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The Voice of the Child.

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been reading and digesting the contents of the Report of the Inquiry Team to the Health Service Executive into the Roscommon Child Care Case. It is another catalogue of sustained and chronic abuse meted out, in this case by parents, against Irish children.  It is by no means the first report of its kind. Recent reports have focused on abuse perpetrated on children over decades by members of the Roman Catholic Clergy. These reports highlighted a litany of horrific abuse and cover up over decades. That the reports found that there was an official cover up is important because cover up means that somebody knew. A lot of people knew and did nothing. The voice of the children was not heard; they had no-one to speak for them.

Over 95% of abuse however is not perpetrated by religious. Much of it happens in families and the same silence and cover up is to be found there. The events described in the most recent report occurred subsequent to the Kilkenny Incest Investigation, the report of which was published in May 1993. That report expressed the hope that the publicity attached to the case, the subsequent investigation and the analysis and conclusions would make it easier for people to take action sooner. The authors of the report further hoped that agencies and professionals would be alerted earlier to signs of abuse. It was noted in that report that the victim’s mother was aware of the sexual and physical abuse being carried out on her daughter by her husband. While the responsibility for the abuse, the report states, rests with the father there were others who were aware of it and did not act to protect the children.

A similar family structure is outlined in the more recent Roscommon report. They note that the father ‘ruled his home by exercising considerable control over each member of the household’. The authors go on to state that he exercised the same ‘controlling stance in relation to the professionals working with his family’.  This is a structure we see again and again in our work with adult survivors of childhood abuse. There is a man at the head of a household or operating in a religious capacity who rules over his family or his flock with a reign of fear. This fear becomes an important element in allowing abusive situations to develop and continue. People are afraid to speak out, afraid to confront him and this facilitates a continuation of abuse. The voice of the child is not heard.

Collusion or a conspiracy of silence is frequently found in cases of abuse. This may even find expression at a societal level in the reaction to the publication of the various reports. There may be feeling of ‘oh no, not another report’, what might be called ‘abuse fatigue’ where ordinary people who are unaffected by childhood abuse have become tired of listening to the details of it and simply switch off. There is also the feeling which we detect with the publication of these reports that they bring ‘closure’ to the story of abuse and that the issue has finally been tackled and can be put away. This is a very dangerous false sense of security to allow ourselves to be tempted by.

Commentators have said that abuse was happening at the time these reports were published and we can be sure it is happening now. These comments are supported by the fact that the events described in the most recent report occurred subsequent to the 1993 report.  The men who carry out this abuse and those around them who collude with it are not deterred by the mere publication of reports. Stronger, more assertive action is required to meet abuse head on.

The most recent report finds that ‘voice of the child’ was not heard in this case prior to the children being taken into care. There was too much emphasis on trying to work with the parents and not enough emphasis on balancing this with the rights of the children. The children were not independently represented in the successful High Court proceedings taken by the parents to prevent the Health Board from taking the children into care. There is a Constitutional issue at work here. Despite this, the long-promised referendum on Children’s Rights has been sidelined in the legislature for reasons of short term political expediency despite all-party support. Once again, the voice of the child is not heard.

At Counselling Connections we are familiar with stories of stolen childhoods from our work with survivors of childhood abuse. The picture of collusion and silence is all too familiar as families, groups and society turn their faces away from the horror of abuse. In this vacuum the abuser thrives.  Our message this week is a simple one. The voice of the child must be heard.

FB, Counselling Connections Dundalk.

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