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Friday, July 22, 2016

Intolerance as a risk for children

There is a growing intolerance that is becoming evident in the public discourse. There seems a willingness, perhaps under the rubric of freedom of speech, to target individuals, groups of persons or classes of persons. There has been suggestion that racial and immigrant intolerance was related to the BREXIT vote. Some are noting that the present US presidential race is seeing an increase in caustic rhetoric that is sexist, racist and reminiscent of the politics of oppression.

There has been a linkage to violence with the shootings in Orlando recently targeting gays. There are divisive arguments about refugees, Muslims, minorities. Here in Canada, we still see evidence of racism with a Black person in Toronto, for example, likely to be carded by the police for being Black.

One can hardly spend time on Facebook without coming across various forms of "hate" speech. Twitter has just banned Milo Yiannopoulous for racist comments about a Black actress. In essence, we have seen the growth of emotional terrorism. It is a form of tolerated bullying.

What does this have to do with child protection? In general terms, it is the most vulnerable families who come to the attention of child protection. These are also the families that are the targets of the intolerance - poor, racial minorities, LGBTQ community. Many live in areas where community supports, schools, social services and health care are not as well funded.

When we allow intolerance to grow, then there is also a reduced motivation to find the solutions that can be driven by both public and not for profit agencies. It tends to breed the "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" type of thinking. And if they cannot, then they are not worthy people.

It also breeds laws where people who can least manage in vulnerable positions are then put at greater risk. Examples can be seen with a variety of legal efforts to limit access to reproductive rights in the United States. But lest anyone think this is a US bashing commentary, be assured it is not. For the intolerance appears to be growing across many nations.

When you also see the economic challenges that many countries are also facing, then, as seen with BREXIT, there is a diminished willingness to support vulnerable populations that "are not like us".

This emotional terrorism increases the vulnerability of vulnerable families and, in particular, children. The growing field of epigenetics shows that trauma experienced in one generation is passed on to subsequent generations through the DNA. Thus, when we fail a generation of children, we create both the social and genetic conditions to carry the problems into the next generations.

This point is made explicitly clear in the Truth and Reconciliation Report in Canada which shows how the traumas arising from the Indian Residential Schools are still being played out in First Nations, Inuit and Metis families across the country.

Child welfare gets asked to intervene in families where, in reality the problems are not protection of children but systemic neglect that arises from the emotional terrorism (which often plays out in physical conditions) that society has imposed on communities. Child welfare cannot solve these problems and intolerance will lead to the problems becoming more entrenched than they are already.

The growing social unrest that follows marginalization, which we are seeing in a variety of forums, will put pressure on child protection as these pressures get lived out in family life. There is a need for a large conversation across many political, social and policy forums. Child protection should be part of the conversation so that players can see the downstream implications of intolerance.


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