Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
Stigma 'A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person'
There is terrible disgrace to having a child in Care. I once told a social worker I know socially, that my autistic child had entered care under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. He replied that he worked in the ‘'opposite end of the system in child protection'". I really did wonder how much he understood about the system he was working within. There is only one care system and it applies to all who come in contact with it, although some people have to go through the family justice system for their children to enter it, whilst others do not. Systems are set up to keep parents at arms length from their children and there is simply no way to break through this system for a parent.
I suspect the reason why people talk about children's social work as falling into distinct categories to do with disability and child protection is, in large part, that they are trying to distinguish between ‘good and bad parents’ for themselves. There is sadly a lot of evidence that some people make bad and in some cases very dangerous parents…. but we are not all like that when we have a child in care, although then you would expect me to say that and there is ‘no smoke without fire’ after all.
I try to dispel stigma by talking about myself and my life openly. ‘’Come and talk to me, I wo’nt bite. I can make social chit-chat. I can ask about your primary degree and where you studied to establish that I know what it is to be a professional.” I never want to say I'm a special case - "Other parents with children in care might be bad but I'm not." I don't buy any of it. Each story is unique. Each situation is different. "You can keep your stigma, thank you very much - I do'nt want it and I will not play the stigma game either."
Most people are interested and once they get over their initial surprise, are open to being spoken to by the parent of someone in care as an equal. Others, thankfully not so many, act as though they find it embarrassing that I should try and start a conversation. I think “Well, shame on you and I forgive you for your ignorance”. There are others, perhaps because they have met too many of the ‘bad parents’ that I find the most disappointing to try and engage because no matter how much they seem to, they don’t really. Sadly they include many professionals who see themselves as protecting children just rarely understand why they could need to partner with parents for this. I think “Well, shame on you and I don’t forgive you for your ignorance.” These professionals believe their own self-sustaining narratives for their own reasons and thankfully for them, sadly for the rest of us and our children, this aligns with the views of policymakers who havea profound disrespectfor any family who has need of children's services.
There are more parents with experience of having children in the care system also speaking out shining a spotlight on problems often around inequity and very poor practice so their children need to enter care. I think speaking out is a good thing. Stigma is ‘context-specific’ as in societal attitudes frame ‘what you ought to be ashamed of’ or put another way ‘what is socially acceptable’. It really should not be stigmatising to need help for a family member or for yourself. That is what services are there for - to provide that help. They may not be able to for many reasons often to do with complexity and services' inability to deal with it combined with deficits in funding and/or staff training.
That too often children need to enter care because of failure to provide the right help at the right time should not be socially acceptable. It is certainly a disgrace...but then I would think that.
See Radio 4, Thinking aloud -Stigma, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09pmbdf (Includes a discussion about the 'weaponising of stigma' against the vulnerable )