If you want to become a zookeeper specialising in, say, llamas, you would not be allowed to do the job without some training.
What a shame this doesn’t apply to having children.
Last night I watched a documentary shown recently on Channel Four: Age Twelve and Looking After the Family
, made by Jane Treay.
Paul and Amanda are blind and are parents of six children. Louise is twelve: Jenny is nine: they do almost all the work of looking after their four small brothers.
Paul and Amanda are too disabled to work, they say, so they stay at home all the time with their children. They can cope, they say: they will not accept help from social services apart from two hours’ cleaning per week.
But they are blind, in every sense of the word.
The house is filthy. The children are filthy. Not just grubby. Grubby, of the kind that comes from playing outside and is followed by a hot bath and a good meal, is good. No, these children are filthy of the deep, ingrained kind. Their clothes are filthy.
The four younger children hardly ever seemed to leave the house. The ones in nappies had their nappies put on before the two older girls left for school, and then not changed until they got back again.
The children didn’t eat from plates, to save on washing-up, and nobody seemed to do any cooking. Sandwiches and fish and chips seemed to be the sum of the food. The baby was filmed eating scraps of bread off the filthy floor. Later he was filmed crawling under the dustbin.
The younger of the two girls had tried to kill herself by putting a black plastic bag over her head. The older sister didn’t like her and was filmed hitting her. The older sister put the baby to bed by doing exactly that: dumping him in the cot. Did anyone read the younger children a story or give them a cuddle? No. There didn’t seem to be any books anyway.
The elder daughter said she didn’t want children herself, she’d had enough of looking after children. When the younger daughter refused to care for the children at one point, the father pointed out to her that she was likely to be removed from the Young Carers’ support group, who occasionally took her for a day out, away from the drudgery of it all.
Both the girls said that their parents were great, but that they themselves were always tired. The commentary – clearly the programme-maker wisely covering herself - made the point that “There is no doubt that Paul and Amanda love their children, but - - “
I would dispute that. I saw no evidence of love for those children, of concern for their welfare, of trying to provide anything that would make them fulfilled or happy. When asked why they enjoyed having so many children, Amanda said that they would be able to look after her and her husband in their old age. When asked what she said when the midwife asked her to stop smoking while pregnant, she said “Oh, I just ignore them.”
All right, some parents do things differently. But what we saw here was neglect of the little boys and exploitation and neglect of the two girls. Cruelty to children. Not deliberate cruelty, perhaps, but cruelty nevertheless.
The parents want more children: Amanda wants eight in total. Not, of course – and here I really do sound like Daily Mail Reader – that they earn any money to support their children, because they are blind, so they can’t possibly be expected to.
What is needed is for someone to say THIS to the parents – though perhaps with slightly more tact:You are not looking after your children properly. Because you are blind, you cannot see how neglected they are. They are badly fed, badly clothed, filthy and you cannot see the daily danger they are in simply living in the house. They are lacking any kind of mental stimulation and any knowledge of the world outside this house. You are cruel to them, even though you don’t know it. They don’t know it and they love you because you are the only parents they have ever had.
You are very bad parents at the moment and we as a society will not put up with it. For the sake of the children – not for your sake, for you should not have been so stupid as to have had so many children – you must accept more help, because the children need it. We will provide round-the-clock carers to take the burden off your daughters. It will cost the taxpayer thousands, but that doesn’t matter, because six children might just be saved from terrible, damaged adult lives, and from passing on the damage to their children in turn.
Finally, you must not have any more children – if you do, they will be taken into care at birth and given to loving parents who will look after them properly.
Oh, I know there are thousands and thousands of children in this country who are living terrible lives, and this family are just the ones who have been brought to our attention. And there are no perfect parents. But most parents are Good Enough, and Paul and Amanda just aren’t.
If you want to adopt a dog from the RSPCA, you have to have a home visit and fill out lots of forms, and quite right too. But anyone can have children, and we’re so worried about infringing the parents’ rights that we’re in danger of ignoring the parents’ responsibilities and, most importantly, the children’s rights.
Sod the parents. Save the children.