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The abuse of innocence

By Stephen Hagan - posted Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900) Irish playwright, novelist, poet and author of short stories once said: “Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.”

In the past 12 months I’ve received numerous calls from distressed mothers expressing outrage at having a child or children removed from their care.

I’m not a social worker, nor do I have any experience in this field and I express this fact to the trembling voices - some I know, most I don’t - on the other end of the phone. I guess to them it is a definitive cry for help to a familiar face. One they see in the newspapers or on television, who advocates on their behalf as Indigenous people, on a range of issues.


What they don’t know, or chose not to be concerned with, is that I neither have the practical knowledge or expertise to provide the quality advice they seek. Certainly, I refer them on to the authorities who might, or should be in a position to, assist but after further discussion on their particular circumstance I often discover they’ve exhausted all avenues with welfare officialdom previously.

And obviously to no avail.

So why not blame the public servants for their pain and suffering? I don’t doubt that there would be many instances of blatant misuse of power by them precipitated by false accusations of child neglect from meddlesome neighbours or disgruntled ex-partners and their families.

But, as critical as I have been of the ineptness of some public servants in the performance of their duties over the years, I suspect in the majority of cases of child removal they have erred on the side of caution.

The decision to strategically remove children when they are on their way home from school or from their homes, with the apparent muscle of police standing guard, in most cases have been validated in the courts after public servants claimed there was neglect on the part of the parent or parents.

Sadly, it’s become an art form - for those who find themselves in the predicament of having children removed from their care - to blame others instead of being honest about their own shortcomings: an addiction to alcohol, illicit drugs, gambling or an unhealthy infatuation of another man in their lives to the detriment of their children.


The cocktail of these noxious social activities will, more often than not, culminate in excessive domestic violence at home where paper thin walls leave nothing to the imagination of defenceless younger occupants. Regrettably these acts of domestic violence are witnessed time and again by tender eyes whose innocence was lost on the first sound and/or sighting of the vicious blow to the head of their mother.

Dysfunction generally takes hold when initial love and infatuation by the mother turns to fear of the male aggressor, more often than not a figure who is not the biological father of her children, and all her energy and resources are surrendered to him to her offspring’s disadvantage. The end result of submitting to a deadbeat partner and/or a social addiction is a shortage of food in the cupboards, school uniforms in disrepair, less affection displayed to children, house becomes unkempt and overall mental and physical health of mother and children spiral in an unhealthy decline.

So, when one or both adults of the house have had their fill of alcohol and drugs and the arguing and fighting starts, children in the unsafe home know they will have to fend for themselves the best way they can.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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