A ruined childhood

mary cassett children on the beach 1884
The painting «Children on the Beach» by Mary Cassatt from 1884. Children love sand and everything living you find on the beach. That was true in 1884, when I was a child in the 1970’s, and should give children experiences today as well.

The Norwegian newspaper VG had a case yesterday which I assume was a sequel to a case of families with poor economy. Yesterday they wrote about celebrities who grew up in families that could not afford the great charter tours etc. It’s a situation I can relate to.

If I understood the VG article correctly the government intends to spend some money on giving children from poor families a holiday. The idea is to give everyone the same experience, because without a proper holiday experience a lot of one’s childhood is lost. It might be putting it rather bluntly, but one almost gets the impression that those who miss costly trips and cultural events, have been deprived of their childhood. When I did some research I found an article from another Norwegian newspaper, Dagbladet, from 2010. Børge Brende, who is foreign minister today, worked for the Red Cross then. He talked about a 13 year old boy he had met the previous year on a project where they supply this type of experiences to children from poor families. This boy had just had his first holiday, through the Red Cross. Maybe it was not necessarily a trip he had missed, but experiences? Perhaps the problem is that if you take the technology from today’s children, they go nuts because they don’t know what to do? My point is that experiences are free, and that the problem is not that we have too few of them available. We have removed ourselves from them.

This is a translation of a comment I wrote after the VG-article:

I think there has been too much focus on the need for children to have this and that for them to have a good childhood. The description of celebrities having a childhood of camping trips while being driven around in an old wreck of a car is familiar to me. We sometimes borrowed a cabin by the sea as well. We still had some great holidays. I’m in the same situation as my parents were, but we make the most of the situation. I think poverty makes it easier to get attention from the Child Welfare Service, too. I’m not sure whether the government has enough focus on the fact that more support and relief to poor families may be more important than giving everyone the same holiday experience. With the right rationale I think for example a summer camp for kids is a good idea. But I think it’s a more sensible use of money to strengthen families. Then more children would probably have a memorable childhood.

I’ve been a little concerned about child welfare and foster care recently. It seems to me that the criteria for neglect is changing rapidly. When I was a kid it was not unusual to have a small vacation budget, or none at all, while today that is equated with abuse. No one uses such words directly, but the consequence of the arguments used is just that.

The truth is that foster families automatically receive substantial funds, on a level that poor families can’t compete with. There are some examples on bufdir.no (The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs) showing the favorable conditions foster parents have to work under.

In Example 1, both foster parents work full time. They get 7000 NOK (about $1167) per month which they must pay taxes for. They will also get 5500 NOK ($917) per month tax free for clothes and leisure activities for the child. They also get the general child stipend of about 1000 NOK ($167) a month.

In Example 2 the foster mother has taken leave from her job as a nurse for one year. She gets 400,000 NOK which she pays taxes and receives pension points for. The two foster parents also get 4600 NOK tax free per month. When this year is over and she goes back to work the foster parents the 7000 NOK I mentioned in the first example.

The last option is a contract a social worker has written with Bufetat. It applies to children with special needs, often teenagers who Bufetat have inflicted emotional difficulties on. Then the foster parent get 430,000 NOK per year for five years. They will also get 9000 NOK tax free per month.

With such conditions it isn’t difficult to offer something better than the parents. Is it neglect to give the child less than this? I think that if poverty is a reason for Bufetat to remove children it makes more sense to help parents. It would be interesting to investigate how many municipalities provide the support measures the child welfare service claim they do. One of these measures is a support family. This is a family parents can send their children to for an afternoon and sometimes for a weekend. This is a break for both parents and children.

I’ve tried to get some of these types of measures for a disabled child in the three municipalities I have lived in since I became a father. Such offers are only available if the child welfare service concludes that there is a valid reason for concern. My wife and I are doing a good job for our child, but it is worrying that there is no middle ground. If the municipality doesn’t offer any help to children with a diagnosis, we have the choice between a foster home or nothing. The support system is in many cases the parents. Foster parents don’t have the same motivation and willingness to stretch themselves financially or emotionally to help. There are even some examples where the child protection agency and/or foster family ignored diagnoses and statements by experts. According to such thinking these children don’t have ADHD, autism, autoimmune diseases, etc. It is only parents who say that they have it. As a result the treatment of these children ends.

Sometimes it really is necessary to take the child, but I suspect that it isn’t necessary often, and it probably is not necessary for it to become lengthy even when it is necessary. But I was thinking mostly of the holiday this time. If it’s seen as neglect, or that you steal some of the childhood if you can’t afford a vacation, the consequence may be daunting. I’m sure many parents just need some relief.

Summer is family time, and the eight weeks of summer camp municipalities used to offer (I think this was 50-60 years ago) was too much, but I think a couple of weeks of summer camp would have done the trick. I think there are a number of events like that even today, but they are not free.

We often get the same debate around Christmas. There are some parents who are depressed because they can’t give their children the Christmas they want, and the issue is often the gifts. It’s something I can understand very well. Christmas Eve is a big night for the kids, and it doesn’t feel good seeing them be disappointed. I prepare far in advance myself. I have over the years bought many Christmas presents on mammoth sales (this is a huge bookstore sale where the publishers get rid of their stock piles) and other sales during the year. Among last year’s gifts were a jigsaw puzzle and a board game from a bookstore that had a closing sale. There are always options.

I understand that parents want the best for their kids, but I think many people have too high expectations. When it comes to holidays I don’t think kids under 12-13 years feel that it has to be a trip to Spain or Italy for it to be worth their while. For smaller children, camping and visits to grandparents, etc. is just as enjoyable. I’m in the situation where I can’t offer my family to go anywhere. So we’ll be doing shorter camping trips where we’ll use the activities available at the camp site, fishing and a good deal of trips to the beach. We unfortunately live too far away from the family for that to be financially possible (1300 kilometres).

We’ll be tourists in our own municipality and region this summer too, but if the municipality wants to help they are welcome to give my daughter the experiences The Educational and Psychological Counselling Service and municipal occupational therapist agrees with us parents that she needs. I’m talking about ballet and horse riding, as well as the expensive milk and glutenfree diet we keep. The diet is a known issue in relation to autism. It shouldn’t be necessary for kids to be removed from their parents and put in foster homes for them to get financial support.

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