Sunday, March 09, 2008

Day is wrong: Kids need their moms, even in prison

Stockwell Day's reaction to the news that a mom will raise her baby inside a B.C. penitentiary shows why the Conservatives still make people nervous.
Sure, prison isn't a great place for a kid. But can anyone argue that toddlers don't really need their moms? Or that everything will work out nicely for a child apprehended by the government and launched into a life of changing foster homes and overworked social workers, to be cast adrift at 19?
Lisa Whitford is the mother. In 2006, she shot Anthony Cartledge, her common-law partner, in Prince George. He died. She was arrested at the scene. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to six years. With credit for time in custody after her arrest, the sentence means up to four more years behind bars.
When Whitford shot Cartledge, she was pregnant with his child. The baby was born while she was awaiting trial -- Jordyn, a girl.
This isn't some heartwarming movie. Whitford has had a wretched life. She was abused as a child, raped as a teen and has been an addict and criminal. Her first three children have already been apprehended and ended up in government care.
But she has done well with Jordyn, who is almost one now and thriving. In a rare sentencing decision, Whitford was allowed to keep Jordyn with her in prison. She'll serve her sentence in the Fraser Valley Institution, where she and he child will have a space much like an apartment, only with guards.
This alarmed Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. He called for an urgent review of the program that allows mothers to look after their babies in prison.
That's fine, if the interest is in the children's welfare.
But Day, sadly, went farther. He was concerned, the Globe and Mail reported, about "the message that is sent to serious offenders when they are permitted to retain custody of a child while incarcerated."
It's an appalling thing to say. Should children suffer to send a message to offenders?
And does Day really think that women like Whitfield, shotguns in hand, will stop to consider whether they might be pregnant and at risk of losing contact with their unborn child before pulling the trigger?
I have two children and three grandchildren. They are, I am convinced, better off with their parents than in the government's care. Even if their mothers were in prison, they would be better off.
That's not a criticism of foster parents, or child protection workers. As a group, they have my admiration. Many children emerge successfully from the system. And many enter with big problems, physically and emotionally.
But I would work terribly hard to keep a child I knew from going into care. There are too many shuffles between foster homes, too much struggle and a terrible end to support on the day they turn 19 -- when they really need a helping hand.
Statistically, children in care face huge disadvantages. They're likely to end up living below the poverty line and more likely to be in trouble with the law. They're less likely to finish high school and much more likely to be homeless or on welfare.
It might all fall apart for Whitford. Her lawyer says caring for Jordyn has given her "a sense of worthfulness, something to live for. She cares so much for this child."
The program works for moms. Research on the American version of the program found that offenders whose children were taken from them were almost four times as likely to re-offend as moms allowed to keep them.
Critics have suggested prison is no place for a child. But it could be as safe and healthy as some of the apartments or neighbourhoods where children are being raised now.
Little kids need their mothers. (Fathers too.) And this should be about little kids.
When Day makes it about punishing their mothers, it's alarming and a little creepy.
Footnote: It's hard to see why the program has become enough of a priority that Day wants an immediate review. In Canada there are two or three women and children participating in the federal mother-child prison program. There are thousands of children in worse circumstances on reserves and in cities, yet Day's government hasn't ordered any immediate action.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

There are factions within the Conservative party who would have Day as Prime Minister of Canada. Now that is a creepy thought.

Anonymous said...

I entirely agree that Day's outlook (punish the kids to punish the mothers) is plain horrible.

On the other hand, I'm following a friend of my son's who is currently in foster care and in my opinion far better off there, knowing both the mom and the foster family. They aren't all rotating doors - social workers ask the foster family to commit to going all the way to 19 once the child approaches teen years.

The boy we know sees his mom once a week, we provide respite (& my husband provides the father figure he's never had) and the foster mom does the rest. She and her partner have made a huge difference in the last three years by providing a caring home with structure, consistency, opportunities and clear boundaries that his mom was never able to provide because of her own multitude of problems.

I realize not all foster parents are this great, but it's important to remember that many really are lifesavers and that a mother's love, sadly, sometimes isn't enough.

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Anonymous said...

Stockwell Day is a reactionary fool. First he abandons Canadians in foreign jails, now he wants to tear apart families - good thing those conservatives aren't scary monsters with no hidden agendas!

But, perhaps there is hope... after all, it only took six weeks to get ten year old Canadian Kevin Yourdkhanis out of Texas Hutto hell. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/03/03/080303fa_fact_talbot?printable=true

Anonymous said...

Stockwell Day is a buffoon - another one of those political figures representing an extreme wing of his party who has to be given some status in order to placate his supporters. It's not a purely conservative or right-wing phenomenon, either, as plenty of examples can be found in the Liberals or NDP.

However, I think your rhetorical question needs to be revised: "Can anyone argue that toddlers don't really need their moms?" They indisputably need a good mother, but it's quite possible that this woman isn't that person. Every scandal involving foster care or child protection has its root in lousy parents, so it's obvious that our policies need to change to 1) develop good parenting skills, and 2) stop enabling failed parents in ruining the lives of more children. There's nothing wrong with a more permanent solution like adoption.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Using your line of logic, that the best place for kids is with their mother, shouldn't her other kids be with her also? Kids have been taken from their mothers for much less than an admittance to murder.
Or is this rant about Mr. Day? Using kids for political games is a new low in reporting.

Anonymous said...

personally i think ur an idiot if you think children should be growing up in a prison setting, ya they need their mom, not a mom figure who has screwed up her life. So personally i think adoption would be better then living with a criminal in their cell.

Anonymous said...

I was a mum with a child in custody a few years ago. My son was 5 months old at the time and is now a happy and healthy 6 year old. It was not the most ideal environment to raise a child in, due to the large amount of restrictions imposed by the prison system. However, it meant that we could be together and for that I am eternally grateful. My child has not had to suffer any form of seperation anxiety, as a result of being torn away from his mother. Nor has he developed some type of personality disorder as a result of his "time inside", I as the mother have tried to ensure that he is a well rounded and respectful child, from the day he was born. i made my mistakes and am saddened at how it affected so many others, but am grateful to have been able to have my baby with me