It is a truth universally acknowledged that at least 90% of people who work with children have not a clue about parental responsibility. Well, perhaps not universally acknowledged, and perhaps not 90%. And perhaps some of them have a little bit of a clue, but a little bit of a clue is a dangerous thing. A lot of the people you might expect to have a basic working knowledge of PR in fact operate on the basis of an entirely fictional version of parental responsibility. Teachers are the prime example. They’re good at being teachers, rubbish at understanding PR. This is not the fault of teachers – their employers, the local authorities – someone – ought to train them. It does matter because they have care and control of children who are under care orders, who are subject to orders restricting their contact or where there is parental conflict or uncertainty or disagreement about contact or residence arrangements. And they need to know whether or not they can, should, must release information or let the child go with a particular adult. And sadly they get it wrong alarmingly frequently – most often refusing to provide information a parent with PR is entitled to.
And the same is true of hospitals, particularly children’s wards. Of which I have had some recent experience. This week, on arrival at the ward with sprog 2.0, and in the course of answering the same series of obligatory questions for the umpteenth time, I gave my husband’s name and, reading ahead to the next question, volunteered that yes, he did have parental responsibility. “Oh no” said the lovely lovely nurse, “He doesn’t have PR if you’re married. Since 2000 he only has PR if he’s on the birth certificate”.
I couldn’t help it. I had to correct him. (Married dads always have PR. Since 2003 (not 2000) unmarried dads can also acquire PR by being on the birth certificate).
It wouldn’t have jarred so much, but the nurse had just given me the admission spiel about the ward rules, which included security – “Don’t let any other adult in to the ward, we have some sensitive cases here and some parents have restricted access (for which read care / child protection / suspected NAI cases, whose babies or children might be removed on discharge), and some of the parents whose children are here long term get quite frustrated”. So knowing who has PR really does matter. And professionals like our lovely young nurse, with the bedside manner that won over my reluctant three year old, really deserve proper training on this issue.
It’s probably not top of the list of priorities for teachers or health workers. But it does matter. And it is really a pretty simple topic to grasp.