The Economics of Dysfunction

It frustrates me that, whilst care proceedings are sometimes a spur for parents to recognise the significance of their own past experience, personal issues and their pressing need for therapy to enable them to parent better and to lead more productive fulfilled lives, there is often no route through to achieve these goals because of ‘resource issues’. As is so often the way in this field of work a solution is there but nobody will pay.

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Often for a parent in the midst of care proceedings the realisation that they need therapy comes late, too late for the children who are subject to proceedings. But the legal process gives parents access to professional analysis of what has gone wrong with their lives, with their parenting and their relationships generally that might otherwise not have been available to them. And in the course of making recommendations in the context of the case, an expert will often point to the way forward for the parent in the shape of therapy. But whilst many of these damaged parents are still of child bearing age and may want to become parents again, they can do nothing to make the recommendations from the court appointed experts for long term therapy become a reality. Long term psychodynamic psychoanalytic therapy (often what is recommended) is usually completely unavailable on the NHS or at best subject to very long waiting lists (and my point is good in respect of drug rehabilitation too although there community based provision is more widely accessible in one shape or form even if residential rehab is difficult to access). So the opportunity to make the best use of the money spent on expert reports, to seize the moment, take something positive from the sadness of such cases and to prevent a repeat with future siblings is lost. Looking at it from a purely economic point of view this is madness. The cost of repeated care proceedings, and the long term financial burden to the state of supporting a child in care throughout his life must surely outweigh the cost of therapy, even if in many cases the parent will be unable to fully engage.

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It’s not every case by any means where therapy is a viable option – some problems are not susceptible to treatment, and other individuals are not ready to accept help. And of course in many cases therapy is not even the answer to the question. But in cases where an expert in care proceedings recommends therapeutic input and gives a reasonably positive prognosis, particularly where that therapy will increase the parents chance of successfully parenting either existing or future children, there should be an obligation on the Local Authority or the NHS to make that available to the willing parent. Somebody ought to stump up so that parents can be rehabilitated. They are often the product of the care system themselves.

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To be told and to come to terms with the fact that your life and chances of parenting in future will be blighted by your deep rooted psychological and emotional issues is extremely difficult (quite apart from the fact that this realisation is often coupled with the permanent loss of your children). But to be told that there is a way out for the future but you can’t have it because the NHS won’t provide it and you can never afford it must be soul destroying, and probably compounds a parent’s pre-existing difficulties and sense of despair. To be finally ready to make the changes you have needed to make for years, and yet to have that opportunity put before you and snatched away is a cruel thing. If we are serious about child welfare and serious about our responsibilities to help families we need to focus more of our resources on helping people to be better – better people, better parents. We need to prevent the removal of children by helping (if not ‘curing’) the parents.

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I know that simply making therapy available will not magically fix deep rooted issues. There will be a high attrition and failure rate. But this is part of a cross generational cycle of abuse and poor parenting where indiviudals are very often involved in the care system as both child and then – sometimess seemingly almost as day follows night – as parent. The system currently fails both those in need of therapy, and their children who may suffer needlessly as a result of society’s failure to help them become better parents and to break the cycle.

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