Children can be a solution, not a problem

FOR too long, the role of strong communities in meeting the needs of all children has been marginalised. It is time to stop exiling our most vulnerable children and bring them back to the centre of our communities.

We need to start seeing what children can contribute. Picture: Robert Perry
We need to start seeing what children can contribute. Picture: Robert Perry

As Scotland looks to its future, it is time to stand back and consider what really matters. Too often, children – especially our most vulnerable children – are a problem to be fixed, instead of the solution. We don’t ask them enough how they feel, and when we do, the response is often heart-rending. They want to feel safe, wanted and welcomed. Yet what we do with the most vulnerable children is pay professionals to care for them.

But care is not a commodity to be traded, bought or paid for. We have outsourced our responsibility to our children. Yet those responsibilities to nurture and love our children are fundamental to a healthy society.

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My message to 150 people at the Children 1st annual lecture last night was that we need to stop perceiving children as a problem and start seeing what they can contribute, rather than receive. Sometimes it is the most vulnerable children who have the greatest gifts to offer, yet how often are they asked to share them for the benefit of their communities?

All children need strong, capable, loving communities. We need to stop expecting professionals to raise our most marginalised children. A good childhood cannot be created by professional systems. These can contribute, support and facilitate, but there is no substitution for a caring community. If we invest in communities to make them stronger, then they will develop the capacity to provide the support and care all our children need.

“It takes a village to raise a child.” Just because it’s an old saying doesn’t make it a false one. Instead we have created ghettoes to deal with people we perceive as problems. Residential institutions for vulnerable members of our society are just wrong. If we get back to thinking in the old ways, then we can create much brighter futures for vulnerable children in communities which welcome them for who they are, what they offer and can contribute.

• Cormac Russell is managing director of Nurture Development and a faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute at Northwestern University, Chicago