Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tale of two children

Seems some children's lives are more newsworthy and'deserving' than others .

Recently there have been two stories in the press related to children, one getting worldwide attention, Madeleine McCann, and the other a teenage boy no one really gave a damn about.
The Independent has the story of 14 year old Adam Rickwood(pictured) who committed suicide :

A month-long inquest into the death of Adam Rickwood, who was just 14 when he was found dead in his room at a privately run centre in Co Durham, in 2004, found that he had hanged himself by his shoelaces in a deliberate attempt to take his own life. The troubled teenager, who had a history of self-harming, had written to his mother a month before he died, begging her to remove him from the centre and warning her he would "flip" if he could not go home.

Adam, from Burnley, Lancashire, had been in remand at the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre for four weeks before he killed himself. Hours before his death he had been restrained by staff using a "nose-distraction technique", in which pressure is placed on the nose to cause pain.

Though professionals involved in his care told the inquest that Hassockfield was "an appropriate" place for the teenager, the Inquest group, which represented the boy's family, likened the facility to a prison.

Adam was sent to the Hassockfield centre on the basis of a form completed by Lancashire County Council's youth offending team that indicated he had had no contact with mental services, had received no kind of mental diagnosis and had never harmed himself. Yet the teenager had suffered a variety of traumas and had displayed clear suicidal tendencies, the jury heard.

Social services had been involved with Adam since the age of three. Overdosing on drugs, Adam had shown signs of mental disturbance and undergone psychiatric examination, which led to him being diagnosed at Lancashire's adolescent mental health unit as suffering from severe emotional problems. By the age of 13 he had been excluded several times from school and admitted to hospital seven times. He had also become known to the police after burgling a house and being remanded in custody after being charged with wounding a man in Burnley. An absence of secure accommodation meant he was temporarily sent to the local Elm Tree children's home, where he flourished. But the cost to the council meant he was removed when a place became available at Hassockfield, which had fewer social work staff.

The decision to send Adam to Hassockfield drew on the results of a form which authorities have since admitted lacked crucial information. Lancashire County Council's director of children's integrated services, Gill Rigg, told the inquest:"I accept that [Adam's mental health record] was a very critical and essential piece of information that should have been on [the] form."

Hassockfield was 150 miles away from Burnley, and Adam was terrified. He said he would take his life if his detention were prolonged. "I told [Hassockfield] what he had said, [voiced] my concerns and I was told not to worry; Adam would be under constant watch," his mother said.

In his last telephone call home, on 8 August 2004, Adam discussed his anticipated return, after the retraction of the original allegation against him. But at 3.20am the following morning police officers contacted his mother to reveal he had hanged himself with his bootlaces.

While fighting back tears, Adam's mother said yesterday: "I am disgusted with what has happened. They can go home each night to their children; I have to put mine in a bag. They want to hang their heads in shame. Not once have they said sorry."

Of course we all feel for the McCanns and hope that the outcome is a happy one, but does anyone much care about Adam's mother. She isn't middle class, professional, articulate and photogenic. Isn't her pain just as real. She does not have a large support network around her,no visits to the pope for her.

Somehow I expect many of the chattering middle classes feel Adam's mother was to blame, without looking at what her life was like . Seems she tried to get the system to listen, she rang them with her concerns when Adam wrote saying he was suicidal. Not for her buying into a nice area with a good school. No MPs asking questions or wearing ribbons for her son, after all he was a bad un.I suspect also the media would have been more judgemental if the couple in Portugal had been a working class family who had gone for a few drinks whilst leaving their children alone . Would they have been any less loving and caring?

In this society some children have more worth.The media idealises some, usually white pretty middle class kids, whilst demonising others. Meanwhile society lets down kids, many are abused at home and by strangers, many die in poverty and war and others trafficked for sex. It gives up on the Adam's of this world.

I accept not all children in the headlines are middle class,the other issue is the idealisation of the family and the idea that most attacks and abuse are by strangers. In fact that is not the case and the number of stranger attacks has not increased in 30 years. Most abuse is within the family and by people known to them. Children are either angels or demons and the ideal news story is a middle class kid abducted by a stranger, it presses all the buttons. The concern is not for a kid who commits suicide in a jail, or one who becomes so disturbed that they kill another child (Bulgar killers and Mary Bell), its the story that asks the least questions about the nature of the family and childhood. And even though there is sympathy for a working class parent , its usually when no blame can be attributed to them and the baddie is a clear cut stranger or a 'bad' and 'evil' child.

The Independent reports on a dossier compiled by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), :

The report highlights a series of issues the Government needs to address urgently if it wants to meet its obligations to children. Some 3.4 million children remain in poverty, despite living in the fifth richest country in the world. About 400,000 live in overcrowded conditions; the same number are on the Home Office's DNA database, and the UK incarcerates more children than any other country in Europe, about 9,000. More than 3,000 are in young offender institutions and 500 are in prison on remand, breaching international child-protection conventions.

The average age for depression to strike is now 14, down from 30 in the 1980s. Britain also has the highest self-harm rate in Europe.

For those who do end up in the criminal justice system, the outlook is bleak. More than 3,000 children have been sent to young offender institutions despite being classed as vulnerable.

Another article in The Independent highlights figures from Barnardos and the NSPCC :

In earlier reports, the charity (Barnardos)has drawn attention to the extent of sexual abuse in this country, claiming that at least one child in 10 suffers sexual abuse and that children as young as nine are being forced into prostitution. Another children's charity, the NSPCC, thinks this is an underestimate, reporting that 16 per cent of children under the age of 16 - about one in six - experience sexual abuse during childhood. And while the Madeleine McCann abduction has highlighted the danger to children from strangers, the NSPCC confirms something which has long been known to professionals working in the field of child protection: that children are more likely to be abused by someone they know, including relatives and family friends, than strangers.

Those figures were just this country, life is even harder in many parts of the world. No child should be given up on, but not all have parents able to fight their corner in the society we live in.