Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Protecting our most vulnerable

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Serenity Scott. Photo / Supplied
Serenity Scott. Photo / Supplied

The call for babies to be taken from abusive mothers at birth is not a new suggestion.

Every time we see another baby's face smiling out at us from our newspapers, and hear of the horrific injuries sustained by the wee thing and learn of the misery of its short life before its death at the hand of its mother or its mother's bonk, talkback callers ring in, incensed.

Their ideas run the full gamut, from the more sympathetic wraparound support for at-risk families to the kneejerk forced sterilisation of abusive parents.

I would imagine that is the range of submissions the Minister for Social Development has received in response to her White Paper (on Child Abuse).

I can understand the appeal of removing babies from mad or bad mothers in theory. A vulnerable baby is removed from a proven abuser before she or her boyfriend can do their worst.

They are placed into the arms of a loving family who will nurture and adore the child and allow it to fulfil its potential.

The most important time of a child's life in terms of its development are the first three years, so it is vital that the intervention comes early.

Already, 158 babies have been taken from their mothers at the moment of birth and when you look at some of the cases, it's easy to see why.

Chelsea Scott was the mother, in the basic biological sense, of 6-month-old Serenity.

Chelsea already had a child to one man, was living with another, who was not Serenity's father and, by the time Serenity was 6 months old, she was living with a fourth man.

Serenity was taken to hospital with a broken rib cage, genital injuries and traumatic brain damage and later died.

Not one to let grief destroy her, Chelsea promptly got up the duff to the man who was later charged with Serenity's murder.

That baby, and the other surviving child, have been taken from her by CYFS and the last I heard of Chelsea she was appearing in court with another young man on a charge of interfering with motor vehicles.

So I can't imagine too many people defending this young woman's right to be a mother, given she has the maternal instincts of a feral cat.

There are many families where the adults are under enormous stress, be it financial or through drug and alcohol abuse. They can and should be supported, provided they don't take their frustrations out on their kids.

Where a man or a woman has lived in a house where a child has been hurt or killed, the babies of those adults should be removed.

But will there be enough new families to go around, given how many children are in appalling situations?

The caregivers looking after Chelsea Scott's baby say she is doing brilliantly and they hope to make her a permanent part of their family. But they are constantly being asked if they will take on more at-risk babies.

They also have to put up with the mother's supervised visits, which would be very trying. So where will these caregivers come from?

I also wonder whether a person should be able to earn the right to become a parent again. If a mother has her child taken from her, completes drug and alcohol counselling and makes a New Year's resolution to stay away from losers that will hurt her and her children, can she get her kids back?

The courts already have the power to remove a baby from its dangerous mother so do their powers need to be extended?

The minister is motivated to try to protect the most vulnerable children in this country and she should be applauded.

The discussion may be uncomfortable but must happen. But when you hear the suggestions of talkback callers being promoted as policy by a government minister, I can't help but feel uneasy.

- Herald on Sunday

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