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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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It’s not a question of counting but of caring

The recent rush of bad news for families – and those children who would dearly love one – was desperate in its pessimism.

And yet in the dry presentation of statistics, number-crunching, graphs and excuses, the nub of the problem that shames us all was dangerously hidden.

Children are at an increasing risk of becoming homeless, as the total number living in poverty remains above two million, official figures have shown.

Risk. Remains. Problem families. Lone parents. No crisis there yet then, right? All a bit same as. Nothing much to do with the rest of us.

Wrong.

Children are already suffering the frightening, degrading, life-limiting effects of homelessness. The signs of it are under our noses. And what we all ought to be asking ourselves now is – who actually cares?

One of the unanswered questions, following the recent Carlisle case of children being groomed for sex abuse and prostitution in a city centre brothel, begs a still unanswered question.

How did any of those young people find themselves lost, alone and excluded from what we are so proud to call our community.

And what kind of community is it that can turn its face from children who are rootless, drifting aimlessly and visibly anxious for a roof over their heads, a hot meal – at whatever cost to themselves?

Father’s Day has just passed. The more fortunate families, whether together in one home or separated by divorce, will have enjoyed the day with a shared experience of love and connection.

For others there will have been little to differentiate it from any other day. A Sunday on the streets, sheltering in a hostel, accepting what is mistaken for affection and kindness from a man... who really wants very little for his generosity. That’s his promise.

We heard last week that the number of families living in Cumbria on less than £10,000 a year had risen. We heard also from a government minister that he felt it was time to tackle “problem” families – those offending the sensibilities of “hard working” ones. Those without fathers. Those on welfare.

We also heard that more and more children are in poverty, without a home and without anyone to care for them.

The Government has said it will change the way in which homelessness is defined and how homeless and poverty-trapped children are counted.

In other words, those kids haven’t a hope in hell. And they know it. They will become even more invisible than they are now. Not counted or recognised by agencies charged with looking out for them – and losing the staff they need to do it.

Not able to turn to anyone they can trust not to demonise them as low-life, unworthy of a helping hand. Not in any position to turn down the seedy, abusive proposition that will lead them into a personal hell – about which nobody chooses to care.

The bravest of these kids might find the strength and courage to speak up, cry out for help and have their abuser jailed – as happened in Carlisle.

But it’s likely the majority will keep their silence, afraid of telling the truth leading to more isolation, more condemnation and yet more drifting into lives no adults should know, never mind juveniles.

They are labelled – by the media – as sofa-surfers. Bumming a night here with friends, another couple at home with mum, maybe an overnighter with a date.

The reason sofa-surfing is made to sound so cool is that few truly want to think about what it actually means.

And what it does mean is an increasing number of children, alone for reasons we care not to consider too closely, are putting themselves at unthinkable risk every day of their lives because they have no option and because they can’t find the right people to care for them.

If counting them differently changes any of that, I’m Mother Teresa. And if opposing ministers ever stop arguing about whose fault it was in the first place and start putting these children ahead of their own ambitions, I’ll hitch up my habit and ride my motorbike through the streets of Calcutta.

Have your say

@TB - Nice to see that the milk of human kindness flows freely through your veins.

Posted by Evil McBad on 29 June 2012 at 11:49

hoiw arent more ppl in sheer outrage?! why do we deem this an acceptable way to rear our young?! these vulnerable youngsters need ppl who are trained and qualified and are willing to bring the real issues of our lives these days and are capable of addressing them and stopping our fat cat councillors takin what they want and leaving our children with nothing for now and their future, they should be ashamed and feel sick to their stomach for their failings of our city and children - their future taxpayers

Posted by help our kids! on 23 June 2012 at 15:02

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