story on the front page of our paper today. I actually heard it yesterday. It came through on a news feed I get in my line of work. I did not sleep well last night as a result of what I heard then. This morning, even discounting the sensationalism, the story makes appalling reading.
Put simply, a mother has been charged with the manslaughter of her five year old son because she allegedly put methadone in his bottle of cordial in order to stop him coughing. I will not add too many more details except to say that the mother is a registered heroin addict and they were sharing their living quarters with twenty cats and two dogs.
Now, I am sorry, but was this fair to the child? Was it right to leave him with someone who, however much she may claim to love him, lives in these circumstances? Heroin addiction is a dreadful thing but, in most cases, it begins with a decision to take heroin. Is that a responsible act? Is it the act of a responsible individual to keep twenty cats and two dogs on a small suburban property - unless they are breeders with the proper facilities?
It is government policy for mothers and children to remain together if at all possible. This is said to be the best thing for both mother and child. I know that fostering has all sorts of problems and risks, not least the risk of abuse. I know that "orphanages" are supposedly a thing of the past and to be condemned, along with children's homes.
The odd thing is that I have a friend who runs what is effectively an orphanage in Africa. It is actually a refugee centre for unaccompanied children. There have been as many as six hundred children there at a time. Many of them have behavioural problems as well as physical problems. Somehow they keep going. The boys leave at twelve for other places, the girls leave at fourteen. They get some schooling, although not always as much as my friend would like. They also teach one another. They are all expected to do what they can. Discipline is tight but undoubtedly loving. There have been many, many success stories. Almost all the children going through there who have survived (and some sadly do not because of issues with AIDS and malaria and other illnesses) manage to get some further training and become useful members of the community.
Yes, it is an orphanage in effect. It is the thing we say is so dreadful but the children are cared for. My friend sees to that. They have very little but they share what they have.
I cannot help wondering if this small boy might not have been better off in a place like this. He might still be alive. He has lost his life because government policy has said that mother and child should be kept together at all cost - and it has cost him his life.