(This is cross-posted from the K802 Module Blog accessible only to registered students. The aim of posting it here is to provide a flavour of the ideas, themes and debates featured in K802 Critical Practice with Children and Young People.)
For a week or so towards the end of the summer, the British media were dominated by the story of Ashya King, a five-year-old boy whose parents removed him without medical permission from a hospital in Southampton where he was being treated for cancer, and took him abroad.
(Photo via news.bbcimg.co.uk)
It was interesting to watch the way that press, television and radio coverage of the story unfolded, and to notice how public sympathies shifted over time. To begin with, much was made of the fact that Ashya’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Was this another example of parents rejecting the sound advice of professionals on the basis of unusual religious beliefs?
But then popular opinion, at least as reflected in the media, began to change – for two reasons, I think. The first was that more information about the case emerged, and it became clear that the parents acted as they did because they believed their son wasn’t receiving the best possible treatment for his illness. Specifically, they thought Ashya would benefit from proton therapy, which was not provided by the NHS, but was available in Prague.
The second reason for the change of public mood was the couple’s arrest in Spain, where they had gone to raise funds by selling a holiday home, and their temporary separation from Ashya. The British media, and some politicians, expressed outrage. Now, public sympathies were very much with the parents – and there was widespread anger at what was seen as the over-reaction of the British and Spanish police.
The Ashya King case was in the news at the same time as the scandal over widespread child abuse in Rotherham, where police and professionals seemed to have done little to protect hundreds of vulnerable girls from sexual grooming gangs. There was quite a lot of comment on Twitter and elsewhere about the mismatch between the two stories: why so little action to catch real abusers, and so much attention to parents who were only seeking the best for their child?
The Ashya King highlighted some intriguing dilemmas and debates that keep recurring in relation to the needs of children and young people. Who gets to decide what is in the best interests of the child – parents or professionals? What is the state’s role in determining the welfare of a child or young person? And what about the child’s own voice in all of this: if Ashya had been a little older, should he have had a say in what treatment he received?
Many of these questions are discussed in K802. For example, Unit 1 of Block 1 Conceptual context explores how ‘common sense’ ideas about children and their welfare are reproduced by media stories. Unit 2 discusses issues of culture and diversity and raises the question of how to balance the cultural (and religious) identities of children (and their families) with notions of children’s rights. And Unit 3 returns to the vexed question of how best to enable children and young people to have an active voice in decisions about their welfare.
If these questions and debates interest you, or are relevant to your work with children and young people, why not follow this link to find out more about K802 and how you can register.
Coincidentally, BBC Radio 4′s Inside Health programme yesterday included a discussion of the Ashya King case and the implications for working with parents and children. It featured our former Open University colleague Dr. Liz Forbat, now at the University of Stirling. You can listen to the programme here, though the link is likely to be removed after a few days.