Thursday, March 16, 2006


If you are a Mother, if you are a Father, an Aunt, Uncle, Grandfather, or Grandmother and if you value children and if you watch the news each day, I think the same prayer is on your lips that is on mine.

“God, please help us to keep the children safe.”

But although prayer is good, it is not enough.

I am so appalled that we don’t know where our children are. I am unaware how many countries are busy writing drafts on how we can track our children, but it seems all efforts are hampered by much disagreement and little consensus.

The problem is there are those who support full-time electronic monitoring and others who feel that even children need privacy in order to develop into emotionally healthy individuals. I heartily agree with the latter. I don’t want to see a child’s every move monitored by under the skin implants, permanent tattoos, or the deceptive installation of hidden beepers or cameras. But at the same time, all the recent stuff on the news tells me that we are not doing a good job in knowing where the children are. We are a dismal failure at ensuring they are safe and secure.

But if we are to improve and if an implant of a GPS tracking device or a miniature camera is not a good solution, what is? There are certainly other things we can do but we are such a tech-minded society we seem fixated on this one approach. So gizmo-orientated that we are unable to think outside the box of other ways of addressing the problem that are less intrusive but still workable. Sure, maybe not fool-proof, but something, anything, is better than nothing.

Admittedly, there is a lot I don’t know. But it seems to me, unless a child is reported missing, and that child or his/her family is registered with some government intervention program, I don’t think authorities have much to go on in their efforts to keep children safe. Too often, the perpetrator of child abuse is a close family relative, even a parent, so then where do authorities go when they are not even aware that a child is missing?

Now it seems to me when I was a child, kids were tracked in fragmented ways but nevertheless they were tracked better than they are today. There were Health Nurses that were seriously obligated to religiously monitor the immunization of children. The onus was on the nurses rather than parents to find, track, and make sure children were immunized. They even did follow-up visits to homes to see how immunized children were doing. And there were Truancy Officers who made sure children were in school and if they moved away from the district, follow-ups were made to ensure that children were in school at their new location. Teachers had small enough classes that they knew details of each child’s home life – their socio-economic situation, their level of care, etc. And even they would not hesitate to visit a child’s home to see why they were not in school. Neighbors cared about neighbors and where their children were. And if anyone’s mail wasn’t picked up, it was not simply tossed into a Dead Letter Bin. A concerted effort was made by staff and community to find where that mail needed to be forwarded or practical discovery efforts were made by someone in the community to find out why the mail hadn’t been picked up.

But the simple issuance of Family Allowance checks was one of the best all-time child-tracking devices. It was difficult to hide a child. And for those parents who might wish to do so, the temptation of that free monthly check was too tempting. And so they fell, albeit haphazardly, into the trap of letting the government or Post Office know where they were to ensure that cash gratuity would continue to reach them.

In the climate I have just described, there was a lot of community and government interest bubbling around each child. Enough that some rotten parents, who failed to appreciate the needs of their children, who rejected their young, who would have been unreasonable parents by any standard, were pressured to be cautious about parenting. Society, as a whole, kept families under a pressure of accountability. The parents or guardians of children knew full well that if the law didn’t find them, a teacher, a nurse, or a truancy officer would. Doctors tracked children. Dentists tracked children. Church Ministers and church members tracked children.

Sure I realize this was not a perfect world. Bad things still happened to kids. That there were thousands upon thousands of child disasters that never got into the media. I’ll be the first to admit it was no fool-proof system. But there is no fool-proof system. That’s why the Titanic sank.

Admittedly, things were far from perfect then but our efforts to keep children safe have deteriorated more rather than improved. It seems to me that now a family can move into a community and exist there for two or fifteen years with no one knowing anything about their home situation.

It seems like parents can yank their children out of school without explanation and if one is required they can simply say they are moving. Or switching to home schooling. Or their children have gone to live with relatives. Or moved from the home of the mother to the home of the father. And does anyone care if this is so or not? And as much as home-births might be advocated by some, this leads others to think that unwanted births can be unsupervised and thus not recorded. No one knows if there are children or how many children there are. If a family chooses to discontinue critical medical treatment for a child I’m not sure if there is any follow-up other than the random mailing of a business card that says, “haven’t seen you for two years, it’s time to come for a visit.”

It shouldn’t be that way, but each small thing leads to another that breaks down society’s child-tracking abilities. And every small breakdown leads in insidious ways to more boldness in the actions of those that would do harm to children without a real dread of their actions being discovered.

The tax people might care deeply where adults are but it seems to me like no one cares where the children are. Where they moved, why they moved, or if they are safely in school in their new location. And how often are children in home-school programs monitored – discoveries made as to their actual continuing existence. Once every two years with a mail-in progress kit, or does someone come to the house? How are these kids tracked? And does anyone follow up on the child who reportedly went to live with a relative? To ensure that child is there.

To me it is just too ironic the cost and effort the government will go to track ‘stuff’, and I mean stuff. With nonsense like the efforts at a gun registry, tattoos on animals, leg-bands on wild birds, clips on cattle, sonar devices on fish, implants on domestic creatures – and compulsory licenses for every activity. The list goes on and on. Staggering expenses for costly programs that propagate like rabbits. And added to that the ever expanding outlay of government money to deal with adult problems that are of our own making – smoking, gambling, drinking, or drug addictions.

In our efforts to find a solution, some time and effort in other areas may need to be sacrificed. Maybe a few of the adult programs for addiction recovery, exercise, healthy eating, and stress-avoidance. Maybe even things like attention to skills of good parenting – the negative effects of spanking, the positive effects of time-outs, ways of giving constructive criticism to children. These things are important, but not to those who would harm a child. No more important than gun legislation is to those who have illegitimate guns and gun-use on their minds.

And yet, going back to the gun registry, this is the same flawed thinking that is blocking progressive plans for legislation of a child-tracking program. The thinking that it can only be done, and must be done, in the same manner as the abysmal gun-registry effort – through a cross-country blanket database.

I’m not saying that isn’t a worthy approach if it were workable, but this is closed thinking. Obviously if a spider were to foolishly spin a web with one solitary string across the way he could forget about lunch. And similarly, a single strand database cannot save as many children as a webbed effort. There needs to be a network. The solution needs to incorporate physical efforts that can supplement virtual-reality efforts. There needs to be added to electronics a proactive physical roll call (like door-to-door census taking) that ensures children are present, safe, and accounted for.

I think if you walked into any agency dedicated to fostering parenting or child care right now, and asked what was on today’s agenda, every single staff member would be more than willing to discuss their latest draft of yet another new proposal on child development, or child psychology. But there would be a real challenge in finding one that would say, “I’m going out and about to see how the children are and where they are.”

If these convictions I have about all this are nothing more than fact-based fiction or fiction-based fact, I still want something done. Particularly after the recent cross-Canada and American porno bust that included the unfathomable abuse of children as young as 18-months old. Dear God, we have to do something and do it very quickly.

Your comments are very welcome. Pray with me, cry with me, or talk with me. This is too important to ignore.


Anonymous Dick said...

I don't pray, but with two toddlers constantly with us, I find the gathering statistics on child abuse, paedophilia, child exploitation, child disappearances almost impossible to bear. There is no act more hideously cruel than one perpetrated on a child.

2:59 PM  
Blogger goldenlucyd said...

I came by to say thanks for the BDay wishes. However, what you've written so eloquently about is much more important. The abuse of children is something that literally makes me physically ill.
I thank you for reminding us this is an issue we can never sweep under the rug. I'm with you all the way!

4:09 PM  
Blogger ME Strauss said...

I think often of our children. Now that mine is grown and taller than I am, I think how lucky I've been that he got to be there safe and sound. My thoughts are with you and the children. Thank you for your thoughts with me.

11:10 PM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

This post is very timely as a story has unfolded here in the past week or so that has many of us feeling absolutely sick. A five-year-old girl had been a ward of Child and Family Services, but somehow she got lost in the system. Literally. It was just discovered that she had been murdered nine months ago, but nobody knew. A worker had visited the foster home at some point, but the family passed another child off as little Phoenix and that was that. It was only when her older brother found the courage to say something a couple of weeks ago that the story broke. Before the child's death she had been tortured in unspeakable ways for weeks and kept in a cage for who knows how long. Her brother had been abused, too, which is why he was too terrified to tell anyone what had gone on.

Add this to the list you talked about it your post and yes, we all need to pray for the children. And pray hard.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Thank you to all the caring people who commented here. dick, in respect of your perspective on prayer, I will not pray but I implore all that is within this natural world to keep you and your wee ones safe.

goldenlucyd, thank you for support of the children and the kind support for my blog.

me strauss, always happy to see a new face. Thanks for stopping in long enough to have a wee chat.

And Eleanor, thank you for that story. As disturbing as such stories are, they need to be told to raise a Social Consciousness and Sensitivity. I wish I could now say my next post is light-hearted but I'm afraid it is just more upsetting.

2:14 PM  
Blogger bradford said...

the best hint for balancing criticism with approval (for me) came from page 35 of Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Remen, it seems to relax judgment into less victimizing response abilities

6:08 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

bradford, with no library nearby or bookstore, I can't rush out and peruse p.35 of the book you recommend. But I do have to say, based solely on the thought you expressed that without the context in my mind of 'child victimization' and another context in my mind of victimization of my own world through jumbled priorities in government, education, etc., I couldn't care about this with such pain and passion. And although it hurts, although it's painful, I think passion is a better fuel to burn than apathy and oil.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Me said...

I came to an understanding about how much our society has changed in the past 100 years or so when I lived in a village in China a few years ago. It really does take a village to raise a child. I lived in the village with my four children, and everyone knew everything about our family. I remember my parents talking about this very thing when they grew up. I also remember thinking I couldn't wait to get out of that small town in Texas so I could see the world, yet I long for that same place, where everyone knows everyone, AND everyone else's business. I'm afraid our society has become too inwardly focused and less community minded, and our kids are missing out on the safety that community provides!

Great post.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi me, you've hit the nail on the head. Yes, what we are is a society to 'inwardly focused'. Wish we could find a way to fix that.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Julie Oakley said...

Wow, you've opened my eyes to the additional benefits of our own child allowance system in the UK. I love you blog BTW. I don't usually have the time to visit written blogs but yours is so worth taking the time.

Just read your beauty post which I heartily agree with.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi julie O, I didn't know the UK still did the family allowance thing but I'm not surprised because as far as I know the UK was the first to realize that tracking children needs to be done better and to make an effort to draft some type of legislation that would address that concern. Thanks for the visit. Enjoyed reading your comments. A brief word of warning. I don't always write worthwhile stuff, I have my dry spells like every other blogger, but I hope that won't stop you from continuing to visit.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Julie Oakley said...

Yes we still get a small amount of money per child every week. And it's a universal benefit so every child gets it regardless of the parent's income, so definitely a good way to keep tabs on all of our children.

5:07 AM  

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