CHILDREN ARE TAKEN AWAY FROM POOR FAMILIES
According to the report presented in the Sejm by the department of the social politics, from the beginning of 2012 Polish families had 1827 children taken away. The reason – life helplessness, difficult living conditions, unemployment and many other factors which compose the phenomenon of poverty. If we want the state to intervene when children are maltreated by their mothers’ cohabitants, or when they are hungry, dirty and scared, we also oppose to the reason of taking away children from parents because they do not have enough money. Sometimes it is their fault, sometimes – not, but the state is obliged to help them, elaborate the systemic support, take care of the Polish family – because it is the family in which our future is – instead of introducing restrictions and scare poor people. Surely a legislator, making a provision in the Act about counteracting violence in the family: ‘in the case of a direct danger of life and health of a child’ did not foresee that it might result in a suicide of a teenager Sebastian, separated from his mother allegedly ‘for his good’. Mother had not hit her son or underfed her son. She was simply helpless…
In Poland it is said that one can only go to a social care centre and ask for any kind of help in any situation and cause troubles for oneself and one’s family. It is certainly an exaggeration because the whole group of social services does everything in order to help their protégés, not take away children from them by force. However, there are also those who either like take shortcuts or do not have a good common sense, or they forgot that they have hearts and instead of looking for solutions how to help their mentees, in the majesty of law they take away children to various caring facilities or orphanages.
A cause of the tragedy
The Act about counteracting violence in the family had raised anxiety already during its preparation, that it might allow for too radical interference of the state into the family life. However, it was explained to us that the main purpose of the Act was to protect children against aggression from adults, against various pathologic situations which happen in dysfunctional families. And they happen more and more frequently which is reported by media.
The novelization of the Act about counteracting violence in the family has been obliging since 1 August 2010, but it contains a statement which is blamed for the tragedy of more and more poor families: ‘a danger of health and life of a child’. It means that a social employee, a politician, doctor, nurse or a medical paramedic can decide about taking away a child from parents or his carers without an earlier decision of the court.
The basis is a belief of an employee that harm is being done to a child. What is more, it is possible to set a ‘Blue card’ of a family at the police, without informing the family, which is the first step to collect information about the situation of a family. The point starting the whole state machinery can be, for example, the lack of sufficient heating in a flat. Impossible? That is true. Mrs. Monice from Bydgoszcz, single mother bringing up four children, had her children taken away when she had written to the Centre of Social Assistance, asking for help in buying a new stove for heating.
Because they went for blueberries
Unfortunately, there are many examples and they shock us more and more. Mrs. Sylwia is going to have her nine children taken away by the decision of the court. The motion in this case was filed by a probation officer who had not even consulted her decision with the local Municipal Centre of Social Care, taking care of the family of Mrs. Sylwia and giving a negative opinion about the curator. And what can be done if the milk has just spilt…
In the same region in a small village a school wrote to the social care centre that children go to the forest for blueberries instead of going to school….later, as it turned out, in order to support the home budget, employees filed a motion to the court, thinking would be better for children to be taken to an orphanage. Only intervention of Roman Górecki from the Association of Substitute Parenthood ‘Our Nest’ stopped the case.
However, when the official-judicial machine starts turning round, it will be difficult to stop – a married couple from Lubaczow had been fighting for 15 months to have their four children back. The couple are not alcoholic, do not bully their children, did not underfeed them. They are simply poor. Even the court decided that they are too poor to be allowed for having children. In vain, people from various associations wanted to support the family, even opinions of experts were not helpful, who had positively described relationships in the family. After half a year somebody thought reasonably. One wonders if the culprits of the situation have thought what result these 15 months would leave in the psyche of the four children and their parents. One wonders if there will be a lawyer who will apply for compensation on behalf of this family.
Grażyna Chmiel from near Lublin, mother of nine children was persuaded by employees of the social care centre to file a charges to prosecutors against her husband for violence. The woman did so. A few weeks later she received a letter from the Family Court deciding to take away her underage five children to an orphanage. The decision of the court was the result of those employees’ action who later explained that it had happened well – because it raised shocking motivation in this mother to act. It turned out that the shock took place somewhere else – and due to media. When the case was spread by media, the mayor of the commune, where the family live and the social care centre is, found a shelter for Mrs. Grażyna and her children, and even work for the woman. It was doubtful if she would have had a chance to regain her children without the media publicity…
Media played a positive role of ‘a bogey’ also in the case of the Bajkowscy family from Cracow. It was in the defence of this family, that the initiative ‘Do not destroy the family’ organized in Cracow a big protest against absurd often stipulated by family courts. It was in their case that ‘Niedziela’ wrote a letter. Let’s remind briefly: the spouses went to a family consulting centre to find professional help because their sons reluctantly attended school. And the hell started. First a probation officer appeared at home in order to check the alleged ‘violence acts’ in the family. Later there was a case in the court and restriction of parental rights, despite the good opinion about the family, issued, among the others, by school. To astonishment and horror of the Bajkowscy family, two of the three children were placed by the court in an orphanage. Journals of high circulation were writing about an action of taking away boys from school – which were writing to make it more absurd, that only terrorists were needed, beside functionaries, fighting with resisting little children. A few months of struggles with the court and procurators were needed to state that the Bajkowscy family are ‘all right’. Both as people and as parents. They could have their children back. Because they had maltreated them physically or psychically, but on contrary – they are a good and loving family…
There was not a happy end in another family history. 16-year-old Sebastian hang himself in a centre for the underage because he could not endure the separation with his mother and his siblings. Three children, including 16-year-old Sebastian were taken away from their mother when the court decided that the woman was not coping with her life. Earlier the family had been evicted from a flat and the woman was looking for work in vain. Nobody appeared in the life of the single mother, who could help her. She was alone and reliant on herself. Sebastian probably felt as the head of the family – maybe he could not agree with the thought that he had failed….Nobody noticed that separating the boy from his family was his unimaginable tragedy. Only after the fact everyone noticed the family. It was checked how social services had helped the family earlier before this drastic method – separation was used. We are curious to see the results of the investigation….although we are still aware that clerks have more difficulty to bring good results.
A parliamentarian Barbara Bartuś, a member of the Sejm Commission of Social Policy and Family, commenting the tragedy in Suwałki, said: - We mean help of the state to save the family, not separate it. And today the Polish country is concentrated on taking away children – instead of helping in bringing them up. We speak about pro-family policy which does not exist at all. In Poland we have many cases that there is poverty in families, there is no financial help, but children are taken away…
Is it all about money?
To make it clear: keeping one child in a caring facility costs about 4 thousand zlotys for the country, that is, all of us. It is not difficult to imagine that only some part of this amount could save many Polish families from poverty. And save their children from being sent to caring facilities….
Association and Foundation Spokesman of Parents’ Rights established a special phone helpline for people in a similar situation: 515-866-142 (open from Mon. to Fri. at 10.30-12.30. More information on: www.rzecznikrodzicow.pl).