The recent publication of the Care Matters Green Paper has drawn attention to the state’s poor record with regards children in the care system. For all its denunciations of problem parents and anti-social families, say critics, this government like those before it has evidently failed to look after the children for which it has parental responsibility. The Paper has also brought renewed emphasis to its ‘corporate parenting’ role. But, contrary to popular opinion, this is about much more than just working with families where children are ‘on the edge of care’. In 1998 for instance, the Secretary of State for Health wrote to local councillors reminding them that as corporate parents, “you took on important responsibilities for the health and well-being of all children in your area”. And yet this wider definition has been largely ignored.
This extension of the reach of the state into the lives of all families is very much in keeping with the other Green Paper, Every Child Matters, published in 2003. Both are premised on the notion that children are increasingly vulnerable, and that parents are unable to play the kind of ‘safeguarding’ role that the government expects of them in their children’s lives. More than this, by failing their children parents also risk failing in their responsibilities to society as a whole. The state must step in more often, or so goes the argument, to protect society from badly reared children.
The significance of parenting for society aside, parents themselves are typically described in passive or instrumental terms. They only feature in as far as they are a potential threat to their children’s well-being, or as passive recipients of ‘support’. At best they are just another ‘partner’ alongside all the other agencies involved in the business of rearing their children. The implication is that parenting is too important, and too difficult, a job to be left to parents alone. It is for this reason that the rise of the corporate parent threatens to undermine the confidence, authority and autonomy of all parents to bring up their own children.