And she was how old when she had her baby?

The Victorian police have laid charges over a fire that killed a man and destroyed 11 homes deliberately lit bushfire. But do the maths on the accused:

A teenage boy and his mother have been charged with arson after a fire in Gippsland, south-east of Melbourne.

The 29-year-old woman and her 15-year-old son also were charged with reckless conduct endangering life, allowing a fire to remain alight on a day of total fire ban and impeding an investigation.

There was something to be said for the old system in which such boys were put out for adoption, rather than following this all-too-predictable path to the criminal justice system, via educational failure.

30 thoughts on “And she was how old when she had her baby?

  1. As the mother of two well adjusted happy adopted daughters I can only but agree. Adoption has become so non PC; however when approached in the right way it can be a great success. But there needs to be empathy and understanding for and by all parties involved. The most important part of the equation is the feelings of the children. A couple of years ago when my daughter was only 11 she wrote a short speech for a public speaking event at her school. It is a salutary read. http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=2799
    I just wish more young mothers were brave enough to face reality and give their babies to people who can offer a stable and loving start in life. I am forever in the debt of the two birth mothers of my children.

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  2. Susan – I agree entirely on the need for empathy and understanding; I know that giving up a child can cause decades of heartache and adopted children often feel a strong need to know more about and meet their natural parents. But it is also true that 14 year old girls generally cannot look after themselves properly, let alone a highly vulnerable baby. Teen births are often to girls of low SES status, further compounding the problems. Adoption will usually give the child a much better chance in life, and help the mother get the education and work experience necessary to improve her life as well.

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  3. You never read about the many perfectly successful and well-adjusted children of young single mothers, Andrew. A substantial majority of them, in fact. While there is no doubt children from such backgrounds do worse, those who turn out bad are still very much in the minority.

    What was that about advocating things based on facts, not anecdotes?

    The old system presumed every child born to such a mother would be a failure if left with them. The current system offers a free choice to the mother. Don’t you call yourself a classical liberal?

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  4. Leopold – I have read lots of material over the years on these things. This example (if proven) is admittedly at the extreme end of the failures, but alas the poor prospects of young people from poor single parent households are a major problem, which left-wingers are happy to point out when they want to blame the Howard government.

    There is nothing illiberal about the point I am making. In this case, the welfare state has facilitated dysfunctional family units.

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  5. And it has preserved successful family units as well – and spared many great heartache and loss.

    Lets have a bit of balanced assessment of costs and benefits – especially compared with the deeply illiberal system of (effectively) forced adoption that you referred to in your post.

    None of this is to say that there couldn’t be improvements to the existing system. I’m not unhappy about the move to introduce work tests for single parents whose youngest child is in school. But your post was unbalanced, and used an extreme individual case to attack an entire system. Thats what I’m objecting to.

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  6. Well we have already have liberalised abortion. Liberalise adoption too by creating a market in babies as Judge Richard Posner has proposed – problem solved. Anti-abortion activists would be happy too – they can put their money where their mouth is,

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  7. Rajat’s point is an important one – the fact that this phenomenon is probably at its lowest point in Australian history has to be significant in terms of policy responses. Far more significant is the poorly thought-through policies surrounding overseas adoptions, potentially strip-mining other countries of their future. And Jason: what you’re proposing there is slavery, all the worse by trying to rally antiabortionists to this illiberal cause.

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  8. You would not be buying a child under what Jason suggests, since in Australia there are no property rights in people. What you are buying is the right to be their parent and guardian. Nothing to do with slavery.

    As for overseas adoptions:

    “In 2005-06 there were 576 adoptions in Australia, and 421 of those (73%) were intercountry adoptions. Most children adopted from overseas were born in China (28%), South Korea (24%) and Ethiopia (17%).”

    I’m sure China will manage with 118 fewer people:)

    I’d say skilled migration from the 3rd world is rather more significant on this score.

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  9. But apparently Andrew Elder believes that artificial collective entities called ‘countries’, a temporarily necessary Evil, have property rights in their people hence his use of the term ‘strip mining’,

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  10. 1) Erm, how do we know that the son is the biological son of the mother, the son may very well be adopted.
    2) The mother may very well be an excellent mother, and this incident may be an outlier.
    3) They are not being charged about the fire that burned down the houses and killed a man, that was a separate fire. It said as much in the article. It seems their crime is just having a fire lit during a total fire ban, which is hardly compares.

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  11. Hmm and BTW is the low adoption rate due to low demand, low supply, or just bureaucratic inefficiency? Privatisation might help with bureaucratic inefficiency (but then again, given the low numbers the economic losses will not be great). Supply is prolly not something we would want to increase for it’s own sake (since supply is the ‘problem’) and demand prolly will not be increased via parent having to fork out more money for doing an adoption.

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  12. Factory – correction noted. As for your other points, well it is possible, but not very likely. There are very few adoptions, and many of those are of young children – a teenager would have little chance of being allowed to adopt an infant.

    There is very low domestic supply relative to demand, which is why people try to adopt from overseas. There is lots of bureaucracy associated with that, some of it oddly racist-like thinking that it matters that white parents adopt black babies.

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  13. “Or are we forgetting that it takes two to horizontally tango?”

    Oh give us a break Borofkin. There is no sexism involved in this judgement. Let’s assume these two had the foresight to wear a condom (let’s just assume) though it’s unlikely and that the fault was in the condom. The boy doesn’t have a say on whether she should have an abortion. Presumably she and her parents did.

    Not surprising that the the much heralded Flynn Effect has come to a stop.

    Factory – fair cop on (3) – I was just going on the story but as Andrew says the other 2 are highly implausible.

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  14. I reckon you really are jumping to conclusions here, Andrew – there could be a wide range of reasons (including a misprint) why things aren’t as you’ve assumed. Your eagerness to assume the worst and to lay blame was worthy of a shock jock.

    All that US stuff about teenage single mums should be ignored in Australia anyway. The rate here has always been much lower (with the gap increasing over time), there is an adequate welfare safety net, there is adequate public education (at least in comparison with the US inner cities) and the issue is not complicated by racism.

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  15. Admittedly, this post was not my usual collection of facts and figures. I had in mind a conversation I had a number of years ago (ok, quite a few years ago) with a friend who was then a defence lawyer in the Children’s Court. Reflecting on my ageing, I told him that I was old enough to be the father of one of the enrolling first year students at Melbourne University. He sighed and said ‘if you had been a father then, he or she would be my client, not yours’. Or words to that effect.

    But on this, even women’s organisations are more sensible than those looking to rationalise bad behaviour:

    “Teenagers as a group have significantly higher complication rates both during pregnancy and delivery. In teenagers aged over 16 years, these are associated with poor antenatal care, smoking and inadequate diet. In those under 15 years of age, complications may be caused by biological immaturity. Teenage mothers have a higher risk of postnatal depression than older women (11).

    Babies born to teenage girls are at higher risk of being born prematurely and of having a low birthweight (12). Children born to teenage mothers face an increased risk of physical neglect and abuse, poor school performance, substance abuse and of being teenage parents themselves (13).

    It is also common for teenagers falling pregnant not to complete school. This lack of education can result in long term unemployment or poorly paying job options (14). Teenagers may also experience alienation from their peers and family.”

    A recipe for disaster of some kind.

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  16. For you Andrew, the tarot tells me of a masters degree in social work and then relocation to far East Gippsland with a caravan full of condoms (for distribution) after the next election.
    After a while you will realise that this is your true calling, and that you must have been tipsy from the liberal students bagel picnic the day you enrolled in Kemp’s tutorial.

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  17. Don’t get me wrong, here – it’s better if teenagers don’t have babies. And there’s a good case for abortion and/or adoption for most young teenagers falling pregnant (although based on family experience I reckon open adoption is best).

    But I’ve got just two points:

    1) You’re all jumping to very predictable conclusions on the basis of a fragmentary newspaper par. That says more about you than the mum in question.

    2) The problems of teenage pregnancy are, for a variety of reasons, much less in Australia than in the US, and especially than in the more conservative US states (it is, BTW, these states with their ‘abstinence only’ sex education, their racism, their opposition to abortion and their lack of a social and educational safety net that have the highest rates and worst outcomes for teenage mums).

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  18. If Andrew Elder had ever been to an orphanage in a poor country (and I have been to orphanages in three developing countries) he would know just how dire conditions can be. These are the kids whom the normal extended family support system that exists in these countries failed. Far from “strip-mining”, adoption (by anyone, but including foreigners) is an act of mercy. Apart from undernourishment and lack of emotional development, orphanage kids at best fill the lowest socio economic rungs in developing countires and often drop through the cracks (drugs, crime, teen pregnancy etc etc). Bear in mind that these children live in these under-resourced orphanages in the absence of ANY parent (even an HIV positive drug addicted prostitute, for example).

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  19. I’ve been doing some work on this. Some points
    – Australian teenage fertility rates are the lowest of the English-speaking world (but still higher than continental and Scandinavian Europe).
    – Mothers who were teenage mothers (and their children) are very disadvantaged on almost all dimensions.
    – However, this is mainly because disadvantage leads to teenage motherhood rather than the other way round.
    – The impact of having a child when young on the mother’s education and employment outcomes is pretty small (or even positive). I have a paper showing this for Australia (on my website) and cite similar results for the US and UK. There may, however, be some impact on the mother’s subsequent success in the ‘marriage market’.
    – Unfortunately there is less research on the impact on the _child_ of being born to a young mother. (The counter-factual is a bit tricky here. One approach would be to compare the outcomes of first children born to young mothers against first children born to older mothers but who had a miscarriage when they were younger. I haven’t found any research that has done this).

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