I was asked to be a guest speaker at a conference recently. My usual “Go-To” response is to refuse. For years I have been invited to speak, and have spoken many times, but I found most of these events a waste of time for all concerned. While I was considering the invitation, I thought I would talk about what works and what doesn’t work. Anyone could give the speech many want to hear, and receive great applause, but it would be a pointless excersize. Before I wrote the book I talked to many people and the best advice I received was this.
“Preaching to the Converted is a waste of time. You need to walk into a Church, announce to the Congregation that there is no God, and have them believe you. Otherwise don’t waste your time, and theirs“.
Of course this is an onerous task, if not impossible, but the speaker must have conviction and credibility. The best way to do this is to propose Solutions rather than Problems. I had intended to propose strategies that have worked in the past, but it became clear that I was dealing with people who spoke out of pain and anger who would probably do more harm than good.
Why Public Protests accomplish very litttle.
A few years ago a small group protested outside the head office of Child Protective Services in Ireland. Unfortunately, nobody thought to bring banners, posters or leaflets, but I applaud their efforts. When I pointed this out, I was attacked for mentioning it. I believe if you are going to do something, get it right the first time. Fortunately, one lady listened and took a can of paint and some scrap plastic and turned them into about 20 signs. I wrote a pamphlet and made it available for download, and by the next protest, anyone passing-by could clearly see why people were congregating outside government buildings. All of the blue signs in the image below were created by one lady. This is the difference between a Meeting and a Protest.
In the case of Ireland, most of the protests were outside the Head Office of Ireland’s Child “Protection” Service, which in my opinion, is a futile exercise. 1/ Because the people working in Head Office have no idea of what happens in any case due to the In Camera Rule, which prevents them from knowing. 2/ The people working there do not manage the law or any case. It would be far better to protest outside the Dail or the Department for Children and Youth Affairs, as politicians tend to be opportunistic and jump at “Causes” if the participants are clearly organized and can offer solutions instead of problems. 3/ High Traffic areas give access to more people.
I carried one of these posters myself during a large protest in Dublin, and to my surprise, I was threathend with violence by the then CEO of Ireland’s Child Protective Services in front of 3 witness, whom I offered to debate, but his solution was to take me up a back alley and “beat the crap out of me”. I don’t think I need say any further about the value of Posters, Banners and Pamphlets.
in 2010 I was one of about 30 protesters who protested outside the Dail, the Irish Parliament, demanding an investigation into the deaths of children in Irish State “Care”. The event was (well) organized by the aunts of Danny Talbot and the McAnaspie family who had died in “Care”, both in horrific circumstances. People, even children, would congregate, a car would pull up loaded with banners and people would engage politicians entering or leaving. After a year, one politician took notice and spoke to the families. As a Deputy, he did a fine job of promoting our cause and after, the leaders of the group were summoned by the Minister for Children, who also had concerns, but had little knowledge of how corrupt and disfunctional the agency he was responsible for was. For the sake of brevity I wont go into the full story.
In the end, the government commissioned a report into the deaths of 260 children who had died in “Care” and a supposedly independent report investigated 196 of those deaths of children. The report did not find a single Social Worker responsible for a single death of a single child, even though there was clear evidence that many of those children and their parents were ignored by social workers. Had any of those children been in the care of their parents, without a doubt, their parents would have been held accountable.
In the end, our protest accomplished its goal. The protest concentrated on one issue only, whereas other recents protests don’t seem to have any stated purpose and are too generalized to be of use. Pick one topic and recite it like a broken record until someone takes notice. A few weeks ago a friend who runs a Fathers Rights Group on Facebook send me an image.
A simple banner with 5 words: “Parental Alienation is Child Abuse”.
Someone took it upon themselves to purchase this banner and attached it to a motorway bridge. I believe the daily traffic on the motorway is over a hundred thousand. Most people are not aware of Parental Alienation, however, everyone is aware of Child Abuse. Everyone is also opposed to children being abused, so these 5 simple words attract attention. A few days after, the Admin of the page sent me another message that in the space of a few days, the image had received over 16,000 views on Facebook.
Again, this is a brilliant example of how one person can make a huge impact. Like the woman who made 20 posters and brings them to protests around the country, anyone can contribute with a little effort. In the past, my colleagues have posted videos which were published on my Facebook page Alliance of Parents Against the State, which have had more than 50,000 hits.
This brings me back to “Preaching to the Converted”. The majority of people believe that Social Services, Adoption, Removal of Children are all wonderful ideas and support their efforts. Due to the secrecy involved, only a tiny minority know the truth. The message, however, is getting out there. Social Services in many countries are having great difficulty recuiting and retaining staff. Less people want to get involved in Fostering these days because after years of trying, people are starting to see that Child “Protection” is more akin to Child Abuse, and I would attribute that to the many people, like the people who made banners above, for changing peoples minds, more than I would to people in closed groups on Facebook. Don’t waste time preaching to the converted, you need to convince people who know nothing of the topic. Start with your friends and family, talk to your co-workers and try to reach people who know nothing about the topic. When you state that children are being abused, people tend to take notice.
A recent development in Irish Courts will soon have a dramatic impact on Irish Social Services. It’s worthy of mention that no Facebook group or post had any impact on this decision. It was hard-fought for 10 years by a father whose children were kidnapped by Irish Social Services and won in the courts. Three years ago the Supreme Court decided that crimes committed “In Camera” could be investigated by Irish Police. The decision was not published however, which makes a mockery of the belief that “Justice should be seen to be done”. The Irish State fought against this for 3 years. I attended court with the father and every 2 months the State would ask for delays, a common tactic.
We did in fact get a Police investigation started but it was quickly stopped on orders from further up. The father then received threats, one in the form of an email which originated from a Police Station, oddly enough, where one of the persons being investigated works.
In the past, my colleagues and I have subjected to abuse and threats, but since we have broken no laws, we fear nothing. Lawyers for Irish Social Services had a meeting and discused how they were going to “put us out of business”, presumably because of the number of children we have had returned from “Care” or the many times we prevented children being taken. These days, my colleagues and I would not be allowed into Case Conferences, even though we have had a positive impact in many cases.
I have always told people that for every reaction there is a counter-reaction. When you stick your head above the parapet, expect it to be shot off. Social workers use Social Media as a source of “Evidence” against parents, and often punish the child by restricting court-ordered visits as a means to punish the parent, even though the child suffers in the process. You are damaging your case against Social Services by posting negative material. More recently, I have seen parents going to jail for speaking out. While I admire their courage and self-sacrifice, I have to question how their child benefits from their “Martyrdom” and incarceration?
I have always said, put the child first in all your arguments, Children First”. I completely understand when people speak out of pain and anger. I would say to “Advocates”, be supportive of people in pain, but the ultimate goal should always be getting the child home. I have spoken for years about how Fathers should not say; “I cant see my Child”. This hasn’t worked in decades despite the many suicides of men, the misery, the horror stories of injustice to fathers, they are no further ahead today, but there is cause for hope. I have said instead you should be saying: “My childs Human Rights are being abused”, and only then will people take notice. I feel sorry for the men affected by Parental Alienation, but I have to be honest and say I feel worse for the children who are denied a father and suffer life-long consequences as a result. The 5 simple words: “Parental Alienation is Child Abuse” will do more for the rights of Fathers than anything else that has been tried in the past. I urge all Fathers affected to get behind the growing Parental Alienation Awareness Movements, which is spreading in popularity. Can you image the impact it would have if every father affected made a banner and posted it in a conspicious place?
Historically, what works best in terms of Reform and Positive Change, is Lobbying. Some of the most egregious legislation ever imposed on a population was the direct result of Lobbying. Large Corporations have managed to wield enormous power over citizens, and this is accomplished by Lobbyists. It’s hard to believe, but the US Congress passed legislation which prevents courts taking legal action against a large company.
Individuals can lobby their local politicians or Government Ministers simply by writing emails, starting petitions, or meeting them directly and expressing their concerns. In my case, I have written to many politicians and sent them copies of my book. When they don’t respond, you can take it as a given that they will not be of help, but when enough people contact them they take notice. I am fortunate enough to have a few politicians who will listen and who have helped me out on issues in the past. Being nice works best.
Words can Heal or Harm, choose your words carefully. The first victim is often the person writing. You will harm your own credibily by attacking people instead of their arguments. Ad Hominen attacks and “making it personal” are among the worst mistakes, attack the idea, not the person. Social Workers often scroll through a persons Public Profile, and will use it against you as “Evidence” in court, contrary to Data Protection Laws. Denigrating others says more about you than the person you are attacking. “What you say can be used in evidence against you”.
I am reminded of how the Mahatma Gandhi once said:
“First, they ignore you.
Then they ridicule you.
Then they debate you.
Then you win.”
If your first move is to attack people, you are giving people a chance to ignore you. Instead, ask a question. If they ridicule you, don’t attack or make it personal. Ask a question and keep pushing for an answer. Let them attack, it says more about them if you are respectful of others.
Never say or write anything out of pain and anger. You’re not likely to change anyones mind and will come off as a person with an axe to grind. Focus on facts and try to be the better person, you will have more credibility. A useful guide is below:
If you cant meet this criteria, it’s best to stay quiet. It was once said:
“Better to keep quiet and have people think you are a fool, than to open your mouth and eliminate all doubt.”
Posts on Facebook are not going to change the world, although planting seeds of doubt in what passes for Child “Protection” is having an impact on the system. The danger of many advocates or advocacy groups is that they do more harm to the cause of reforming Child “Protection”. They drown out more sane voices. I find the most credible people are the ones who don”t have an axe to grind, and are not victims of the system.
Other than connecting people, which is extremely helpful, the only other useful purpose Facebook groups serve is to post news stories on the dysfunctional system. I have observed a lot of in-fighting in these groups over the years, and I have seen the groups come and go. What I have not seen is any useful changes in the law. I have not seen children returned to their families because of posts.
What has worked very well over the years is a small group of determined people, whom I wont name here. We worked calmly and quietly and most people wouldn’t recognize us on the street. Judges of course know who we are, some even like us because we come to court prepared and don’t waste their time. We are not being paid for our time so we don’t like delays.
The worst nightmare for the Child “Protection” System is the oxygen of publicity. If the Irish Public ever learn what has been done in their name to many thousands of children, the system would change over-night. While many call for Tusla to be scrapped, this is an impractical solution. There are children in Ireland in dire need of protection, however, I would have no confidence in Social Workers trying to determine which children, and even less in their ability to “Care” for children. The system is not going to change overnight, and it certainly wont change because of Facebook groups, some of whom do more harm than good. CPS Agencies likeTusla has nothing to fear and everything to gain from people with axes to grind who are speaking out of pain and anger.
Please, just stop attacking each other and come up with positive solutions. The best way to fight the system is to play their game by their rules and you will eventually beat them. If you have nothing positive to contribute, please don’t get in the way of mature, experienced people who already have a history of success.