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Candid (Granny) Camera

sign

As leaving small children in the care of others has grown in popularity so has the awareness that not all carers are caring. Depending on one’s social circles, it’s not unusual to hear a weekly childcare horror story. Whether the babysitting arrangement is posh or subsidized seems not to matter. Little ones watched in their own home by uniform clad nannies, babies clustered in a neighbor’s living room, or those in daycare centers are equally vulnerable. This reality is not meant to strike fear. There is a fine line between believing in the boogeyman and having some common sense. Quite simply vulnerable people are often vulnerable.

Many parents have addressed their concerns strategically; using hidden cameras or surprise visits. This might seem hovering to some but it most often is not. A small child by definition does not have sophisticated communication skills. A baby is completely helpless. Caring for small children is not easy and can be incredibly frustrating. When doing so is an actual job there is little emotional attachment to pull the carer through the darkness. This doesn’t excuse mistreatment; it only helps to explain it. It can happen, and every parent everywhere knows this. What we don’t often consider is what can happen to our parents if they too are dependent on care.

Elderly people are just as, if not even more susceptible to mistreatment. Often an adult child is arranging the care from a distance, relying upon agencies or institutions to do the right thing. Nursing homes are staffed with the same extreme variations of competency seen in hospitals. Supervision of aides is no more reliable than in any other business sector. People don’t necessarily go into the low-paying and often messy work of health aide due to some sort of calling. It’s a job. Some people are good at it and some people are not. It can be terribly overwhelming to arrange care for a parent. The mixture of relief and guilt of situating a parent can be all consuming. It often is only when there are signs of mistreatment that the concept even occurs to anyone.

Often, like small children, the parent is not a reliable narrator. The parent might not know that possessions are missing or meals have been missed. A person with memory loss may not be able to recall mistreatment. Some bruises or marks may in fact be the result of a combative parent and not abuse. Add to that muddle the fact that the parent might only receive occasional visits from family members, and how is anyone to know what’s really going on? Granny cams. Installing hidden cameras (on live feed to an adult child’s computer) in a parent’s home will tell most of the story. Having every care facility (including senior daycare) outfitted with surveillance will change things dramatically. Those institutions should post signs everywhere informing employees, residents and visitors that; “You Are Being Watched.” Is it an invasion of privacy? Of course. So is having a bevy of doctors and interns gaze upon one’s privates for the benefit of learning. (It’s interesting which invasions of privacy we notice and which we don’t.) The signage will not only deter some misdeeds it also will set a tone. An institution that puts the safety of its patients above all else will attract employees with a compatible ethos. The surveillance will have to be viewed of course, which is not inexpensive. But surely the diminished lawsuits will help to defray those costs.

It’s tempting to wring our hands and bemoan how things have changed for the worse. But it wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Eldercare has risen in popularity because people live longer. Childcare has risen in popularity partly due to more employment opportunity for women. As things grow they often become less wieldy and need to be formalized. There’s nothing graceful or lovely about spying on people but there’s nothing so terribly genteel about burying our heads in the sand either.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Testing To Teach

If you just landed here from Mars, you would be convinced that schools have become sheltered workshops for sex offenders.  Every day there’s a new story of not just one individual accused of mistreating a child, but of entire schools infested with abusers.  “What in the world,” says the Martian, “is going on?”

Twenty or so years ago, these stories were much less frequent.  To be fair, we should attribute some portion of the increased reports to awareness on the part of children and the thirst of sprawling media.  But surely that can’t account for the ubiquity of these incidents.

Pedophilia is a pretty specific condition.  I’m not willing to suggest that every person who has abused a child is in fact a pedophile.  But most likely they all do share one very strong trait.  They like children.  A lot.  They are far more comfortable with children than adults.  They are uncomfortable with their adult selves.  Their social circles (if they exist) are limited and mostly center around child-centric events.  It is no wonder that these men and women are attracted to a professional in which children outnumber adults by a wide margin.

Without diminishing for a moment the severe and debilitating effect abuse has on children, I suggest that if there is an increase in child abuse, it is the result of an infantalized society.  There are endless degrees of immaturity of course.  At its most innocuous, these child/adults are wearing baseball caps as chapeaus.  But at its worst…

I’m not sure our entire culture can wake up and smell the (non-whipped cream/foam topped) adult coffee, and embrace what is rightfully and wonderfully theirs.  But certainly what we can do is insist that every employee working with children have a psychological test.  Schools love tests.  A minimum screening is the very least we can do.  It does not impinge upon anyone’s civil rights to determine if they are suitable for a job based on their disposition.  There is nothing inherently sinister about working with children, but there is something alarming about preferring their company.  Wringing our hands and being alarmed is an appropriate first response.  But adults step up and take action to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in Childhood, Education

 

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Do We Have A Witness?

“The Penn State abuse scandal is prompting new legislation that could broaden abuse reporting laws.”  According to an NPR story, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Congress are considering proposals to make every adult a mandated reporter.  Traditionally, mandated reporters are determined by profession (i.e,. social workers, physicians, etc.)  Adults working in these professions are obligated by law to report suspected abuse of children.

Ordinarily, I cringe at legislating decency and/or common sense.  I am troubled that we need laws to enforce adults to differentiate themselves from children, and to exert their inalienable right and responsibility to protect children.  But I am choosing to only see the silver lining in this development.

There are some curious (if not disingenuous) arguments being made against this proposal.  One state commissioner of Children and Family services has suggested legislation is not needed because when; “you walk in and you see somebody sexually molesting a 10-year-old, you don’t need a statute to tell you that that’s a crime.”  Well sir, recent headline stories would dispute that assertion.  Some case managers are concerned about being inundated with unsubstantiated calls.  I would argue a) 18 states currently have mandated reporting laws and calls have increased in some states and decreased in others, and b) so what.  Do we even want to flirt with an argument that might at its core be: we don’t want to increase our ability to protect children because it might result in more work for us?!

The fact that rates of reporting have not increased uniformly in states which have mandatory reporting laws is not necessarily an indication of anything.  We simply don’t know if abusers are less likely to abuse when they know the whole world is watching.

Sometimes reports are unfounded, or simply can not be proved.  That is the nature of society and of law.  Being falsely accused can be devastating to an individual and a family.  However that has always and will always be true.  There is nothing in the world preventing any of us right this second from calling in suspected abuse.  What this new proposal changes is the legal responsibility to do so.  All this really means is that if anyone over the age of 18 should come across a child appearing to be violated in a locker room shower, they will now know exactly what to do.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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