It Takes a World to Raise a Child

The old African saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ was never more pertinent in the shocking revelations of what the Roscommon mother of six herself described as ‘a house of horrors’ and the apparent failure of the community – relatives, neighbours, school, church, health services – to safeguard the children. I do not agree with the Judge’s comment that the ‘children were left down by everyone.’ There is sufficient evidence to suggest that there were some genuine efforts made, but somehow not enough was done. I wonder about the role of the school teachers who obviously observed how neglected theses children were and, on the face of it, did little to alleviate their plight. I do not believe that the teachers did not care, but I wonder did they feel that their hands were tied by ‘sexual abuse claims’ were they to arrange to have those children washed, clothed and fed each day? Or is there some other explanation why kindness was not shown on a consistent basis to the children – I would really like to know.

Since the shocking circumstances were revealed there have been calls for investigations and new legislation on the rights of children. I support these calls, but when did laws ever stop crimes? What is needed for the care of children is an acceptance on the part of each adult who encounters a child that he or she has a responsibility for that child’s welfare. It takes a world to raise a child and when a child is being reared by a parent who is not in a mature place to effectively rear his or her children, it is incumbent on the rest of us to ensure that those children’s welfare is looked after. We need to move away from the notion that it is not our business to interfere when we come across family neglect, particularly, when it is of an enduring and gross nature. We also need to take our courage in our hands and not be deterred from responsible action by the prevailing climate of fear of having any physical contact with children. The hug, the embrace, the holding of children, especially when distressed, is critical to their emotional wellbeing. Furthermore, in responding to the plight of all children in distress, the important and critical role of fatherhood needs also to be considered.

What may bring light into the darkness of this tragic story is an explanation of what in the mother’s biographical history could have led to her perpetrating such monstrosities? Children do not come out of the womb with such tendencies. The story of this mother’s life needs to be known so that an understanding can be developed and, vitally, therapeutic ways found for her rehabilitation. Putting her into prison is not enough; if no attempts are made to resolve her obvious serious inner turmoil, then society perpetrates further neglect on this family.

Clearly, all of us – neighbours, relatives, health care people, politicians, teachers, clergy, judges and legal professionals - need to find powerful and creative ways of safeguarding the unique presence of each child. The following are some suggestions in that regard:

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and author of Self-Esteem, the Key to Your Child’s Future.