always considered that it is empowering and beneficial for children to be absorbed, involved and engaged. If we contrast this with what seems to be the concepts in our Public Law proceedings, it appears that the foremost duty of the professionals is to take a protectionist approach. For them to decide from this stance of protectionism what is in the child’s best interests, and that this is to be decided by the various professionals. They seek from a protectionist stand point to guard against the possibility of future harm, by placing the child away from what they perceive as a risk to the child both in the immediacy and/or in the future.
Children’s actual and real wishes and feelings can become subsumed in the professional view of what is best for the child’s welfare. Really allowing a child to freely express their views, take a more active part in the decisions, can only lead to a child feeling in the future that they have been able to participate as fully as possible, and alleviate any potential resentment.
A further question is posed in relation to when the decision is made that the best possible outcome for a child is to be placed for adoption. I raise it as this is more usually the consideration for a younger child, most likely under the age of 6 years. It does therefore, I suggest, becomes crucially more important that we step back and look at it ‘from the eyes of the child’ not just in the immediacy but for the future, for their future and how they will perceive the decisions made and why.
A key component of this of course is the thorny issue of post adoption contact. We know that more often than not the Local Authority and the Guardian will take the view that if finding proposed adopters who are willing to consider post adoption contact severely restricts the pool of adopters, then this should not be an imposition, other than perhaps in exceptional circumstances. Should we not as part of the check list really consider the views of the child – look at it ‘from the eyes of the child’.
Whilst if would seem that if adoption is the way ahead because of serious neglect and/or abuse, it may not be difficult to reach a conclusion that the child would be unlikely to wish for contact with the birth parents, and of course we know as the child becomes older they have the right to seek out their birth parents, and research tells us this often happens. But the question I suggest then arises when a child is placed for adoption, because of the inadequacies of the parents, and their, for whatever reasons, inability to cope and this may be despite their best efforts, should we then consider more carefully post adoption contact. This same issue arises I would suggest even more strongly when considering sibling relations, which we know are considered to be of the most long lasting and durable relationships a child has.
I leave my article as I started it……do we really look at things ‘through the eyes of the child’….and if we did what changes should we make.
Post Script: I have been greatly assisted by reading the following and thoroughly recommend it
Hammond, Sara Louise (2022). The Paradox of Participation: Exploring the Discourses and Affect of Child Participation in Public Law Children Act Proceedings. PhD thesis The Open University.
“In that regard, we shall see how the research literature highlights children’s struggle to feel heard, understood and informed and thus able to meaningfully inform the decision-making processes about them, even when their views about their welfare align with those of the professionals charged with monitoring and otherwise assessing their welfare needs. In consequence, I suggest that a unique problem exists for children and professionals involved.”