Punishing the Punished: A Critical Analysis of the 21st Century Child-Saving Movement

Kathy Powelson, Simon Fraser University

Recently, the British Columbia government passed legislation that provides social control agencies with the power to remove "children at risk" and place them in detention for 72 hours. Additionally, under provisions of the Secure Care Custody Act, provincial officials in BC now have the power to place youth in custody for 30 days, with possible 30-day extensions following an initial disposition. According to authorities, this legislation is intended to protect high-risk youth who are involved in self-destructive behaviours. Although the motivations of British Columbia legislators may appear to have been humanitarian, a critical analysis of the Act and the rhetoric preceding its initial drafting demonstrates that the law's driving force was less the "saving of children" than it was the actualization of changing notions of "childhood," along with shifting ideologies surrounding the role in children's lives of social institutions such as the family and the school. Due to the provincial government's failure to effectively protect at-risk children and youth, there has been an increased presence of street youth involved in self-destructive conduct. As in the late-nineteenth century, under the guise of "child-saving," the state response to a perceived crisis in childhood has been to enact legislation that effectively 'punishes the punished.'

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Updated 05/20/2006