Sam’s* family in Perth and Kinross were put through a similar hell to my own. This story in the Scottish Daily Express shows that Sam’s experience is not an “isolated incident” in Perth and Kinross. Like my own showed that Clare’s story in Moray was not an “isolated incident” there. How many isolated incidents = a problem. These incidents are starting to raise the question: is child protection across Scotland broken?
Following a serious anti-social neighbour problem, Sam and her family moved to Perth and Kinross. There is no harassment legislation in Scotland so getting a satisfactory legal redress when being tortured by the neighbours is not easy. For the families stuck in these situations the emotions involved can be similar to being in a war zone. To recover can take time and many victims of neigbour harassment, understandably, have mental health issues.
At the time Sam was pregnant and she has since given birth to a son. She is dealing with the mental health issues induced by the situation with her neighbour and her husband has ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (another topic very close to my heart). This is the kind of situation where the state should be able to help right? Don’t we expect in Scotland in 2016 to live in a compassionate society? A society that helps out when we don’t have family resources to do so? This particularly important as families shrink and we are more spread out. Modern families don’t have those old fashioned resources to help. When my mother had struggles there was an aunt or cousin or uncle or sister ready to step in.
Instead of the support she needed, Sam found herself battling with a health visitor who had no respect for her family, a health visitor who passed on their number and details to other agencies without permission, despite knowing how vulnerable that would make Sam and her husband feel. In fact health care professionals have accused Sam of “going on” about the neighbour situation she was in. Sam says she did not but even if she had surely she should be allowed to ask for help for her family to get over what happened to them. Instead of condemnation and being told to shut up about it, conversation should be encouraged and help provided to deal with it.
Sam’s son was referred to speech and language therapy and that has resulted in a catalogue of issues that Sam and her husband have to deal with over and above their health problems. Their son has yet to have any diagnosis or assessment and they are still unsure of the exact nature of that referral. Things were mentioned in the doctor’s letter that had never been previously discussed with them. It creates the impression that discussions are happening behind Sam and her husband’s back and they are not being consulted about their son. Parents know their child better than anyone else. Cutting parents out of any process is a huge mistake.
Fighting local authorities and health care professionals is particularly hard in situations when the parents are not at their full health and need support. I would argue it is also dangerous when the family is vulnerable and it creates child protection issues that hadn’t existed previously. Instead of support more obstacles were placed in the way of Sam and her family having a normal family life.
This is not good for them but more importantly this is not GIRFEC. Their son is not benefiting from having his parents ripped apart physically and mentally. How can keeping his main carers in the dark about his needs be good for him in anyway?
Our elected officials appear to have little power over the unelected in these situations and whilst we can turn to them of the stories I’ve heard very few get proper satisfaction. Council complaints are brushed off and buried under buercracy. I spent several months complaining about one issue with Moray Council to be informed that it wasn’t treated as a complaint because I hadn’t started the letters with “I wish to complain about...” In the case of ill parents, dealing with all the layers of government is yet another issue to deal with that takes energy away from them and reduces the quality of care they can give to their children. Instead of being able to deal with concerns they have and caring for their child, politics takes priority over the child. How is putting local authorities and government first – GIRFEC?
Sam has felt like both herself and her husband have been treated as though they are incompetent idiots. At every step of the way instead of engaging and listening to the family their family has been threatened with Social Services whenever they disagreed with the health visitor. This has made them afraid to fight back to complain and ultimately to stick up for their son. As a parent not being able to protect your child is the hardest thing in the world especially when the person you’re protecting them from should also have their best interests at heart.
Are these problems caused by the way professionals are trained? There appears to be a widespread inability to listen to the families and to engage with each one on a personal level. Throughout Named Person and GIRFEC, the Scottish Government have set the example with this. Parental concerns have been brushed aside and met with insults.
Since Named Person and GIRFEC have come on the scene there seems to be a rabid need to fit every family and every person into a box. We have become data for government to collect not individuals to assisted in our lives.
Sam’s family were wounded. They needed help to heal but instead the people they should have been able to turn to in that situation have turned on them. The actions of the state worked to destroy the family. Harming parents does not help children.
Named Person and GIRFEC are sticking plasters going on skin slimy with ointment. Is it time to rip off the plasters and let the damaged social services heal? They need more than stitching and plastic surgery.
Agencies don’t listen and threaten so parents are forced to lie to protect their families, and then agencies get suspicious because the parent lied. Nobody gets helped and everyone is angry. It’s a vicious circle and it’s certainly not GIRFEC or SHAANARI.
I couldn't resist this "Life of Brian" sketch. I feel like Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney proclaim whatever they feel like and want us all to respond with "Yes we are all individuals." Well I'm not.
*Sam's name has been changed to protect her anonymity.
This week the cheating began on Tuesday and there has been something every day. I’ve managed to stay dairy free and meat free but everything else has been broken in some way shape or form. And on Sunday I am suffering for it. I am sore, have a migraine from hell and my eyes are stinging.
It began after a difficult bike ride. I managed the four miles in to town. But then I had a Fanta. I needed something cold, wet and fizzy and full of sugar. In hindsight I should have packed a banana. Later in the evening I had a beer.
Then at my mothers I had forgotten to take my oatcakes so whilst I stuck to the rest of the diet I had Crackerbreads and allowed myself a glass of wine.
It really has just gone downhill. There’s been one thing after another and you know what aside from the glass of wine none of it has been worth the pain.
I’ve learned a lot and hopefully I won’t make the same dumb mistakes again. Because I’d forgotten how much things could hurt.
Today has been good – I’ve had my smoothie, a bowl of soup, loads of water and bean casserole for dinner. I won’t be having anything else.
Zeus the Godcat was in his kitchen making a cup of normal non herbal tea. He was doing that because like all Godcats he was really good at making tea. And Godcats had just discovered the luxury of electric kettles. He made the tea using bags from the Normal Cat Tea Company, he had extorted the tea bags from the Normal Cats.
Neptune the Godcat, Zeus’s friend is sat at the table watching Zeus make tea. He meows with satisfaction. “Those lazy Normal Cats we need to get them producing more tea. If they had less fur then they would need less time off because they wouldn’t then get hairballs.”
“Why do the Normal Cats always leave our stuff in the dust.” Zeus carried the two mugs of tea and put one down in front of Neptune. “They still think we are legends. Instead of delivering the tea direct they leave it at our shrines and expect money to appear in the next days. It’s such pain in the neck.” He sat down on the chair opposite Neptune. “And it’s so annoyingly inefficient.”
“I think we should use our powers. One of us should use the megaphone to speak to them. Shout loudly that if their tea production does not increase then we will shave them all bald in the night.” Neptune blew over the top of his steaming mug.
Zeus. “Sounds like a plan, old cat. Let’s convene the Council of the Godcats and have it decreed.”
The Doubts and Successes
Like all parents I experience doubt.
As a home educator there are moments when I think – what the hell am I doing?
And there are those very odd moments when I want to cry, throw in the towel and hand it all off to the state education system, admittedly those moments are few and far between.
We unschool. In our house that probably means the children do too much art and spend too much time on the computer, playing Five Nights At Freddies or Minecraft or RoadBlocks. However, over the years I've learned to trust them. They do learn and progress. The first time I realised it was when I sat down to "teach" evolution only to have them teach me more than I knew courtesy of Pokemon, Phineas and Ferb, and YouTube. Then there was that moment when my daughter was watching a documentary about James Clerk Maxwell as she'd discovered him through learning about the colour spectrum.
My daughter's time watching TV and playing on the computer is now translating into a talent for art and a desire to make films and animations. She's actually rather good and incredibly knowledgeable.
But… then there are those moments when I want to just have a party, pronounced partae…
Gasbag is nine and he has a variety of issues. If he was at school I would be fighting for a diagnosis. Our only attempts to find out what his issues are have set him back. Instead of trying to help children why do local authorities blame the parents first? Gasbag is constantly moving forward and more importantly he doesn’t know he has an issue.
I was despairing that he would ever learn to read but over the last few weeks I’ve watched him grow physically and mentally.
Do other unschooling parents notice that their children learn much more when they are going through a growth spurt?
Of all my children Gasbag has the most beautiful handwriting. It’s elegant and legible. However, reading has been a fight and a struggle. It has been tiaras, tantrums and destruction at the dining table. As he approaches ten I was beginning to worry would this ever happen? Would I have to give in? We’d tried many methods.
Over the past two weeks he’s gone from not being able to read to sounding out and spelling out words and with help he’s writing well constructed sentences. The first day he wrote a story outline: The Legendary GodCats. With a little help from me he wrote out 964 words (I get into trouble from Gasbag if I say 1000 words) and this week he wrote a prologue.
His extended speech delay has given him an incredible vocabulary because he has had to think like a mini thesaurus to find the word he could say that would fit each situation. And he's become a talented young poet. I now know my gut to stop speech and language therapy was the right decision.
He wrote this about his reading frustration:
The Read Guy by G. Kimlin
Tales from the River Bank
Hide under the blanket
I don't want to
Up the pitch
You know what?
Give me that.
Now I want to.
Teach me the words I want to know
like Fazbear's Family Diner
Purple Guy and Golden Freddie.
Tiaras, tantrums and destruction have become smiles, satisfaction and high-fives.
Party at the Kimlin House right now. Gasbag is doing just grand! And I'm supermum - at least until I finish writing this and one of them brings me crashing down to Earth and takes away my current ability to fly.
The Kimlin Family