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At home with parents is safest

ON 'Frontline' on Monday night, it was put to Children's Minster Frances Fitzgerald that the family is a most dangerous place for a child. She eagerly agreed. She should know better.

While it's true that most child abuse takes place in the home, that's only because the overwhelming majority of children live at home. It is as meaningful as saying most traffic accidents happen on the road.

But where are children least likely to be abused, proportionately? The answer is provided by a huge study on child abuse conducted on behalf of the US government, called 'The Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect'. It shows that by far and away the safest place for a child to be is at home with their married, biological parents.

Take sexual abuse, for example. Compared with the married biological family, the next-safest family is five times less safe. This consists of a child and a parent living on her own.

If the child is living with her mother and her mother's partner, who is not the father of the child, the chance of sexual abuse occurring escalates 20-fold.

Tomorrow's referendum is certain to pass, handsomely, and it might do children some good. But the two things that will help children most of all are strengthening the family based on marriage and improving the child-protection system.

While there is broad agreement that improving the child-protection system is a good idea, strengthening marriage is more controversial. It shouldn't be. Given the evidence, Barnardos, the ISPCC, the Children's Rights Alliance and Frances Fitzgerald should all be in favour.

Of the 6,500 Irish children in state care, two-thirds are from unmarried families. To put it another way, compared with their number in the general population, kids from unmarried families are more than twice as likely to end up in care as they ought to be and kids from married families are only half as likely.

So it should be perfectly clear that the more kids are raised by their married biological parents, the fewer kids will end up in state care.

The number of Irish children under 18 being raised outside marriage is going up all the time. According to Census 2011, it has now reached 28pc, or 455,000 in all.

Given that the married, biological family offers the best protection to children, why aren't the Government and the various child-welfare groups promoting it?

There are three reasons.

The kindest one is that they don't want to appear judgmental, even though facts don't judge.

The second is that they're not even aware of the facts.

The third is the worst reason -- liberal opposition to the notion that the family based on marriage should be given special protection.

The reason for this opposition is that liberals think giving marriage special status and protection means treating other families less equally.

Also, giving marriage special status runs counter to liberal notions about personal freedom, because giving it special protection implies that people should choose one family form over another.

IN this they are correct; giving marriage special status is precisely intended to encourage marriage over other family forms. Given the evidence in favour of marriage, it makes perfect sense to do so.

Child-welfare groups and the Government are therefore faced with a choice between ideology and facts. Their ideology tells them that one lifestyle choice shouldn't be favoured over another, except in extremis. But the fact shows that the family based on marriage is, in general, easily the safest and best place for children. So which is it to be, ideology or child welfare?

We like to think that Ireland is a much better place for children than it used to be. This is only partly true. However, it's worse in that a huge and growing number of children have to endure family breakdown or are born to parents who have never made a commitment to one another.

This is a direct byproduct of liberalism's promotion of personal freedom at the expense of an ethic of commitment.

If Frances Fitzgerald cannot back marriage, then she is not as interested in child welfare as she thinks she is -- because promoting marriage would do far more to protect children than any constitutional amendment.

Irish Independent