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The Smokescreen of Disability and #Crref

November 6th, 2012 · 9 Comments · Disability, Equality, Uncategorized

The referendum on Children which will take place this Saturday is about the state’s responsibility to children who are neglected or abused and at risk in their families – where their parents are not able to protect them or may be abusing them. It is about listening to children in those situations and acting where they need to be protected. It is about listening to children where decisions are being taken on their future, where families breakdown or disappear completely and about seeing them as persons in their own right.

It is not about disability. It is not about Parents with a Disability. It is not about children with disabilities and their disability.

Some of those who are insistent on pointing out disability issues with regards to this referendum don’t actually favour rights for people with disabilities or this state ratifying the UN Convention on Rights for people with Disabilities. They don’t want people with disabilities to make their own decisions or be supported to do so, have excellent services, gain independence or have families and relationships of their own. But that’s not the point of the referendum this Saturday. It’s about a very small group of children in exceptional situations who need the state to protect them. Heretofore the state has not always done this and our terribly outdated Constitution needs to be changed to ensure the state can act in the very small number of situations where children need protecting and need to be heard.

The referendum if passed will also challenge courts to think about children in a different way with regards to many issues. The amendment will allow for much new law to be made to help all children (including children with disabilities) define their rights.

I would like a new constitution please where children and adults with Disabilities were protected. I would love to think that the forthcoming Constitutional Convention would address this and guarantee equality but it won’t. I despair at the fact that this government and all political parties either ignore people with disabilities or patronise us and use us as political fodder and amongst the first to cut.

But I won’t be confused this Saturday when voting and think that because my life is less valued or the lives of other people with disabilities are less valued that I will take it out on children who are regularly neglected or at risk or not listened to in child protection matters or the general case where children are not seen as individuals. I want those children to be heard. They deserve it. I want the state to have to support those children and those families and if it is not working and never going to work, in the exceptional cases, then the state needs to act and be held accountable to act. This is what this referendum is about.

It is up to us as citizens to demand action on all the issues which this referendum and the proposed amendment is not about – not about poverty, not about special needs assistants not about education or denying all children a right to an education, not about interfering in decisions parents make on health, not about replacing parents, not about bullying, and does not stop parents from telling their children what is right and wrong.

We really need to be clear what the referendum is about and not use it as a chance to beat up the government over their oppression of many childhoods while paying bondholders. Too many children have not been heard, too many children have been abused and too many children have died because the state did not or could not act. Children (including those with disabilities) will be seen as individuals if this referendum is passed.

Finally I am upset to have to refute the misinformation which is in danger of creating an automatic assumption that having a disability makes one a bad parent which is another emerging issue from those who oppose this referendum. It is horrendous that they are making people more vulnerable and hidden by scaremongering in this manner. We should be supporting all parents with disabilities to be appropriately supported and valued in having families and being parents – if they need that support.

The Children’s Rights Alliance have prepared a note on the referendum and disability. It is worth studying if you are confused or worried about issues concerning parents with disabilities or children with disabilities.

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9 Comments so far

  • Lisamareedom

    You have convinced me. I will use some of my home help hours to get out and vote on Saturday.

  • Grainne

    This is one of the very best pieces I’ve read in relation to this referendum. Hope it’s ok to share

  • Miriam Cotton

    As a parent of a child with a disability I can say categorically that the state does indeed have a strong tendency to pathologise both parents and children with disability.

    However, the piece above misses the point and is dangerously mistaken about what the amendment will mean if it is accepted. It is not merely about protecting the small number of children who are at risk of abuse – and who do indeed deserve real protection and rights. It is about establishing a principle in law that the state is the guardian of all children over and above all parents. That is a fact. There are no definitions in this referendum to qualify the extraordinarily broad powers that it would confer and which will be applied on a highly subjective basis and often in secret. The mere intention to apply this power in limited circumstances is not enough. The amendment offers nothing to increase accountability or transparency for the state and its agents. Let’s remember, please, that state failures have been appalling where children are concerned. It is the worst possible folly, given all the known facts, to hand an increase in power to the state without cast-iron safe-guards in place to prevent it from repeating its own abuses and neglect – or from misapplying its power without effective and swift avenues of appeal. None of those safeguards are in place. There are no infallible human beings who are capable of applying this amendment with the degree of perfection and unerring judgment that would be needed if it were to stand up to what is being claimed for it.

    Meanwhile, it is also a fact that this government – Labour and Fine Gael – are deliberately impoverishing all children. The hypocrisy of its claimed concern for children is plain for all to see. Poverty is a proven factor in contributing to neglect and abuse of children. This is not irrelevant to what is being proposed – it is central to it. It tells us everything we need to know about the motives, likely interpretation and perspective of those who are behind this amendment. They do not own the moral high ground, nor the horror and concern at what has happened to so many children. Those of us who oppose the amendment have also worked tirelessly to protect and defend children. And to caricature our objection as a desire to refuse them their own voice is as insulting as it is inaccurate. When people are young or when they have certain kinds of disability, they must rely on others to advocate for them. There are so many more effective ways in which the state can and should intervene where necessary. In fact, it has had all the power it needed to do that and has failed to use it with deadly consequences.

    Good intentions are not nearly enough. This amendment is a disaster in the making. Wanting to do something for children is not the same thing at all as doing the right thing.

  • Miriam Cotton

    An important qualification to what I wrote above: the government is deliberately impoverishing many children, not all children.

  • Therese

    Well said Miriam. The State has all the power it needs to intervene. To give it more power is simply nuts.

  • Elaine

    Well said Suzy – I will definitely be voting Yes on Saturday.
    The proposed amendment to Article 42 is NOT about giving the State more power – it is about making them more accountable and responsible for all children who are currently in State care, whether disabled or not. For the vast majority of children, the State still recognises that the best place for them is with their biological parents and siblings – this amendment will only affect a small minority of children who suffer extreme neglect or abuse in the family home. Article 41 of the constitution specifically protecting the Rights of the Family still stands, as does Article 42 – subsections 1-4. Subsection 1 in particular states that: [quote] The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. [unquote]

    I also attended a public meeting in Ballymun last Thursday, organised by John Lyons, local Labour party TD. He was decent enough to allow Malachy Steenson, a solicitor to speak and exploit people’s worst fears by campaigning for a No vote. Steenson was particularly keen to emphasise that all social workers are “fresh out of college”, “have no idea what it is like to raise kids” and “believe anyone who lives in disadvantaged areas like Ballymun, must automatically be poor parents”. The only thing from his speech that I agreed with was his criticism of the Government’s cutbacks to Child Benefit, Special Needs Assistants and school breakfast clubs – but I do not believe the Referendum is about those things at all.
    Steenson also implied that a Yes vote would mean the State and social workers would especially target places like Ballymun and that thousands of kids from disadvantaged areas could end up in the foster care system, purely because they are not from more affluent areas. If the State is cutting back on Child Benefit, SNAs and breakfast clubs – then where will it find the money to pay for the additional kids in the foster care system? Thankfully, unlike the UK, we do not have forced adoptions. Children must be in foster care for a minimum of 3 years and there must be proof that they have been abandoned by their natural parents or families, before they can be considered for adoption. None of that will change.

    I was glad to see that Eleanor McClory from Young Ballymun also spoke and brought much more common sense to the debate. Young Ballymun and similar organisations work with parents in their own locality, and provide parenting courses and in-home supports, which minimise the need for State interventions and the likelihood that children will end up in care.

    If a Yes vote meant that children from places like Ballymun would particularly be targeted by the State and end up in the care system – I cannot see why organisations like Young Ballymun would be campaigning for a Yes vote. If children end up being fostered or adopted outside the Ballymun area, it will mean less families using services like Young Ballymun. Less service users could potentially mean less State funding and redundancies further down the line. I believe that if the amendment is passed on Saturday, organisations like Young Ballymun, will be enabled to help more families when they first experience difficulties due to poverty, unemployment, disability etc. and State care will be a very last resort.

    To reiterate what Suzy says – it is not about disability, or education, or social welfare payments. It is about recognising that children have a unique voice and ensuring that the small minority who suffer extreme violence, neglect and abuse at the hands of their parents and families are protected by the State. I agree with Miriam above that more families have become impoverished as a direct result of FG/Labour policies. However, I would not make excuses for anyone who abused their children, even if they were living in poverty or had a child with a disability. Why? Because the vast majority of parents who live in poverty or have a child with a disability or are disabled themselves do not abuse or neglect their kids. I hope the proposed amendment will reinforce that the State has a responsibility to support families who are experiencing difficulties early on.

    I would also ask anyone who can vote to read the text in the proposed amendment, get the facts involved and get out and vote on Saturday.

  • laura

    Miriam. I’d take you to task on the relationship between poverty and neglect. By far the worst case of parental abuse I’ve known was a psychiatrist who literally beat her daughter to a pulp, the daughter was removed at age 11, and while the mother spent the next 7 years trying to get her back, the state never gave in. Lots of extremely poor people (my own parents included) give their children very good upbringings and are really good at shielding the effects of poverty from their children. Please don’t suggest that children are whipped from parents because of poverty: those who claim “poverty” are usually making every possible excuse for unacceptable behaviours that are not valid.

  • laura

    Elaine, its interesting that you mention the prejudice against social workers. There has been a sea change with regard to training and education of social workers over the last 10 years. One thing I’ve noticed is that with the expansion of adult education over the last 15 years, there is a large increase in mature students taking social work, and many of these themselves come from dysfuntional backgrounds – including those who was in care as children and who care personally about the system. I met one such bunch in Cork around 10 years ago and most of them were 30 or older and had lived eventful lives, far from the stereotype of the “green” social worker. I met another bunch of social work students again in Cork around 5 years ago and I don’t think any of them were under 40. Social work is being greatly enhanced by a democratisation of education which is allowing people who have insider knowledge of the system and experience themselves as children to enter the profession. The big problem is the popular prejudice of social workers as left-leaning socialist nanny-staters. They are far more diverse than this popular Daily Mail image reveals.

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