Last week I walked past Action for Children’s headquarters and peered in through the shiny windows to see banners proclaiming ‘We did it...’ (presumably a reference to their successful campaign to get the government to change the law on child neglect to include emotional abuse as one of the elements that can be considered to be neglect of a child). This new proposal for a ‘Cinderella’ law as the media terms it, is one which has caused enormous consternation in some camps and triumphalist trumpeting in others. As I gazed through the windows of the headquarters of this charity, I found myself feeling a bit like a neglected child myself. Gone from the world of the charitable sector and back to the place where I feel most effective (and clean), I know the experience of living hand to mouth and making do and mend all too well. I know what it feels like to press my nose up against the glass of the corporate industry which is the children and families sector in this country, to see the money which is pumped through these institutions to fatten and bloat them. As I pondered on the presentation of the Action for Children headquarters and their campaign for this new Cinderalla Law, I wondered how much money it would make them and what in fact, would be the difference that they made to children whose lives are blighted by emotional cruelty. It left me thinking again about the reality of the charitable sector in this country (the national ones I mean, not the local ones run by volunteers in the spirit of true charitable work) and the way in which this is, just like all the other ‘sectors’ of business in this country, an industry which exists, mainly to serve the needs of its staff and supporters, not the needs of the children and families whose lives they purport to represent.
Campaigns of this nature are common in the children and families sector, where people pay thousands to marketing and media firms to run campaigns to ‘raise public awareness’ of an issue. Big charities such as NSPCC and Barnardos, regularly run such campaigns and off the back of these, come funding streams, either released by government or demanded of them, to ‘meet the needs’ demonstrated by the campaign which was paid for in the first place by funding raised to meet the needs demonstrated by the charity. The question is, what needs do these campaigns raise awareness of and how do the funds raised by the campaigns to raise awareness of these needs, actually meet the needs of the issues that are being raised in the first place – if you follow my drift. How much money is actually spent on meeting need and how much is wasted, frittered or used to shore up the over bloated salaries of those at the top of these government departments?
There is an argument, which I generally support, that this industry exists to serve itself rather than anything else. If you take a closer look at these behemoths, their employment rates are astonishing, they are corporate in their approach and they ‘make their margins’ where-ever they can, including from the funding given by government for charitable purposes. Analysing how money is directly spent upon the people that these corporations are supposed to serve is an eye watering experience. Let’s take a campaign that I have some knowledge of in recent years, the Kids in the Middle Campaign which joined Relate, Families need Fathers, Gingerbread and the Fatherhood Institute in an unholy alliance to suck up the oxygen, funding and trajectory towards a fairer, more egalitarian approach to supporting separated families. Orchestrated by someone calling himself a ‘social entrepreneur’ – you will know him, he is busy socially entrepreneuring a new coalition with his new wheeze mums and dads net – this group of charities paid in the region of £30,000 to a media and marketing group to launch Kids in the Middle, a campaign which called upon government to support the children affected by family separation. In 2010, the outgoing Labour government, captivated by the chance to receive the approval of a group of agony aunts, shovelled several million at this group and from there, a half hearted, hastily cobbled together programme of services to support their version of collaborative parenting was born. Several grass roots groups from around the country received hundreds of thousands of pounds to run ‘seed bed’ projects, supposedly to grow new services which would meet the needs of both parents and children as they went through separation. Some of these groups spent their thousands telling men that they should be glad that their children had a ‘step father’ to take their children on and others spent their time sending single parents on days out to relieve the stress. The evaluation reports from these projects never saw the official light of day, one glimpse however told us all we needed to know, the cost per head of service delivery was around £3000. So much waste, so much fattening of the corporates sat at the top of this campaign, so little concern for the lives of the families that this parasite fed from.
A recent discussion about this issue lead to someone telling me that this sounded like a ‘bitter dispute about funding..’ a remark which would be funny if it were not so ignorant of the reality of what is being done with the money that tax payers hand over in this country. This fellow had himself had a run in with family law and was, supposedly, conversant with the way in which this blights the lives of families. I considered his remark and his complete lack of awareness of how this whole field is infected with greed and the notion of pointless posturing just to keep the funding flowing. With this inability to understand what is really going on at the top by the grass roots, how will we ever convene the kind of change that challenges the institutionalised wanton waste, let alone the discrimination which runs right through the children and families industry.
Action for Children are trumpteting their success with their Cinderella law at the moment, presumably this will, in their imaginations, lead to funding for a new department. I can see the adverts already and the NSPCC wringing their hands (why didn’t we think of it) and Barnardos and all the rest of the big departments who are set to benefit working out what their share of the spoils will be. But what about Cinderalla and the childhood that was supposedly stolen from her by her step mother. What about this so called law that will address the issue of emotional cruelty or neglect?
Those against this law suggest that this will introduce a level of subjective policing which will, if we are not careful, put us all at risk of imprisonment for not considering the emotional welfare of children. I understand that concern. I also however, understand the reality of emotional abuse of children. I understand it because I work with it most days of my life. Emotional abuse of children is, for me, more damaging in the longer term than many other forms of abuse,because one cannot see the bruises that emotional cruelty causes. The broken emotions and the battered psychology of emotionally abused children are invisible but they are, nevertheless, real and they are incredibly difficult to heal. When children can point to the damage that has been done and can be helped to recognise that for what it is, they are more likely to heal. When they cannot do that and, worse, when they blame themselves first because they cannot put the blame where it belongs, the damage that is done is pervasive and so deeply rooted it can sometimes never be repaired.
Emotional cruelty can, like sexual abuse, cause the very roots of the growing child to twist and disort and fail to grow. I know it, I work with it, I see the damage that it does. Sadly however, what I term emotional abuse of children is likely to be so far away from what the children and families industry identify that it is as if we live in parallel universes. From where I am standing, most of those charities who supposedly support children and families are themselves involved in the institutionalised emotional abusive act of ripping children away from their beloved parents. Most refuse to accept the importance of a child’s relationship with both sides of their family after separation and many will refuse to countenance the reality that alienation of a child, is something which is made easy by the family justice system in this country. And most significantly, most, if not all of the charities which feed from the government, remain fixed in their negative views about fatherhood, steadfastly refusing to support it without the caveat ‘where it is safe to do so’ all the while proclaiming to be doing their bit for shared parenting whilst behind the scenes fervently doing their utmost to prevent it.
It doesn’t get much more emotionally abusive than that and yet it will be these charities who clamour loudest for this law and those who will be busy channelling the cash for their shiny new offices and their glossy brochures proclaiming their care and support for these children.
I walked away from Action for Children last week feeling once again relieved that I have left that world behind. I may be neglected in that my words are not listened to in any significant way (other than by those who read this blog) and I may not be sitting on a big fat pile of cash, but I know that my work, at the end of every day has made a difference to real people’s lives.
Cinderalla I may be, but the ball I go to, is one where children’s lives matter and change is something that happens between people who care about each other and ‘honour’ amongst these institutionalised thieves of childhood is something I will never have to encounter again.