Friday, 1 October 2010

The Polish Nightmare

In the grim league table of primal fears, there is one undoubted winner – losing your child. To do so in a foreign country when your language skills are not perfect, and you do not truly understand the ‘system’, nor the full extent of official powers, is the ultimate nightmare.

Young Alicja and her husband Aleksy* are living and working in the UK. They work hard; long hours, he at night and she during the day, and share the care of their young child.

Yesterday they returned home to find an official letter roughly shoved through their front door informing them that an anonymous neighbour had reported them to the authorities for ‘going out drinking at night and abandoning their child’ and telling them to contact the ‘North Somerset Safe Guarding Children Board’.

They were quite literally terrified and in tears. Neither of them drink or smoke, their child is never left with strangers – the shift system they work means that one of them is with their child at all times. They knew they had done nothing wrong – but would the authorities believe them, or believe the anonymous comments of one of its own English speaking citizens?

They come from Poland, a country which in recent times was communist run, where you could be denounced to the authorities without any right to defend yourself. They had heard the stories of English child protection teams snatching children and forcibly adopting them – ex-pat communities the world over are a source of horror stories concerning your host authority.

Not surprisingly, their first reaction was to hide their child with friends and then appeal for help from within their community.

It was their good fortune that the first person they contacted happened to be a friend and neighbour of Andrew Withers, Deputy Leader of the Libertarian Party. It was equally their good fortune that the Honorary Polish Consul in their area is also a member of the Libertarian Party. Accidentally knowing the right people saved them hours of frantic worry – I wonder how well they would have fared had they not been given the help of people who could field an array of titles at the bottom of their e-mails?

The first telephone call made elicited the astounding response – “Whoops! Sorry, wrong Polish couple”. It seems the stasi official who had pushed that letter through their letterbox had been looking for another Polish couple in the same road – “Yep, they sound Polish, that’ll do” – a breathtakingly slip shod and negligent attitude from a public servant charged with such draconian powers as removing your children!
Not surprisingly, it was demanded of this official that he return to see Alicja and Aleksy in person to both apologise and reassure them that their child was safe. This was agreed to – but true to form, the official didn’t arrive, they have heard nothing more.

Somewhere in Bristol is a young Polish couple who have been anonymously denounced to the authorities. Perhaps justifiably, perhaps not. They will be equally terrified when the letter finally goes through the right letter box.

We don’t know who they are. We don’t know whether they also have the ‘right contacts’ to deal with this.
Your child being taken from you by the authorities is not on a par with having your gas supply cut off, or a parcel delivered when you are out – a note pushed through your door is a cold and callous means of telling you that ‘they’ – the North Somerset Safe Guarding Children Board – have received an anonymous complaint. To do so when you are perfectly well aware that the recipient of your note is “one o’ they Polish” and possibly doesn’t speak good English is unforgiveable.

*Names changed for obvious reasons.

Anna Raccoon

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