One of the worst afflictions our country suffers from is a culture of secrecy.
Where it all began is difficult to say. It certainly became more virulent in the period leading up to the First World War, when the country became paranoiac about our naval secrets being stolen by the dreaded Hun. Then, in 1989, came that draconian, catch all, Official Secrets Act, which ended up making it possible for the number of paper clips Whitehall used being classified as a state secret.
But nowhere is this culture of secrecy more evident than in the family courts. Terrible things are being done in our name behind closed doors, and always the excuse is the same: the need to protect the vulnerable. I suspect, however, that a very large part of its application is for a quite different reasons, including miscarriages of justice, botch-ups, executive incompetence and little-Hitler power structures which brook no interference.
The Blair government got so many, many things wrong, but one thing it did get right was the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act. But, true to form, and in typically British fashion, it was hedged about with so many exclusions and let outs that most of its teeth were drawn before it ever reached the statute books. That is why when you put a simple question, as was done recently, to 90-odd town halls, barely half of them reply. You cannot draw any conclusions from the half which did answer since they are almost certainly the ones who have the least to hide, surely.
Say what you like about the Americans, Australians and the rest, but they are much more open and upfront; not devious and condescending like our lot. Here, there is a patronising ‘don’t bother your little heads, leave it to the experts, we have your best interests at heart’ attitude.
But returning to my bête noire, the family courts, there is almost a conspiracy of silence where they are concerned. Children, in numerous cases, are being legally abducted on the flimsiest of social worker say-so. These little demigods are instrumental in breaking up families so that the child is separated from its parents. Put up for adoption, these children are never to be seen by their parents again. The heartache is unbearable. All this is agreed in closed sessions, and woe betides anyone who in their anguish lets slip a name, for they will go to prison.
Open justice is a meaningless concept to these upstart, dangerous jobsworths. And their skewed attitudes are also at work in the adoption agencies. So politically correct are they, that they will not allow couples to adopt across racial divides (yet one of the great glories of our people is how accommodating they are to people of other races. We would feel nothing but admiration for a couple who opened their door, as well as hearts, to a child of another race). Neither will they if one of them smokes, nor if they are too old, nor if they are this or if they are that.
Two years and seven months it takes on average for them to process a child: an eternity in the life of any kid. And so many are the hoops to be jumped through that it is difficult for any loving couple to be optimistic about their chances (which might – who knows in this topsy-turvy world – actually be improved were they to be gay or lesbian). Indeed, a recently commissioned report stated that the criteria is so strict, the box-ticking so extensive, that most people would not be able to adopt their own children!
Sixty children under the age of one were adopted last year. Yes, 60, in this nation of 62 million. Meanwhile, some 65,000 children languish in care with their childhoods slipping away, and with them their life chances. Shining light on our grossly inadequate care system, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, recently published a set of very disturbing statistics, indicated that 60% of those poor children end up to be either homeless, criminals or suicidal.
Only one other duty – our care for our elderly – equals that of our duty towards our children. Just as the old gave us our past and present, our children are our future. If we do a good job by them – love them, educate them, nurture them – then you can empty out half our prisons in the future and keep our streets free of rioters.
I am one of the very lucky few, after having spent my first 15 years as a foundling in institutionalised child care. My heart bleeds for the ones less lucky – the huge majority – who will suffer all their lives for their screwed up childhoods. Yet the Sharon Shoesmiths of this world feel free to shrug off their culpability and pocket their million pound compensation/pension packages. Scandelous.