There is nothing compassionate about cost-cutting childcare
From Brother Ivo:
There is much to like about the rising star of the Republican Party, Susana Martinez.
The first female Hispanic to be elected to a State Governorship of New Mexico, she not only has sound values but also points to a future where the increasingly influential Hispanic constituency follows her in realising that the Democrats' progressive values are accelerating away from the core values of this religious family-orientated community. She switched parties and is now an important voice for fiscal conservative values coupled with social conservatism.
Before turning to politics she was a lawyer with particular interests in child protection, and when she entered the Governor's Office she took the opportunity to make a powerful statement about her priorities.
It is the custom in New Mexico for the space outside the Governor's office to be given over to art works or an exhibition that expresses something personally important to the incumbent. Former governors have used the space to highlight the State's cowboy culture, or concern for preserving the environment in a state with serious water-management problems and frequent wild-fires breaking out in the tinder-dry forests in summer. These are perfectly good uses of the space, but Governor Martinez chose to make her statement about children, and especially disadvantaged children whose lives have been disrupted by removal from their family.
On one side of the office there are photographs and narratives of foster parents and adopters with the children they have embraced, while on the other are photographs and written details of children awaiting permanent substitute families.
What is striking about the exhibition is the quality and care that has gone into presenting these adults and children. The photographs are attractive and highly professional. The explanations do not ignore problems but neither do they allow them to overshadow the underlying truth that these children are worth something and will overcome their early-life experiences - if given the opportunity. For a senior politician to choose this as her signature theme is heartwarming and challenging to our own Government.
In England, such 'matching' is conducted in a rather less confident fashion. We are paralysed by politically-correct notions that these needy children's right to privacy must be respected, and the preparation of the publicising material is somewhat hit-and-miss and decidedly low key.
David Cameron occasionally talks the talk about the value of marriage and children, but overall there is far greater evidence for his progressive prejudice than any similar prioritisation of the Governor's.
That progressive mindset is responsible for some of the worst outcomes for children in the post-war decades.
Readers will immediately think of abortion law reform, and they are right, of course. But that is so obvious that you must forgive Brother Ivo for not dwelling on that today. Take it as a given.
A less acknowledged harm derives from one of the earliest feminist campaigns to achieve 'equality'.
For many years Building Societies would only advance a mortgage based upon a multiple of a single wage, usually the husband's - a term used for historical accuracy. This was identified as offensive to equality, and the rule was soon changed in order that we might all sleep at night with a clean conscience that such iniquity was a thing of the past.
The consequence was obvious to anyone with a semblance of economic literacy. With multiples of two incomes competing for the same number of houses, the prices rocketed, and now we find that new entrants to the market find it immensely difficult to climb onto that housing ladder.
Who has suffered more in this process than our children?
Because two incomes are needed, mothers have to return to work, often from the child's earliest months, and the lower such mothers are on the income scale the more necessary it is. Motherhood is largely decried among the metropolitan elite as even those who can afford to stay and care for their children regard themselves as having better things to do.
Mothers find, however, that the part of the income not needed to pay the mortgage is largely spent on child care and these costs have also been driven up by government-meddling through the quasi-professionalisation of a simple core human activity - taking care of little ones.
If not worn out by the early-morning run to the child-minder, or the day at school, or the enrichment programming provided to meet government standards, the little ones will be assaulted by additional teaching for exam success, music lessons, and/or put onto the sports-team treadmill where on Sunday mornings the father will spend much of his quality time bellowing instructions from the side-lines with the force of Sir Alec Ferguson in the 93rd minute.
It is not hyperbole to suggest that our working parents have exchanged their roles as parents to those of children's entertainers. They have outsourced much of the religious and moral guidance along with the discipline, troubled that if they create discord by exercising their parental role, their offspring will no longer be their friend.
To such parents, Brother Ivo offers the simple, useful, if unfashionable phrase - 'This is not a democracy.'
Family life is essential to pass on core cultural values. Two groups manage this with some success: those immigrant families who prefer not to integrate; and the 'underclass' which manages to find ways of passing on inter-generational unemployment. Neither is particularly disposed to the values of the Government or the working population that supports them.
When it comes to that underclass, they make up a substantial portion of the children taken into care by the State, needing the fresh starts of the exhibition outside Governor Martinez's office.
Brother Ivo likes to give credit where it is due: Iain Duncan Smith has grasped the welfare dependency nettle in targeting problem families, appreciating that heavy investment is needed to change the habits of a lifetime. It is an expensive business challenging ingrained distorted vales.
Sadly Chris 'Ratner' Grayling has not learned that lesson. He is fast-tracking more and more children through the courts into the care of the State, which is demonstrably a very bad parent, judged by the number of former children from state care found among the imprisoned, the juvenile mothers, the deadbeat dads, the homeless and the drug-addicted. The children of these groups make the next generation of children needing public care.
Unlike IDS, however, Mr Grayling thinks the answer is cost-cutting and speed of process: he does not understand a key function of the courts in this area.
They used to keep the Social Services hard working and honest by putting their cases under scrutiny. Parents who were well-meaning but incompetent might be diverted for six months' appraisal in a residential unit which kept the children safe, monitored the parenting standards and addressed deficiencies. It gave children and families a real 'last chance' to stay together. The courts oversaw such processes, refusing to sign off Social Services care plans until they were well formulated.
Financial pressures on Social Services led them to stop paying for such assessments, but the courts began approving suitable cases to receive that kind of assessment to be paid for by the Legal Services Commission as part of the necessary preparation of the parental defence. No money was saved - it was a 'budget shift' which enables politicians to complain that lawyers have driven up the costs of Legal Aid. These, and other necessary services such as psychological and psychiatric reports, should have been part of the State's case to justify intervention against families.
'Fast-tracking' will see more children coming into public care: their problems will be less identified and analysed as money is saved at this point. Yet the problems will still exist: these children will be hard to place for adoption and if placed without their underlying emotional psychological issues being addressed, the new placements will break down.
Brother Ivo's purpose in writing of these matters is to highlight that such problems are complex, culturally challenging and in need of more depth of thinking than has been on display in recent years. He has learned that in such matters one can have fast, one can have cheap, one can have thorough. But one can never have all three.
He hopes someone will bring this to Chris Grayling's attention where vulnerable children are concerned. Fast-tracking them into public care where many will have multiple changes of carer (especially if they are of mixed race) and languish without the permanent placement promised to the courts, will simply create the next generation of vulnerable parents and the problems and costs will grow exponentially.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that a society should be judged by the way it treats its children. By this yardstick, ours would be poorly-judged at all levels, and the current cultural bias against children probably explains the disparity of reproductive rates between immigrant and the host community. That is a problem for another time. But it fortifies Brother Ivo's sense that the Prime Minister needs some children's pictures outside his office.
(Posted by Brother Ivo)