Sunday, October 27, 2013

Compassion in Child Protection

When looking back at the year thus far it has become clear that all that is worth doing takes time and requires stamina, strategy and courage. We are still fighting the paralysis of a system that designed its laws to ensure children’s rights were met in South Africa, but unwittingly created a series of barriers to services based on the flawed human interpretations and applications of this law. It appears that the age old Hegelian Dialectic has come into play and in our zeal to ensure rights are not abused we have lost sight of how best to protect them.

The thesis was that we need to sign the convention on the rights of the child, ascent to the African Charter for Children, draft a Constitution and then laws to enact these. If this was done successfully children would be safe and have their rights upheld. We did this but,

The antithesis was that we tied humanity up in litigation and lost This child for The children and what has become abundantly clear is that legislative reform is not enough. Transformation of people is what is needed. Ultimately all those who implement law are people first and people play roles that define their identity. The role of professional seems to have become paralysed, or poor performance excused, by law. We have law, all this shows us is that we cannot behave humanely unless threatened.

So what is the synthesis, humanity! There are three premises to successfully protecting children:

1.      The recognition that there is suffering in the world
2.      The negative duty to not add to that suffering and
3.      The positive duty to alleviate the suffering where you can.

On reflection this seems a simple request, it calls for us to be kind. Why is it then so hard to achieve.
        i.            We know there is a recognition of suffering as this is bemoaned every day in the media, at dinner parties and in our work in the non-profit sector.

      ii.            If we did nothing to harm children as a collective, they would be safe!

    iii.            But we need to actively protect because there are many who actively hurt or through acts of omission allow for children to be hurt.

How do we explain why some hurt children? We refer to psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, evolution etc. Theories abound as to why we raise adults who either do not protect or actively hurt children. In my mind, however, none of them suffice as the sum of the parts never appears to make up the whole. Bad childhoods, poverty, trauma, poor attachment, genes etc., have all been used as a way to explain asocial behaviour. What appears to be missing is that there are many, and even potentially a majority, who have had the same experiences and overcome those experiences to live by the mantra “it ends with me”. The cycle can only end if we are aware there is suffering and NOT wanting to inflict that on the other. Others, often wounded healers, have chosen to actively take the hurt and use it to heal. How is this done?

I want to leave you with a thought; it is relationships that are “good enough” and the ability to choose another path because someone opened it up for you. So we want to make a difference in the life of a child. When I am asked what makes a difference in the life of a child?


It is everything! As a result we need many strategies and often ones that do not rely on law or a solution but on an alternative experience of a caring and consistent adult who is authentic and congruent. This is only achieved if we remember our humanity and filter all of our professional work through one question “would I expose my child/family to this?”. Sadly, many professionals in the child protection system would answer no. The implication is that we have created a distance between our work and our humanity and that is why we are failing so dramatically in protecting our children by not being able to protect their right to nit be harmed that would be realised if we did nothing!

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