I recently watched a harrowing interview with a Swedish couple who had lost all of their children. No, there hadn’t been a fire or anything. Social services simply turned up at the door one evening with a couple of police officers, grabbed the kids (who were kicking and screaming blue murder and trying their best to resist), packed them into a van and drove them off into foster care. What had happened? The middle boy had intimated to his teacher that he might get a spanking from his dad if he came home again with another bad report card. The teacher – and all teachers are under instructions to routinely report such assertions – made the fatal phone call and the whole thing was wrapped up within a few hours. The poor parents have hardly seen their children in the last two years and are at their wits end. Their ravaged faces and their eerily silent home are daily witnesses to their unbearable loss. No charges have been pressed. Nothing has been proved. Yet the children remain separated from their family, against their will, in a state of confinement equivalent to state sponsored kidnapping. And Scandinavians find that perfectly normal!
We know that governments generally have a poor reputation when it comes to social engineering and active intervention in the family, yet we would all agree that there are situations where agencies definitely should get involved. But for every horrible tale of a child undergoing a regular Calvary of vile treatment unnoticed for months or years, for every honour killing whose warning signs were ignored for reasons of political correctness or fear of being branded racist, there are a dozen less spectacular cases of social services over-reacting to unfounded assertions of child abuse. Recent revelations about state-managed “abductions” in the UK, Australia and Ireland and the currently raging debate in the US over the intrusive actions of state and county CPAs (Child Protection Agencies) are at least the equal in sheer hair-raising creepiness to anything the Swedes can dream up in their over-controlled socialist paradise.
American CPAs even stand accused of deliberate scams carried out at the expense of legitimate but poor birth families to the advantage of adoption agencies and the coffers of the state. In some cases this may just represent the ranting of the habitual perpetrator turned victim, but in others it may not. Because apparently these agencies actually earn more federal money the more children they place into care. And once the matching funds have increased, the agency can employ more people. This in turn converts into more promotable positions and bigger desks for those near the top. The situation has become so blatantly obvious since a state representative first blew the whistle in California, that the internet rumour mill and even some reputed press outlets are now treating it as a nationwide conspiracy to provide “cheap” children to wealthy childless couples. How can it be, people are asking, that such a high percentage of these ostensibly “damaged” kids and “shaken” babies turn out so eminently blue-eyed and adoptable?
At issue are not just the dubious financial models regulating our social services, nor are the ethics and policies of these institutions solely at fault. Rather we stand on the brink of redefining how much Nanny we want to have in our state and how much parental independence and family sovereignty we can afford to allow in return for a bit less molly-coddling. Let’s go back to the case in the first paragraph. Many of you may be horrified at the thought that someone might strike their child even in a moment of anger, how much more so when that child knows it is “in for good hiding” delivered by a parent in cold blood. But if that “good hiding” is little more than two whacks on the bum with a wooden spoon: no damage done, no further recriminations ... is it really a matter for state intervention, abduction and the institutionalization of a child (or children, in the Swedish model), not to mention the collective punishment of an entire family? Surely we have lost sight of the greater good, which is the preservation of a family unit, just to assuage our fashionable social consciences?
One might further argue that a parent, however old-fashioned his or her parenting model, who cares about the success and behaviour of their offspring to the point of physically disciplining them is infinitely better than the great unwashed mass of sloppy parents who simply expect television, schools, the health system and social services to take care of everything they have failed to do and pick up all the pieces they have dropped. I have not grown up into a violent person despite my rigorous upbringing. On the contrary, I am diplomatic and placid to a fault in most situations. Yet I was thrashed with a hazel switch as a child, both at home and at school. It didn’t happen very often, maybe a dozen times in ten years, but I can honestly say that I roundly merited it on each occasion. I can also honestly say that I preferred to be judiciously whacked a couple of times (the legendary six of the best was extremely rare – you’d have to set the school on fire for that – one or two strokes was the norm) and then sent on my way with a few words of unrelated small-talk, a ginger nut biscuit and a thimble-full of sherry, than to have to put up with the sort of psychological hazing, emotional blackmail and guilt theatrics that passes for structured education in some more “modern” families and schools.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not pro-corporal punishment. Although I often might be heard to say that someone (a grandstanding politician, potty-mouthed popstar or uppity celebrity) needs a good spanking, I don’t usually mean it in a literal sense, because it’s probably far too late
! And If I had kids of my own I’d prefer to get through the year without recourse to anything firmer than a “good talking-to”. I would rather set the kind of moral example and nurture the kind of domestic climate as would render all forms of violence, even punitive, irrelevant. I would try to inspire confidence and self-discipline, integrity and a sense of worth in my children. I would try to keep all channels of communication open. However, should all these brave resolutions fail with a particularly recalcitrant child, and were he or she to perform an act of sufficient cowardice, cruelty and general turpitude to merit it, I would at least like to think that the strap would be an option still open to me as a last resort without necessarily incurring the wrath of the entire nation or having the Spanish Inquisition break my door down and drag my daughter off to a nunnery.
© Edwin Drood
, January 2012
For a very good argument to the contrary, one could not do better than read
Zoe Williams in yesterday’s Guardian
...responding to David Lammy’s recent book “Out of the Ashes”, in which he argues that the London riots were partially caused by poor parenting and the lack of a judicious smack or three.