I no longer work in the charitable sector and I have long since left the murky world of government family politics and thank heavens say I, as all around us begins the familiar feeding frenzy for new government funding. I had forgotten all about the way in which government funding can cause the most staunch proponents for this or that to switch lanes and if necessary even, swim in the other direction. I had forgotten that those who appear on the outside to be pro shared parenting, can be busily stabbing the very possibility of shared parenting in the back behind the scenes. A la Relate, great winners of government funding to promote collaboration and shared parenting in the last round, who were, at the same time, signing pledges with the coalition against shared parenting that lead to the watering down to almost nothing, of the amendments in the Children Act 1989. As I watch this feeding frenzy begin, knowing as I do that in the charitable sector sitting around the government, it is money that matters most, I wonder whether any of them anywhere will ever get to the place where they really understand why all that money, all those initiatives and all those endless, pointless, steering groups, focus groups, reports, evidence based or otherwise, will only ever end up in exactly the same place. Usually the bin. The reason? The disconnect between the lives those charitable organisations think they are representing and the lives of ordinary people that are really being lived up and down this land. A disconnect so wide that it like living in a parrallel universe. Let the government do what the government does and the charitable sector mirror whatever the government wants to see and hear. It won’t change anything in the real world because the people whose lives are supposed to be changed by all of this, know a secret that those who hold power over them don’t even know exists.
It’s called living.
In the living world people are not divided into good and bad people and men are not born inherently violent and women are not born angels. In the real world, ordinary people get into difficult places and sometimes they fight, sometimes quite violently. This does not automatically mean that the woman is going to be murdered and the man is going to go on and murder every other woman he can get his hands on. In the real world, mothers can be toxic people who inculcate false beliefs in the their children and then run off when the court decides that the child is being harmed and should live mostly with dad. In the real world dads are sometimes fantastic, sometimes hopeless, sometimes prevented from being with their children, sometimes they cannot be bothered with them after separation. In the real world a mother can be good sometimes and pretty useless at others times. In the real world children are precious, vulnerable, strong, angry, helpful, helpless, listened to and not listened to. In the real world, anything can happen and usually does and people do not fit into tick boxes or call standards, or categories or neat little summings up about their behaviours. In the real world people are living lives which are remarkably chaotic and remarkably staid, they face challenges and changes and choose to do what they do with the best tools they can find, where they can find them. Meanwhile in the glass houses of the charitable world, where everyone is ever so busy studying, categorising, projectising, reporting on and focusing on, the lives that they think people live. Anxiety about how to help people out there in the real world runs high. Does that anxiety come from the people they think need help or their own neuroses? Does it come from wanting to help families or wanting to fund their own salaries? Does it come from the heart or from the need to make their margins. Therein lies the disconnect. Therein lies the secret.
Charities sitting around the government are big business – literally so. Their CEO’s are paid more than the Prime Minister in some places and their staff teams are eye wateringly expensive. No wonder then that they have to issue reports that call for more money and, where necessary, reflect back to the government the desperate, dire need to do something about those people who are living ordinary lives. The need to keep big business flowing in the charity sector requires continual crises which need resolving, even though those crises bear little relation to the lives people really live. In the parallel universe where these charities do business, one would be forgiven for thinking that all men are cloaking their emotionally terrorising selves and could at any moment, just like the hooded claw, reveal the truth of who they are. Whilst women are starving and homeless whilst their children walk barefoot in the streets beside them. In this parallel universe, which I sometimes liken to a virtual reality world, the divide between good and bad, positive and negative, men and women is a river which runs like blood between them. It has to. That is how these charities make their money and their margins. By fitting people and the challenges they face into neat boxes with labels on them. If they didn’t how would the government know what to fund?
If only real life were like that.
Government initiatives, however they are configured, funded and delivered, are not the answer because they don’t possess the secret. And the secret is in the relationship. Without a relationship with real people and the real lives that they live, all of the millions that will be poured down the drain by the government will be wasted. And there can be no relationship with real people whilst sitting in a glass house stuffing imaginary people into pre labelled boxes. There will be no change in the outcomes delivered for government by large charities until the fabricated issues, the dreamed up fantasies and the lofty distance is breached by a focus on the relationship between the people served and those who purport to serve them.
I got this in my in box this week from a dad wanting to express all that was wrong with the way he has been treated in a process which has speeded up the alienation of his children from him. It says all that needs to be said.
Do not ostracise a Father from his family, for saying something that could have been avoided with a gentler word. Do not redefine offence so that it can be identified anywhere, even in one’s home, with one’s family, by anyone who chooses on some absent man’s behalf to think it is offensive.
Do not tell me that because I’m a man I cannot have an opinion on how my children,dress, talk, behave and conduct themselves in public.
The one dimensional way that families in our situation are being dealt with is the cause and in turn the reason, behind the fundamental failings in not just this case, but in so many cases of a similar nature. Until there is a more open and broad minded approach adopted and encouraged, not only in the handling of said cases, but also in training and teaching of the Social Workers who deal with them, families such as mine will continue to be failed and neglected by the very system and organisation that has been put in place to help them.
And this, from a mother badly served by a government service run by one of the big charities.
I was treated as if I were a dangerous animal, I half expected to be either locked up or put under house arrest. I felt as if I were a butterfly, pinned to a board and scrutinised, not because of anything I had actually done, but because of what they imagined I must have done. It was the most humiliating experience of my life.
Serving separated families. The secret is in the relationship. If the government wants to do something different, perhaps it is time it invested in building some bridges out of the glass houses and into the real world.