Monday, 31 March 2014

The 'Cinderella Law'

The emotional abuse or neglect of children is to become illegal if the proposed new 'Cinderella Law' is introduced. Crimes such as the withholding of love toward a child could become an imprisonable offence, carrying a sentence of up to ten years!

Goodness knows where this would have left my late father who, by and large, could only show affection to cats and whom I now firmly suspect was on the autistic spectrum. Would my sister and I have been taken into care?

On a more serious note, while the sentiment of stamping out emotional abuse and psychological harm is admirable, how on earth would it be policed and established beyond reasonable doubt, let alone enforced? Prior to which would be the more pressing urgency to have 'neglect' and 'abuse' legally defined and categorised, to exclude the parent who makes their child do its homework each night, refuses to buy it the latest branded trainers and disallows it to live on ice cream and marshmallows! (always a childhood dream of mine). Notwithstanding, there are plenty of parents who are simply not very good at parenting or have psychological impairments to expressing emotion like my father. They may not mean to ignore or act inconsistently to their children and their children may love them in spite of their shortcomings or, what may appear to outside eyes, a latter-day Dickensian scenario. Then there's the opposite scenario of 'loving neglect' - where children may have all the gadgets, holidays and ponies that money can buy - and a whole string of au pairs or nannies - just very little time spent with their actual parents. Sending children to boarding school too could potentially be classed as emotional neglect or abuse, depending on who you ask/which boarding school (an ex of mine was very badly affected by being packed off to boarding school from the age of eight). And what of all the ill-educated parents who have little idea of how to stimulate and intellectually nourish their children and consider that to feed, clothe and send them off to school each day is enough? From what I have read, this law almost assumes that all parents are middle-class and well educated, therefore any neglect must be deliberate.

Curiously however, there is no mention of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), the syndrome in which the resident parent effectively coaches or coerces a child into hating a formerly beloved non-resident parent (and sometimes that non-resident parents' entire side of the family) post divorce/relationship breakdown, using much emotional manipulation up to and including threats of dire consequences if the child defies them. Some resident parents even make false criminal allegations to paint their former partners in the darkest possible light or get them into trouble with the law.

PAS can happen to children of any age - it is merely the tactics which change. The good news is that PAS is provable by means of The Warshak Test, a psychological test developed by leading PAS authority, Dr Richard Warshak, which could easily be insisted upon by a judge in cases where mediation is refused or a child is reported as not wishing to see the non-resident parent. The resident parent could then face losing their maintenance payments, and potentially custody of the child or a prison term in extreme cases if it is proven that they are deliberately psychologically harming their child by obstructing a relationship with the non-resident parent out of their own need for revenge or spite, rather than acting in the child's best interests, (and why on earth are children still not required to appear in UK family courts?) How is a judge supposed to establish the truth from a third party report, or even the hardly unbiased word of the resident parent, who may be largely responsible for the child not wishing to see the other parent?!

I believe that stamping out the emotional abuse of PAS would be a much easier ask for the family courts to address than the decidedly grey and uncharted territory of how much parental love and attention is enough to produce a healthy, happy and productive new member of society.

Some childcare experts would furthermore argue that, at the lower end of the scale, being allowed to get bored or frustrated sometimes is an essential part of child development in its own right as the child who is never allowed to grow bored or frustrated never fully develops their creative side or the resilience and independence they will need to survive adult life.


Wisewebwoman said...

wow Laura, I had no idea. What a sticky wicket this Cinderella law is indeed!


Steve said...

And what if a child feels unloved because their parents don't buy them the latest Nikes or iPhone so that they can "keep up with their mates"? I'm not saying the proposals are bad but I can't help thinking of Harry Enfield's Kevin and his constant howls of outrage of abuse against parents who if anything were far too understanding!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

WWW, the mind boggles.

Steve, the mind boggles!