Recently I’ve heard several speakers talking about the horrors of taking children away from their natural parents and how the children’s lives have been significantly hampered by this significant event in their lives. These stories – while heart-rending – ignore the reasons why the children were removed and ignore the stories of some of these children who have gone on to successful lives. A more balanced perspective and focus on outcomes would help us decide how to best support children, from all backgrounds.Which Children are Removed, and Why?
Many children have been – and continue to be – removed from their natural parents. In all cases, the aim of the removal has been for the betterment of the child’s life, not for some malevolent reasons by those doing the removal. In practice, a lot of these children had poor life experiences.
We all know about the indigenous stolen generation. But do we know of the 100,000 English children sent to Australia post-WW2, or do we consider the many children removed from their local homes due to domestic violence, or because their parents weren’t able to, couldn’t afford to, or didn’t want to raise them?
Removal or Family Support?
It’s very debatable whether their experiences – from widely different backgrounds – would have been better if they had been supported at home, even though that is clearly the more desirable alternative, if practicable.
It’s politically correct to empathise the horrors of the stolen generation, but, given the levels of domestic violence, alcoholism and sexual abuse in many indigenous communities, is family support really a better option? Importantly, many successful indigenous people were fortunate to be removed from their home lives, at least at the time, and given a better chance of life success.
The same could be argued for the English children, many of whom – such as David Hill, ex-head of the ABC – have managed successful lives after living in foster homes in a new country. But few of these stories are told. The stories of failed removal seem to dominate. Bad outcomes are always more newsworthy.
Is Process the Problem, not Outcomes?
A common issue for removed children is their desire to find out where they came from, who their parents were and, in many cases, to contact them. Much of the odium of child removal seems to be due to bureaucracy lies and obfuscation, which has made it difficult or impossible for children to trace their roots. This is inexcusable and the anger is justified. However, the removal itself should not be criticised because of this aspect of the process. A balanced focus on outcomes is more important.
With our current focus on domestic violence, sexual abuse and the rights of the child, it’s intriguing that we remain in favour of taking children out of local homes to protect them, yet are critical of the same process for the stolen generation, or of child immigration from other countries.
The speakers I’ve heard were themselves all removed from their natural parents. Yet all were successful in their chosen fields! Of course, as children, they didn’t want to be removed from their families, but the problems seem related more to process issues than outcomes.
While implementation problems have been significant, perhaps by focussing more on successful cases of child removal, we might not be so quick to condemn this practice. Comparing the outcomes of the stolen generation to the current ‘intervention’ processes of trying to support dysfunctional indigenous families in their communities might lead us to a different view of the stolen generation process, in time.