Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Children with Knives: When public policy fails the public

There are few things more tragic than the violent death of a child. Fewer things could worry parents more than that their children may be taken from them suddenly, without warning. Some parents do not treat their children with respect or the love they deserve, and it can impact on parents who are responsible citizens. House rules are not restrictive, but liberating for families, allowing growth and love to flower in its season. So how disturbing is it when parents who do the right thing find their rights restricted from parenting their children, but those who are neglectful are protected from censure? How disturbing is it when those who are supposed to champion public needs abrogate responsibility and get credit for taking the path of least resistance? A decade ago there was debate in NSW regarding firearms and schools. Canley Vale HS had a year 10 girl who had gone to a girlfriend's place after celebrating an unofficial farewell with her year. Her friend's brother had brought home a gun and he accidentally killed her with it. He served jail time. The school girl's family got a life sentence. Later, in parliament, a local politician, Tripodi, claimed he had discussed gun and gang issues with the school when he hadn't. The lie is recorded in Hansard circa '99. In many ways, if something doesn't happen on the day, politicians can make the claim it isn't happening at all. Like Rudd's failed policy on border protection. It may well be the case that guns and knives are not perennial problem for NSW schools, but there is nothing that the government has done in NSW which may satisfy the public they or their children are safe because there is no transparency in government .. we do not know when they are lying as they do it so often and effortlessly.
A few years ago I was teaching in one of the state's most difficult schools. The staff were feeling wounded from a confrontation with a former principal which resulted in the Dept. Ed. transferring the former Principal to an admin role not involved with school supervision. That former principal had done some appalling things, including abusing a bus driver who had merely done their job when students got surly. The bus driver was afraid of the school when they saw a school boy with a knife, showing it off to friends at the bus stop. The bus driver didn't know what to do, and asked me for advice, and I told him to report it. I reported it to the school too. I distanced myself from the the issue, and was told later that the bus driver had helped identify the school boy, but was counseled for failing to report it when it happened (when the boy had the knife on the bus). The school admin had decided that it was too late to report the issue as nothing had actually happened. A week later, the same school boy was kicking the bus for not going off route to pick him up. The bus driver got counseled for reporting that too. I was given to understand the school boy had never been counseled on either issue.
The issue is scary, under reported and also not the problem that the public fears. But the public is right to fear it. The difference between something that is never reported and the death of a school child is not very substantial. If the department is found out to be covering up the issue of Hamidur Rahman, where does the corruption stop? Who is in danger? What child is safe?
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This article has been written for Zaya's blog.
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