Howard Croft column: Meddling aberrations by agents of the state

In some areas children are now obliged to wear goggles while playing conkers.
In some areas children are now obliged to wear goggles while playing conkers.

I read some time ago that the social services department in one of the counties (not in this region) had declared that the three main factors that definitively bar couples from adopting are smoking, obesity and dog ownership. Dog ownership? It is well known that social workers are keen on controlling the future, but how do they feel about the possibility of future dog ownership – take back into care an adopted child if the adoptive parents suddenly take it into their heads to invest in a cocker spaniel?

The council concerned with this ruling defended it on the grounds that there is the risk that the parents would be so devoted to the dog that the child would suffer emotional deprivation as a result, but no mention of Toxocara canis, not a pleasant thing.

I thought at the time that this was a one-off aberration, but now I have something else. The son of an old friend of mine recently acquired a two year-old dog from a re-homing charity. It is by all accounts an affectionate and well-behaved animal and it gets on well with the young child in the household, apparently with no vices, but a bit on the needy side, which you sometimes get with dogs whose lives have been disrupted.

This young man, sensible enough as young men go, contacted the previous owner to find out why this dog had been let go. It turns out that the lady concerned, a single mother with an autistic child, had acquired the dog as a puppy and trained it, in the belief that it would benefit her child. There is some evidence that autistic children form relationships with animals more readily than with other humans, and so it turned out in this case.

However, a social worker told the mother to get rid of the dog, otherwise the child would be removed, taken into local authority care and put up for adoption. Of course there may be more involved here than is known to me, but on the face of it this sound extraordinary. The difficulty is that the activities of social workers are shrouded in secrecy, ostensibly to “protect the interests of the child”, but often turn out in reality to protect these agents of the state from critical scrutiny.

The threat to seize a child is a serious step and actually carrying it out not to be undertaken lightly. In a case like this, since taking on an autistic child with all the problems involved would be unattractive to all but the most saintly, such a threat would in reality be to condemn the child to a lifetime in the care of the state, possibly to a series of foster homes, or worse. By a lifetime I mean until the age of sixteen. Then what?

It is known that care by the state is unsatisfactory and destabilising for children. Some believe that even feckless parents with poor parenting skills provide a more promising start than anything the state can offer, puppies on the premises or not. A significant percentage of our prison population have spent some part of their childhoods in state care after all.

On a more hopeful note, the new head of OFSTED has announced that all schools inspectors will be re-trained in an attempt to eradicate foolish restrictions of school activities in the name of health and safety. Bumps, bruises and grazes are part of growing up, she believes, and a useful part – zero risk is not achievable and not desirable. In this she is supported by the Health and Safety Executive, whose staff have been gritting their teeth at the fact that decisions by tin pot dictators, often teachers, have reduced health and safety efforts to a national joke. A recent example was the cancellation of a school sports day because the grass had dew on it and children might slip and fall.

I wish the head of OFSTED good luck in this, but I fear that her endeavours may be in vain. At the grassroots prohibition is popular and we shall for some time hear of children being obliged to wear goggles when throwing snowballs and playing conkers, if they are allowed to indulge in these activities at all.