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Change begins in relationship

ANDREW HAMILTON SJ reflects on the importance of keeping our children safe.

The old saying goes that children should be seen and not heard. But few of us follow it in practice. We spend endless hours talking with children, ensuring that they feel loved, and answering their thousands of questions.

We do this because we love them and because this is how they will grow into affectionate, enterprising and sociable adults. Some children, of course, miss out on this caring and loving interaction. They act unsociably and damagingly.

If as a society we love our children, our response should be to make up for what they have lost. We strengthen their relationships at home, help them connect with other children and mentors, show interest in them and encourage their initiative. That will help them link with society.

If as a society we love our children, we do not lock them up in prisons with guards instead of parents, boredom instead of stimulation, solitude instead of interaction and disapproval instead of encouragement. That will only prepare them for adult prisons.

What does it say of us as a society that our first response to children who act badly is to call for them to be jailed, and to waste on expensive prisons resources that could have helped them connect with society?

A better response would surely be one of compassion for children who have lost their way. And then to accompany them as they build better relationships with families, with schools and with their peers.

Change begins in relationships, not in prisons.