Watching ABC2 this morning brought out historical experiences involving trauma, separated families and socially-endorsed institutionalisation. It was very moving. So were the stories from the people who experienced that in the past.
The earnest voices talked, with grave condemnation dripping from every word, of a time when children would be removed from home and placed in institutional or foster care, not because they were being raped or bashed by their parents, but because dysfunction or socioeconomic circumstances meant they weren't able to take care of their kids. We didn't have the same social welfare back then, they said.
I thought 'What, 5 years ago?' And did it really get better under the dying days of Howard as the pressure on the unemployed, single parents and the disabled was ramped up exponentially? Because I've encountered, for example, a situation where the only thing preventing a child from being with their family was the need for a particular support (for example drug and alcohol monitoring, or anger management counselling), but because of a waiting list or some other funding-related obstacle that support was not available, and so a child, a vulnerable, developing child, was removed or kept out of their family home.
We've all observed (or quietly looked the other way as it occurred, the natural consequence of hard nosed policies endorsed by the polity at the ballot box) the state going hell for leather to recover debts incurred accidentally by poor people who are supporting children- that is, to be clear, hauling those debt amounts out of the meagre budgets that would otherwise put food in kids' mouths.
The link between poverty, dysfuction and the state removing children is still alive and well. Choices, based on considerations ranging from budget priorities to voter-friendly headlines, are still made to the detriment of the individual family as a coherent entity. Or to the detriment of the 'best interests of the child'.
The story also included footage and discussion of these poor institutionalised kids being forced to march, decked out in military gear. Awful, said the tone of the announcers. Well, it seems it's horrific if decades ago they were doing that to orphans and wards of the state. It's not horrific if a kid today is sent to boarding school, or enrolled in cadets and taught to march and fire weapons, that's different because they have a choice. Their parents might make it for them, and they might do so under illusions created by fallacious notions and glossy brochures, but they are somehow part of a 'choice' that distinguishes them from other institutionalised kids.
We're so much better today, aren't we? I don't even need to get started on asylum kids, those queue-jumping ratbags aren't worthy of empathy until they have permanent residency.
Sure, things are better. Even between when I went to school and got the cane for being punched in the head, or for not making my bed in time, and the present, there has been notable improvement. But with such ritual distancing of the past as we are seeing today, we seem to be saying we're now civilised, that such things can't happen today.
Which is utter crap.
Update: Senator Fielding reveals his own abuse at the hands of a scoutmaster. There are not many times when I'm going to give him credit, but I think discussing this would be extremely painful and humiliating for him and he's brave for bringing it up.
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