Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Minor Importance of Minor Parties

It has been an interesting period over the past couple of months as we the Child Protection Party have embarked on a campaign to have two members elected to the Legislative Council. The battle for recognition and media coverage has been a struggle. We understand that the Legislative Council primarily, and minor parties, battle for a small space in the political landscape. We have come to understand that minor parties have a restricted and sometimes muted voice when it comes to the electoral process.

It is unfortunate that major parties dominate this space, yet it is an important space, where minor parties need to have a voice. It is sad to contemplate that a minor party may win the 10th and 11th seat in the Legislative Council and by doing so will eliminate the voice of another minor party.

During this electoral cycle it has been painful watching the performance of Nick Xenophon as he marches from one media event to another. As an observer of Mr Xenophon for many years and someone who has worked with him as a breakeven gambling counsellor, it is fascinating how he is able to gather media attention to the detriment of parties such as ours and other minor parties.

We all have a voice and that voice needs to be heard. A democracy should not be based on the party or the ideology which is dominant at the time. It should also be based on hearing the voices of those who have significant issues, whether they be singular or multilayered. The Child Protection Party, as do the Dignity Party and other minor parties, represent many of the people who would normally vote for any of the major political parties. It is in the Legislative Council that these people have an opportunity to have their view represented by voting specifically for issues that are specific and relevant to their lives. It is disappointing that those views are not represented via the media.

While energy, unemployment and State development are also important, so are the singular issues raised by all minor parties. The Dignity Party focus on issues which impact thousands of people in this state, and they have a wonderful representative in Kelly Vincent. To my previous point, it would be disappointing to lose someone of her calibre, intelligence and advocacy. We understand that we are pitted against her in a fight for a seat in the Legislative Council, however, we need to acknowledge the important role she and other minor parties play in this state election.

Never before has any party specifically focused on the well-being of children. Until Ms Vincent was elected, no political party had focused on the disabled and the issues they bring to the table. What we represent and what that of the Dignity Party represent are a significant group of voters and in our case, non-voters who need to be represented at the highest possible level. Primarily because major parties do not focus on these two groups of people. Children and the disabled are ignored and should be acknowledged and advocated for by all parties, but regretfully this does not happen. Hence the need for minor parties to take the banner, and fight for these people.

The fight though is difficult and long. It doesn’t end at the voting but continues for as long as we have people who are prepared to continue the fight. Elections come and go and there will always be minor parties who have significant issues which need to be heard. We need their voice, we need their advocacy, we need their passion. It is time that all minor parties joined together as a coalition to advocate with a louder voice and with authority.

It was somewhat disheartening to have the minor parties contact us at the time preferences were being discussed. Self-interest dominated, and anger prevailed. The Child Protection Party takes full responsibility for failing to contact the minor parties prior to nominating preferences. It is evident that some of the minor parties share the same ideology and have similar policies. We could have joined together and discussed those similarities and how we could gain attention from the media. It is my observation that we tend to live in the same bubble, dominated by our own internal issues and our own struggles in getting the message that we think is important to the voters.

The question we need to be asking ourselves is, “do we have significant power and influence as an elected parliamentarian?” The Child Protection Party believes that the sole reason while we are nominating for the Legislative Council is because we can influence decisions on the issues which are important to us and the community. We will filter all legislation that passes through the upper house in light of the impact that legislation will have on children. We have an opportunity to represent all children by ensuring that they have better outcomes than they would if we were not there.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Authority to Create Change

It is vital that at the next state election that we, the Child Protection Party, have the balance of power in the legislative Council.

History will tell us that neither party have a policy which focus specifically on improving the outcomes for children. The power and influence we require comes when we are having to negotiate legislation with the major parties and with the government in particular. Every policy, every legislation which is presented to be passed in the upper house, before it becomes law, will be vetted for the impact that it has on children and their families. When there is legislation which fails the child protection party's "better outcomes" test, then it will not be voted for, and it will not become law.

We need this level of power so that we can make the changes which are going to impact the most vulnerable people in our community. We understand that the primary battle is always held in the house of assembly, because it is from there that the government is formed. It is important for all voters to make a decision about who they wish to govern based on what they believe the government will offer them. Governments in the past have relegated issues around children, and child protection. in particular, to the too hard basket.

The Child Protection Party is aware that we have a small following which at this point, would not be enough for us to win a seat in the upper house. We are aware, that if the general public were aware of what we had to offer, who we are as individuals, what policies we would put in place and how we would make sure that the government is transparent regarding all issues concerning children, then a place in the Upper House would be assured.

Most people don't understand the workings of government generally let alone that of the legislative Council. It is not our role to educate voters about the Parliamentary system. It is our role to convince people that when they do vote, they have a choice in the Upper House which will determine whether children are considered when legislation has to be passed.

The Child Protection Party will be able to voice people's concerns, to name those people who are damaging children and to create a dialogue regarding programs which would vastly improve the child protection system and the well-being of all children.

We will be in a position to ask questions, to demand that the government is transparent, to seek changes in a system which is universally acknowledged as dysfunctional. As a political movement, we will have the support of the majority of those in the community.

By electing two members to the legislative Council, w'e will be provided with the authority to ask questions from those who implement government policies. We will be relentless when it comes to seeking justice for those who have been betrayed by a system which ignores the most vulnerable people in our community.

Even though little is known of us at this particular time we will become increasingly significant as we develop the power and authority to question the decisions of others.

Friday, January 5, 2018

If it happened to me

As a Social Worker working in private practice with a client group who have had their children removed, I notice the struggles parents experience knowing that the State has stepped in and taken their children from them because the parents are "bad" parents.

I was reflecting recently on what that would be like for me, if the Department of Child Protection had entered my life when and removed my children. There was time when my partner and I would have ticked a few boxes which would have been of concern to the Department if we had come under their gaze. I recall a time when my son was eleven months old and walking, climbing and doing what kids of his age do. He had climbed onto a table in the back yard and fell off and landed on his forehead. It created the biggest bump on his forehead that you could imagine. It was a major concern to us but after a little comforting and holding he was fine. We monitored him for sometime and concluded that he was fine.

Risk factor one

If we had taken him to hospital a doctor or nurse may have assumed that the injury was non-accidentally, or that we were not supervising him appropriately. This could have led to a notification to the Department of Child Protection. Because the report came from a nurse or doctor this would have been acted upon immediately.

Risk factor two

Both my wife and I were unemployed. We were barely able to buy food. It was a horrible time and very testing on our relationship. It is likely that the Department would have seen our financial situation also as one which would put our son at risk.

Risk factor three

My wife was in foster care from three to eighteen. As strange as it may seem, I have cited this as being a concern on many Department documents.

Risk factor four

If the Department social workers had landed at our door and wanted to interview us I would have told them in not uncertain terms to mind their own business and I would not have let them in. They would have returned with the police and because I wasn't co-operating would have seen this as a risk factor and would have removed my son.

Risk factor five

My wife and I would have been extremely distressed, and I, back then, would have become somewhat aggressive, mainly because I wouldn't have understood what was going on and certainly didn't see myself and partner as "bad parents". I would have been labelled as aggressive and that my partner was living with an aggressive man and she needed to be removed from the situation. If she had declared that I wasn't abusive of her the Department Social Workers would have declared that she was failing to accept the DV relationship and the damage it was doing to my son.

Even though none of the above happened, under different circumstances it could have happened to me, and it does happen to others.

The labeling and categorizing of clients is endemic within the Department of Child Protection. Young Social Workers, with virtually no experience are making decisions about clients and their children which impact families for the rest of their lives. While they believe that they are saving children from these terrible parents they often fail to understand the impact of removing a child and the long term damage it may cause.

No parent parents perfectly, we all make mistakes, and I admit that I have made my fair share. There are times when we need help. The Department of Child Protection should be the place to go when help is needed. So many clients have asked for this help only to have their children removed until the children are eighteen years old.

Ask yourself how would you respond if the Department of Child Protection knocked on your door and removed your children? At the current rate of removal it is becoming more likely than ever before.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Abuse of Power

It has been some concern of mine, for some time, that social workers within the child protection system abuse their power and authority. I emphasise, that this is not always the case, but on many occasions I experience social workers using their authority as a weapon against vulnerable clients.

Recently I attended a meeting between the Department of Child Protection and a client and her workers. The issue which needed to be discussed was the clients drug use. There is no doubt that this was a matter which needed to be raised and had to be confronted by all of us, including the client. Rather than accepting that the client had made a mistake, the mistake needed to be addressed, and then a pathway to move on needed to be discovered.

It was apparent that the client felt embarrassed and humiliated by a poor decision that she had made. Rather than accepting where the client was at that particular time and understanding how she felt it seemed more important for the social workers to hammer home the point that she was a serial drug user. We need to understand that if a client has a long term drug addiction that the expectation that they will not ever have a moment where they are enticed back into their old habits is unrealistic. In the area of child protection we understand that a drug addiction hinders a parent's ability to be able to parent appropriately. There is no denying that it is important for parents to address these concerns, but to expect a person who has a long-term addiction to not return to that addiction in the short term places undue pressure upon the client and adds to their duress.

This doesn't mean that we offer excuses for returning to the addiction, but what it does mean is that we understand the struggle required in order to manage the anxiety and stress, which is caused when someone is attempting to refrain from their drug use. When a client has ticked all the boxes, demonstrated that they have the parenting capacity required to look after, care for, and nurture their child and then revisiting of their drug addiction becomes paramount, it discounts all of the work they have done in order to demonstrate to the department that they have the capabilities required in order to become the parents they need to be. I am not advocating that maintaining a drug habit is acceptable, because it isn't, and it needs to be dealt with before a child can be returned to its parent.

During this meeting the client became angry when she was told that her drug was long-term and that she hadn't been compliant at any stage of the process. This accusation is blatantly untrue and the client knew this. For a social worker to make a claim which is without specific evidence and which minimises all the positive work that the client has achieved, demonstrates poor social work practice. I was feeling angry and frustrated as well so it is no wonder that the client felt angry and demonstrated her anger by swearing and raising her voice.

Rather than accepting where the client was, acknowledging her anger and the reasons why she may be feeling angry, the social worker chose to continue the abuse, by telling the clients that if she continued to swear then she would terminate the meeting.

So how did this end for the client? She left the meeting still feeling angry. Her faith in the system further diminished. Her trust of the workers was completely eradicated. Her sense of self was destroyed. None of this improved the situation, but instead it sends the client to a place she has been avoiding for a long time.

I accept that the hardest thing for any social worker to do is to confront somebody about a behaviour which we believe is unhelpful and damaging to others. However, a good practising social worker will be able to express their concerns in an empathetic and effective manner which doesn't damage the client or interferes with the process. Each client is different and needs to be treated differently. We need to understand the nuances, what triggers those issues which are of particular concern to the client. We should never act in a way which damages or harms the clients sense of self and well-being. It is simply our duty to do no harm. It is frustrating when I notice these simple tenants of social work practice not being adhered to nor being understood.

I'm talking about one incident that happened a couple of weeks ago, but my observation is that this happens far too often. My belief is that the reason why some social workers wish to blame clients is that the social workers believe that the client is a "bad parent". No matter what the client chooses to do is not going to change that perception. When we believe fervently that bad behaviour is the sum total of who the person is we are never going to notice the good behaviour. What saddens me is that there is so much good behaviour that the failure to acknowledge it denigrates and humiliates the very people that we should be supporting.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Forming a political party that matters

For over two years now we have been developing a political movement designed to provide a voice for children and adults who have been in contact with child protection services. The challenge has always been to articulate the need for a change within child protection services so that children and their parents have a voice.

The reason why a political party is necessary is born of the idea that change will not eventuate through advocacy alone. The child protection party, threw myself and Nadia, have been working with parents for over 10 years. Even though the work we do has impacted and provided positive outcomes for parents it has failed to make the changes within the child protection systems that are necessary. We need to think of this problem in terms of two silos, one represents the micro level where we work with parents and the department social workers in order to represent the parents in an environment where they are rarely heard. The other important silo is the one in which decisions are made and one in which we do not, at this particular point, have a voice. This silo is the legislative arm of the government, the decision-makers, those with the power to make the changes that will impact the child protection system in the long-term.

We work on the outside of the system. We are observers, we are notetakers, we are the micro change makers. When we look into the system as an outside observer we notice the inefficiencies, the poor practices, the impact on parents and children, the damaged caused and the poor outcomes for all concerned.

We are aware that there are two diametrically opposed views, the one which sees most parents as "bad parents" and which focuses on a deficit model, and the one which we see and implement which is looking for hope and change within the people with whom we work. We see a system which is reluctant to change, a system which is so entrenched in managing risk that it fails to see the opportunities existing within most parents.

In most of my blogs I have talked about the system, about parents and children, so I won't continue that rant here. What I need to say is that it is through political power and influence that significant change can take place. In recent times I've come to realise that there will be many people who will be seeking to cash in on this issue because they realise that it is becoming politically expedient to occupy the child protection space. In my mind, there is only one political party which has the knowledge, the background, the experience, and the policies to make the changes that are necessary.

It has been proven that none of the major political parties have the will, the understanding, nor the policies to change the system that needs to be changed. If they had all of this they would have been able to change the system a long time ago. Each time there is a crisis within the system, that is a child either dies while in care or because the child wasn't taken into care, nothing changes in order to improve or prevent these sorts of outcomes. As a community we can no longer allow the flagrant disregard for the well-being of children to persist. As a community we have to take active steps to change the system so that all children, regardless of socio-economic background, the way they were parented, or the way they have been treated while in care, are safe and secure.

It is stating the obvious to say that kids are our future, that unless we look after them, care for them, ensure that they are safe, we are doing a great disservice to them and to the way this country will develop over the decades to come. Each of us has a responsibility to work towards a better future for all children, not just those who are in the child protection system. This includes children with a range of challenges, such as learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and physical disabilities. We need to ensure that regardless of the school one attends or the educational standard attained by a parent, a child has the right to experience the best educational opportunities available.

It is vital that we as a political party and as a community confront social issues such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol use, and neglect, so that children who find themselves in those environments have the opportunity to feel safe and secure. This can be achieved by providing services which identify the groups mentioned above which will help them to understand the damage done by being in a violent and abusive relationship, by taking drugs and alcohol and how that creates a neglectful environment for the children.

I have stated many times that parents, almost without exception, love their children. Most parents that we encounter want to make the changes that they need to make in order to have their children remain within the family. We need to provide the opportunity for these parents to confront the issues which sit in their lives so they can become better parents. Blaming them, denigrating them and offering minimal services for them to confront and change those issues which inhibit their parenting is not what a cohesive and caring community would want.

The Child Protection Party advocates for these changes. We need to work within the political silo to make the changes that are necessary. We need your support in order to do that.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Poverty and the impact on Children.

Poverty is the singular cause of dysfunction in families. To extinguish poverty as we know it would mean a significant and vital change to the social conscience and the development of political policies. We acknowledge that poverty does not stand alone as the only cause of family dysfunction. We also acknowledge that family dysfunction is not the sole domain of the poor. However, our starting point is the light which is shone on those who are the most vulnerable because of there reliance on social funding.

As a Political Party, we are concerned about the unfair and inequitable distribution of wealth and the glare of those who have access to the resources not afforded most people in this country. It is important that we provide a focus in this area so that the problem may be addressed and appropriate solutions be discovered.

Domestic Violence, drug abuse, child abuse and neglect etc are not mutually exclusive and need to be viewed with a wide perspective incorporating all the nuances which encapsulate these issues.  Poverty sits there along side all the sins of human kind. It is used as a means of control by determining the amount of financial contribution made by governments which will assuage those in power who wish to see others as different and inferior to themselves. To confront those who wield this power means that their own greed and prejudices need to be confronted. They will argue they do what is possible by their narrow definition as controllers of the purse. While offering incentives for the wealthy to become wealthy they are simultaneously offering the poor less and placing controls on them which they would never place on the wealthy.

The bargaining chips offered by those with wealth and power is inordinately effective compared to the apparent limited bargaining chips offered by those who say they represent the poor or the poor themselves. The poor don’t form lobbying groups, stand for parliament or exert any real energy that will change the way they are treated. While the wealthy will influence the political class to ensure that their interests are best served. The political parties who receive donations from the wealthy will always have their donor’s interests at heart. This will determine the political decisions made at the expense of the those who don’t have a voice.

As a political movement, it is therefore imperative that we work to limit the power of the wealthy so that the space which is meant for political debate can be utilised to discuss those who are impacted and suffer at the hands of financially motivated policies which provide nothing but closer surveillance of the poor.   

Policies which limit the distribution of wealth impact the children of the poor. These policies subjugate children through financial suppression and continual denigration based on the parents perceived worthlessness and contribution to society. Someone must make a stand for those who are not able to voice their concerns nor articulate their experiences in a manner which changes the debate and opens a pathway towards true equitable and fair decisions which include the ALL.
Poverty is not a stage of growth, something we have to experience in order for our lives to be different, rather it is an unfortunate pathway determined by the degree to which we as a society castigate those who are lumbered with poverty. In the same way that we would reach down to help someone who has fallen over, we need to reach down and help those who are struggling with life no matter what the affliction.

This is not about becoming extremely paternalistic or superior it is about identifying the structures which bring about poverty and the beliefs which trap people into believing that there is no escape.

The Child Protection Party believes that we can challenge the beliefs which cause children to grow into the beliefs adopted by their parents and imposed by the society in which they live.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Child Protection Concerns ALL of us

Child protection has been for many years an issue which receives primarily negative coverage. This  is because the media tends to focus on children when they have been mistreated by individuals or the system itself. The well-being of children is not necessarily seen as a political issue or something that we as a public should focus on. Because children don’t vote then they don’t have a voice. We don’t listen to them, we don’t seem to care about them, they should only be seen and not heard. Unless abuse has happened to us, we have a personal experience of being abused, then we are likely to dismiss it, to ignore it, to deny its existence. When we see in the press that a child has been harmed or even killed, the public then rises to its feet, complains, displays their sense of indignation and wants to blame the person or persons responsible for this atrocity.

Yet on the other hand, we know that children do matter. Those of us who are parents appreciate the changes and the growth that we see in our children. We want them to have better opportunities than perhaps we have had. We want them to be safe. We understand the need to nurture and to care for our children to ensure that their mental and physical well-being is ensured. We will fight to protect our children because we want them to feel safe and confident that they can move forward with their lives so they can have the things that are important to them. However, we don’t want to be confronted by the abysmal abuse that occurs to children and families outside our own circle. We want to stay encased in our own bubble refusing to see anything that steps beyond the world we have create.

That some form of abuse fits within 25% of all families is an idea which very few of us are prepared to confront. There is a sense of willing ignorance which prevents a connection with the reality that sits around all of us.

Over the years, I have had many people say to me that they didn’t believe that the issues stated in the media were issues that would ever impact them, until the time that their children or grandchildren or someone who was close to them had their children removed. Until it is personal, we don’t seem to care. We don’t want to care, perhaps we don’t have the energy to care. Until you feel the pain of losing a child, you may never know what it means to have one taken from you. This doesn’t mean that you must have a child removed through the child protection system because there are occasions where children leave their families through death, mental illness, divorce and separation. The separation of a child from its parents is a devastating experience for the child under any circumstances. We often don’t reflect on what that experience may be like for the child.

Regardless of the reasons why children are separated from their parents or their parents separated from children. It is damaging, it impacts everyone.

We have a system, a government system, which is designed to take consideration for the impact abuse has on children and to protect children who have been abused. The system though is powerless at preventing the abuse in the first place. If governments reflect social mores, then the creation of a child protection system is a reflection of a social believe that children should be safe. It means that as a society we are concerned about the well-being of children. So there must be something in the “community think” that says children are important, therefore we must have a system designed to protect them. Yet, we have a community who would prefer not to have to care about children, who don’t see child protection as a major political and social issue. Yes, the community is outraged when a child is abused or dies, and it appears on the front page of the local paper.

When you look at all the other issues that concern most of us. It is hard to imagine why the issue of child protection is not even considered. I think about all the issues that seem to concern most people and wonder how significant they really are. Sure, taxes are important, employment is important, immigration is important, diversity and our multicultural society and how we respond to it is important, but are they equally important as the well-being of children? They are important, all of them are important, but the one which is lease significant or rarely debated is the matter of caring for and ensuring that children have the best possible outcome. I haven’t the answer and the Child Protection Party doesn’t have the answer either. What we know for certain is that to us and our members. It is a vital issue which has been ignored for too long.

Our role is to ask questions around the child protection system to challenge people’s views of children, to give children a voice where they don’t have one, and parents and significant others to talk about their experiences and ultimately to develop a dialogue that discusses the way the system may be improved. Beyond all of that. Our aim and goal is to talk about how we can prevent abuse from occurring in the first place.

We want people to become engaged with the problem to be able to talk about it to their friends, to their neighbours to the people they care about. We want people to become concerned, passionate, motivated and looking for change that is new, different, and significant.

There is an underlying sense of indignation when we have been attacked personally. You may remember occasions where someone has said something to you that you’ve found offensive. Can you remember the emotions that were created inside of you? That sense of resentment, the sense of injustice that just ate away at everything that you believed in. We all have had those moments where we want to fight back wanted to say something disparaging of the other person. For some, that is the way they feel all the time about the child protection system, the system that has removed a child from a parent and parent from a child. The difference here is that it’s not possible to fight back, it’s certainly possible to be enraged, angry, resentful, vengeful, and a range of other intense emotions, but it sometimes seems hopeless to fight back. So we give up. We accept the inevitable, but the resentment and all those other emotions swell around inside of us like a whirlpool. Never settling, never quiet and always, always active.

Most of the community don’t understand the damage that is done to all those who are involved in the Child protection system. Generally, we don’t see the miscarriage of justice. The pain that is created and the poor outcomes experienced by all involved.

The problem is that we want to see the immediacy of any change that governments create. The biggest and best factory and the jobs that it will create is far more important than creating better outcomes for children. Better because we see what is going to happen in the short term, and it is tangible. What benefit is there to considering investing in young people and children when that investment is 15 to 20 years from the time the investment was made. What advantages is there for governments to make that investment now when they may not be in power or have influence or be rewarded for their marvelous and wonderful insight some 20 years later.

I am writing this post because there are a group of people who are passionate about the future of our children. We feel the pain that parents feel, we feel the despair of children who are removed from their parents. We are frustrated because every day we experienced the inconsistencies and poor decision-making made by those who are responsible for the well-being of our children. Change can only come through those of us who are prepared to work together so that we all can find a new way of working.