Big Breasted Woman Appeals Court Decision

OK, so I lied – no big boobies here. But as they say in the playground: ‘Made you look, made you stare, made you lose your underwear’…

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I’m a little puzzled by this article by Martin Evans at The Telegraph, entitled ‘Lesbian Mother Appeals Court Decision After Daughter Removed’. Having seen this re-tweeted on twitter (thanks @johnbolch), I was expecting (reasonably I thought) that the subject of the appeal might relate to how same sex relationships are correctly to be treated by the family courts, that one of the grounds might raise some discrimination point etc – and so I clicked through. So naive…In fact the reference to the sexuality of the Appellant appears to be 100% gratuitous because there is absolutely no reference to the Mother’s sexuality anywhere in the article. Either that or the author has omitted to include some crucial information, because from the information provided this appears to be a relatively unremarkable appeal where the parents’ sexuality is nothing to do with anything. I despair at the state of journalism sometimes.

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.

Race Row

The sacking of Sam Mason for her ‘racist’ comments to a taxi company has not only made the national news but has generated an astonishing amount of local comment (I gave up before I got to the bottom of the comments listed). Although there are big pockets of the west country which are not at all culturally / ethnically mixed, Bristol to me has always seemed a pretty cosmopolitan city. But having moved back to the area after 10+ years away I can see that the local mix has changed quite significantly and I guess that’s a learning experience for everyone.

It’s really quite interesting (depressing?) looking at the comments on the At Bristol report of this story to see how people articulate their very different views about these things. There seems to be no community consensus about what is or is not racist and what is or is not acceptable or lawful, and no common language through which to discuss these issues. My two penn’orth: one can make an unacceptable or discriminatory comment without intending to. Identifying a ‘racist’ is more complicated than simply saying anyone who has ever acted in a discriminatory way or who has upset someone by a remark pertaining to race is de facto ‘a racist’. If you’ll excuse the pun (I can’t think of a metaphor which doesn’t involve one) it’s not a black and white issue, but a spectrum. I would hazard that all of us have said or done something that might be reasonably called ‘discriminatory’ or which may have offended someone (most of us hopefully inadvertently) but I don’t think we are all racists. Language is complicated and we don’t always wield it well.

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Racism is not necessarily the same as discrimination which has a specific legal meaning (treating someone less favourably on grounds of race / sex etc) and which, as defined, is outlawed. We mustn’t forget that what Sam Mason was doing was inciting a taxi firm to discriminate unlawfully against its asian members of staff. Private hire taxi drivers are usually self employed and get paid by the job so this is not a victimless ‘crime’. It is no different from a client who asks for a female barrister or a black barrister (for whatever reason), or a white patient who asks for a white nurse (for an employee there may be no financial harm but a clear humiliation) – it’s unlawful and it’s unfair. Protecting your daughter’s oh-so-delicate sensibilities is no excuse.

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What I don’t understand about this episode is why a fourteen year old girl living in a mixed city like Bristol would be ‘freaked out’ by a turban in the first place, unless she is picking up on attitudes or anxieties prevalent at home, or possibly at school. Need it be said that an asian man (with or without turban) is not inherently frightening – it is learnt behaviour. Wherever it has come from, closeting a child in some kind of weird turban-free world is only going to compound that anxiety – it says to the child that it’s normal to be freaked out by an asian man. And I think it’s that short-sighted parenting that bothers me most about this. I would not expect most open-minded parents striving to bring up well-rounded and culturally sensitive children to consider that requesting a white female taxi driver would be a helpful response to a teenager’s anxiety or potential anxiety about the unfamiliar. A better approach surely would be to not let it be a big deal and to just expect them to get over it.  

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There is a lot of overreaction about this story, but I have some considerable sympathy with the BBC for taking the decision that they did. I also have considerable sympathy with Sam Mason – what enormous consequences for simply trying to ensure your child’s wellbeing, well-intentioned if misguided. Having read about her difficult past few years I hope this is not something which reverberates too far in her life and I hope that people will let her reflect, learn and move on without consigning her forever to the ‘racist’ bin. There are worse people out there.