Or should that be, ‘Martin Narey, quite contrary’?

Martin NareyMartin Narey is Chief Executive of Barnardo’s and no stranger to controversy. He has been intelligent, brave and outspoken in a completely reasonable way about a range of social issues from prisons and penal reform through to children and their parents. Today he is reported as having called for more children of inadequate parents to be taken into care at birth in order to prevent them being damaged beyond repair in “families that can’t be fixed”. He is a brave man to suggest this because he knows his view will be seen as paternalistic and ‘judgmental’ (he called it ‘illiberal heresy’) and he will call down upon his own head the indignant wrath of social liberals who assume that such a policy would be upsetting. Here is what he said:

If you can take a baby very young and get them quickly into a permanent adoptive home, then we know that is where we have success. That’s a view that is seen as a heresy among social services, where the thinking is that if someone, a parent, has failed, they deserve another chance. My own view is that we just need to take more children into care if we really want to put the interests of the child first.

We can’t keep trying to fix families that are completely broken. It sounds terrible, but I think we try too hard with birth parents. I have seen children sent back to homes that I certainly wouldn’t have sent them back to. I have been extremely surprised at decisions taken. If we really cared about the interests of the child, we would take children away as babies and put them into permanent adoptive families, where we know they will have the best possible outcome.

Narey has touched a raw nerve here. One response, from Philippa Stroud of the Centre for Social Justice caught my attention for what it assumed about fathers:

We need far more early intervention to try to stop this disintegration of the family we are seeing, but we would like to see more working with these families. What we recommend is the model of the mother and baby going into care, filling that hole and giving the whole family a chance.

Is it simply assumed now that such dysfunctional families no longer have a resident, involved male in the home or in the equation? I just ask the question, but I fear the answer.

childhoodAs Jenni Murray has observed in an article in today’s Observer, simple or simplistic approaches to rescuing damaged children (such as exclusion from school) won’t help either damaged children or the society they themselves go on to damage. In a culture dominated by claims to ‘rights’, we are not very good at working out how competing rights are to be prioritised or regulated. Does the parent’s right to have or raise a child outweigh society’s judgment that such a right has lower priority than that of the child deemed to be being damaged? It is a hard question and anyone who offers a simple answer should immediately be dismissed; easy answers usually come from people who have no experience of the reality of such dilemmas.

I am not sure that the care system is the best place for damaged (or potentially damaged) children; but leaving them to poor parents who cannot cope (possibly who themselves have been damaged by their own upbringing) is not an answer. Nor is parading them on tabloid front pages with headlines such as ‘Hell Boys’ or ‘Little Savages’.

This week sees the celebration in the Anglican calendar of the birth of the Virgin Mary. Actually we know nothing about this particular event and a lot of Anglicans will wonder why we are celebrating it in the first place. But it might make some of us reflect on the fact that she grew into a teenager who got pregnant in a suspicious society, nearly got dumped by her (probably older) fiance, gave birth to a son who grew up to be disobedient (look at what he did when he was 12) and neglect his responsibilities to his widowed mother when he went walkabout at the age of 30 – before getting executed for sedition by a society that knew all about ‘order’ and sorting out the ‘dysfunctionals’.

Mary herself sang a ‘heretical’ song on hearing that she would give birth to one who would turn the political and economic orthodoxies on their head. So, if Martin Narey is being quite contrary, then he is in good company.