Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Kids in Detention - A Wider Systemic Problem

Words fail to describe how I felt when I viewed the ABC 4 Corners program on Monday night. It prompted a live feed on Facebook. The YouTube video of my response can be found here.

It has become apparent that the Minister responsible was made aware of the ABC's presentation before it was released, but chose not to view it and therefore didn't comment on it. In 2014 there was an inquiry into Youth Detention in the NT and this report was kept from the public. One can assume that issues such as those revealed on Monday night were mentioned in this report. What this means to me is that the institutionalised abuse of children is of no concern to Governments until it is exposed by journalists.

The Child Protection Party and I have heard many stories concerning the abuse of children while in care. Parents and children are not heard, they are labelled irrelevant, because those in power are those who determine what outcomes are "best" for the child. The treatment of those boys in the ABC report was seen as appropriate given that they were troublesome kids. The guards were able to behave as they pleased because they were unchecked. There was no standard of care or even a basic sense of human decency exhibited in the treatment of these children. It is abhorrent to me that what we viewed is just the beginning of a process of denial and mistreatment that runs throughout the "care" system.

What we need to confront is that children, in our society, are a commodity, abused and mistreated because they don't have a voice. While we become incensed about pedophilia and the damage inflicted on children we should be equally outraged about a system which continues to damage children and is endorsed by those who are assigned to care for our children. We not only have to confront this problem but we have to find solutions to a culture which flagrantly denies the most vulnerable people in our community their basic human rights.

As I write this post I can feel the anger and rage inflaming inside me. This is because I have been claiming for years that we are doing NOTHING about the culture which allows our children to be continually abused. I am frustrated because my calls and those of others have not been heard. We have all been seen as part of the "Lunatic Fringe", been demonised and dismissed. We are now approaching a time when we will have to be heard because the evidence is mounting that the "State" is not only the worst parent it also continues to traumatise and damage children.

I can not understand why we would take children away from their parents, who in many cases could address the "risk factors" which caused their children to be removed, and then create further trauma in the children's lives which will impact them for the rest of their lives. Why do we allow people to work with children who are deplete of any compassion or empathy demonstrated by behaviour which rapes a child of their sense of self and belonging? We should not be surprised when these children turn to crime and become disconnected from society. They become this way because of the treatment of those who are suppose to "care" for them. These people don't "care" for these children at all. They hold children in such contempt that they denigrate and humiliate them. These people should never work with children so we have to wonder who employs them and supervises them. Why do we allow these foxes in the hen coop?

I would like to know who agreed to the use of the restraining chair? Surely there was a discussion with management about this chair and under what circumstances it would be used. The fact that this discussion must have taken place because the chair didn't materialise out of thin air, doesn't this mean that no one recognised the problem. The thought that a chair of this nature was going to be used to abuse children surely should have rung a few bells for those who administer this system. Those people are just as much a part of this problem as those who tied down the child or sprayed the children. We need to be asking where the Minister was in this process? Anyone who condones any of these methods in complicat and needs to be removed from their position. Anyone who physically abused these children should be charged with assault and imprisoned into the very system they administer.

What we witnessed on Monday night is the extreme end of the problem but it is a systemic culture which permeates down to the moment a child is removed and placed into "care".

My call is to all who work in this system to consider - when you remove a child from their parents how are you personally going to provide the best outcome for this child? What are you going to do that will ensure that this child will be returned to the people who love this child? If you are unable to fulfill this obligation to the child then get out. If you choose to stay and say nothing about the dysfunctionality of the system then you are as responsible for any abuse perpetrated against these children as the abuser. If you stay, then make a stand and demand change.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

National Framework for Protecting Children - Why isn't it used?

The National Framework for Protecting Australia's children was published in 2009. It begins with the catch phrase "Protecting Children is Everyone's Business". The intent of this document is to muster support and co-operation between all levels of Government and the Community. There is an assumption in this report that we are doing all that we can to influence constructive change in the area of child protection. Even though we know that the number of notifications and the number of children taken into care is increasing those who right these reports  tend to want to believe that we are doing all that we can to correct the flow of children into out of home services.

The National Framework expresses all the platitudes one would expect from a document written by public servants who don't wish to be critical of their masters. It is as if they are walking fine line between a soft version of reality and plain deceit. An example of this is the graph below.




Here we see a true indicator of where services should be spent and who is responsible for those services. The writers state that this diagram, in reality, looks more like an hour glass. I would suggest that a truer version would have this diagram as in inverted pyramid. We are using so much of the funding propping up the "Statutory System" and very little supporting the "Universal preventative initiatives to support all families and children". 

The great disappointment by this document is that the writers want us to believe that as a nation we are “onto it”. We needn’t worry because those who manage child protection services in this country have the solution, even though the stats and anecdotal evidence doesn’t support that notion.

“The six supporting outcomes are:

1. Children live in safe and supportive families and communities
2. Children and families access adequate support to promote safety and intervene early
3. Risk factors for child abuse and neglect are addressed
4. Children who have been abused or neglected receive the support and care they need for their safety and wellbeing
5. Indigenous children are supported and safe in their families and communities
6. Child sexual abuse and exploitation is prevented and survivors receive adequate support”

As noble as these outcomes are there is no evidence that any of these outcomes are met by any Government. There is no suggestion that funding should be increased in any of these areas to produce better outcomes. There is no reflection on whether different types of services are required, yet they remain with the status quo and discuss better organising services so they are more efficient. An analyses needs to be made as to what services are inefficient but more importantly governments need to be talking to stakeholders not service providers.

A prime example of a great idea but a miserable failure is:-

 2.4 “Enhance services and supports for children and families.

“Comprehensive evaluation of family law reforms designed to strengthen family
relationships, including:
- research into the characteristics of shared care parenting arrangements that work in the best interests of the child
- research on the impact of family violence on relationship breakdown”


None of the above have been achieved.

Why do Governments put forward the best rhetoric and then produce the worst outcomes? It verifies what I have always believed and that is they truly don’t understand the nature of the problem. Yes, we need services for those who are the most disadvantaged but we are not prepared to invest in those services. The National Framework aligns with the status quo. What they are saying is “We know there is a problem but we have no idea as to how we should approach it?” It is like the parent who recognises that his/her child is acting badly but fails to understand the world of the child which may be causing the behaviour.

It is the lack insight and understanding which is preventing all Governments from approaching child protection with a new vision.

It has been seven years since this document was formulated and yet nothing has changed. I wonder who looks back over this document and asks why haven't we achieved the goals? We need to be asking who is responsible for failing the children and families of this country? 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Youth Court and the lack of justice

I am working with a young couple who are fighting to have their child returned to them. They have been told by legal aid that they do not qualify because there is no merit in their case, in other words a decision has been reached by some junior solicitor that the case is not winnable. When did we begin deciding that people were not entitled to legal representation because some obscure individual decided that the case lacked merit. I fail to understand how this is "just" and represents a basic human right for people, any person, to be appropriately represented.

When these people were told that they were not to be funded I offered to represent them as a "Friend of the Court". They applied to the court to have me represent them but they were told the following:-

"I refer to your letter dated 27th June 2016 wherein you request to be represented in this matter by a third party, Mr Tony Tonkin, at the trial of this matter on the 5th July 2016.
The Judge who is listed to hear the trial has refused your request."

No explanation was offered as to why this decision was made. Because I thought the response may be about their antagonism towards me I suggested another person to represent them but that was also declined. A further email was received by the parents from the court:-

"The Snr Judge has advised that it is not unusual in this Court for parties to be unrepresented.  Many parents are unable to obtain legal assistance at trial."

The contempt the court has towards parents is explicit in the courts response to the parents. In other words they think so little of parents that they treat them with total contempt by denying them the right to be represented appropriately. The parents and I discussed a strategy, if they have to self-represent. We designed a range or questions which could be asked of the witnesses and a format which would present the parents case in the best possible light.

The parents have informed me today that the court process has not gone well. They have asked questions of the Social Worker about her experience and whether she was qualified to offer an informed opinion on the matter before the court. The father was shut down when he began asking these questions. His questioning was opposed by the Crown and supported by the judge. The crown was permitted to ask any questions they like, some very similar to those the parent was not allowed to ask. How can any reasonable person suggest that this is just?

The parent commented that he believed he was on trial and that very little had to do with his son and parenting. The parents were told that FSA was applying for a long term order because the Social Workers believe that past issues of the parents would take at least three years to be addressed and that the child would be too attached to the Foster Parents by that time and it would not be in the best interest of the child to have him return to the parents care. As a therapist I know that the worst thing you can do is to assess how long it is going to take for someone to work through past issues. If they have a crappy therapist then this may be the case but to set a time period when you don't even know what the issues may be and you don't understand the drive the client may have to discuss their "issues" is unhelpful. If a Social Worker made this type of recommendation then they have failed their profession because they have failed the client.

This case demonstrates the inadequacies of the Youth Court and the blatant disregard for the parents and subsequently the child. As I have mentioned in other blogs the department is obsessed with managing risk thus failing to take into account the changes parents have made. The Child Protection Party is calling for a change to the Youth Court and are advocating to change the legislation so that it addresses the changes people make and doesn't rely on flimsy social work practices to determine the outcome.

The experience of these parents are common-place within the child protection system. Parents such as these need a voice. If you have had similar experiences or can offer some insight into the way the system can change I would be pleased to hear from you.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reforms to FamiliesSA

The Nyland report into FamiliesSA has highlighted the changes that most of us have been anticipating for years. It makes one wonder why it is that they need to have an inquiry into what most people knew to begin with. The Report suggests that management need to have some experience in the area of child protection. I guess that now excludes the current CE of FamiliesSA. How did it make sense that to manage an organisation with a strong professional staff component you would employ non-professional staff to manage. This goes from the top down.

Social Work is a profession with high ethical principles. It is the only profession where "social justice" is embedded in its code of ethics. How is it possible for an organisation to manifest those values if the people running the organisation don't understand them or even won't allow them to be expressed?

Child Protection is not going to change by appointing someone from overseas, as if they have the solution to the problem. Real change will only occur when we begin to think about Child Protection differently. Below I offer the recommendations of the Child Protection Party.

Our recommendations are:-


  1. Children need to maintain connections with their biological family.
  2. Where possible children need to remain with their biological family.
  3. Siblings should remain together.
  4. Parents should be provided with as much contact with their children as they would like when a child is in care.
  5. Relationships with foster parents and biological parents should be fostered and supported by the agency.
  6. Ongoing and continual support should be provided for foster parents.
  7. Children in care should receive additional educational and social supports.
  8. Children exiting care should be offered additional educational support eg easier access to University and other further education. 
  9. Social Workers should be registered with the AASW before they are employed.
  10. Social Workers who fail to comply with the standards set by the AASW should not be practicing in this area and breaches should be reported to the AASW.
  11. Social Workers need to be trained to engage with parents and family members with the view to implementing change so that children can remain within their family.
  12. Social Workers need to acquire the skill set to work effectively in this area.
  13. Services need to be provided for family that are at risk of having their children removed. Engagement with these services should be viewed as a positive step and not result in a child being removed unless the child is at risk of serious harm.
  14. The Youth Court should be abolished and a structure created which provides a voice for parents and children. Lawyers should be prohibited from this court. Cases should be submitted to a panel, consisting of a social worker, judge, lawyer, psychologist and a stakeholder or member of the public. This court should provide the Child Protection agency with a case plan and monitor its progress.
  15. All Social Workers  should be supervised according to the standards established by the AASW.

I am certain that I have missed some important areas but I incorporated the most salient. Unless these areas are addressed nothing will change. It is imperative that we continue the conversation and not accept Nyland's report as the solution to the problem because it fails in so many areas. I am hoping that her final report will highlight some of the areas I have mentioned above.

It is disappointing that so many of us over the years have offered ideas that will make the changes required, but it has become apparent that the gatekeepers in the child protection industry do not want to accept and implement these vital changes. I believe that those in power do not understand the real issues and that failure to grasp what really needs to change will produce more of the same and the dysfunctionality of FSA will continue.

As the founder of the Child Protection Party I offer these suggestions so that they can be debated and when a state election is held we will be able to take these to that election and win.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Child Protection is like the Kings New Clothes

Over the past couple of week I have been contemplating the lack of movement within the child protection industry. It has always been a frustration. Recently, I attended a rally organised by SCAAT. I came to realise that no matter how loud you shout or how angry you are or how attacking you may be, nothing changes. I can appreciate that to stand in a public place and express your emotions is somewhat therapeutic - but it changes nothing.

I was talking last night to a friend who has a significant profile and she told me that she was told by a senior member of government that she had nothing to offer because she was not a professional. The fact that she is a stakeholder clearly has no relevance to these people. As a professional Social Worker with over twenty years experience I have no influence.

In New Zealand they have decided to abandon their failed child protection system and implement a new model which is based on conversations with stakeholders. Surely those who use the system are best equipped to evaluate it.

Yet, governments in our country are not prepared to listen to users but want to shut them down. Why this is the case is something I struggle to understand? My own experience tells me that governments are fearful of criticism and will do all they can to avoid dissenting voices, even from within. They are not going to change if they remain insular and resistant to voices who offer an alternative.

I formed a political party, in frustration, because my voice wasn't being heard. This is the case for all of us who sit outside the Child Protection System. It is even more terrifying for those who are fighting to have their children returned. I have come to understand that the more powerful you believe you are the less you need to be transparent. The reality is the less transparent you are the more flawed you are likely to be. The idea that the people within the Child Protection System have all the answers is blatantly not true but the belief that they hold all the knowledge is part of their false reality. It is the Kings New Clothes effect. If the mantra becomes "we are acting in the best interest of children" all who manage the system begin to believe this. There then becomes no place for any idea which challenges the belief, because by now the belief has become the thread that holds everything together. As long as the mantra is noble and respectable then those who support the principle will do all that they can to protect the "King".

It doesn't take one person to shout "the King isn't wearing any clothes" it takes a crowd to shout "the King isn't wearing any clothes". At the moment there isn't a crowd. Sure there are a few with loud voices but the numbers are not present.

The following is an excerpt from the British Journal of Social Work:-

"The long-standing concern about over-intervention in the child protection
system was strongly voiced in the 1990s in a summary of
government-funded research which identified as central:
. . . the criticism that many investigations are undertaken, many families
are visited and case conferences called but that in the end, little support
is offered to the family. In such situations, it is unsurprising that
participants become angry, alienated and bewildered. Furthermore, the
children are not helped and a chunk of valuable child care resource has
been consumed with little apparent benefit (Department of Health,
1995, pp. 54–5)." Referrals and Child Protection in
England: One in Five Children Referred
to Children’s Services and One in
Nineteen Investigated before the Age of
Five. British Journal of Social Work (2016) 0, 1–19

How is it possible that the Child Protection System has not changed over the decades? Why hasn't there been wide spread posturing, criticism and reflection resulting in positive change? What keeps us locked into a system that by most standards, and the standards of the Social Work profession in particular, is not meeting ethical and professional standards?

The answer to these questions lies in the belief that Child Protection is too complex. Well it isn't. Nothing frustrates me more than hearing the word "complex". This is used to have us believe that there are few who hold the secrets to the problem and us "poor mortals" would not be able to understand the complexities presented by the problem. "The System" and those who control the system are the "Gatekeepers" of this knowledge and so there is no need to share it with those who will not understand such complexities. The problem is that those who control the "system" are locked into the power which accompanies being the "Gatekeeper". To relinquish this power would mean that they would have to give up the "system" and therefore acknowledge that the "system" doesn't belong to them.

Child protection is a community issue it is everyone's problem. We all should be feeding into the system ideas for change. Children, parents, relatives, other professionals should be equally informing the way the "system" should be functioning. Politicians should be working to ensure that this information is operationalised and funded appropriately.

It was with great dismay that I read recently the National Child Protection Framework. This is a document signed off by all State Ministers. In a limited way it tells us what is the standard expected from child protection services around Australia. It tells us that there needs to be more funding and that there is a distinct role for Federal and State Governments. What is lacking is a distinct and well argued funding programs.

There is considerable ignorance in this area by the community. Child Protection doesn't attract the attention of the media unless there is a death of a child or pedophilia. That hundreds of children are being removed every day is not a concern to most people because most people don't experience the suffering and damage to children and families by some of these removals.

As a nation we are in denial that children are being removed at alarming rates. Unless it is happening to us it is not happening. We blame "bad parents" and fail to find ways to break the cycle that produces poor parenting practices. Hidden in the dark corner of our communities lies this thing we call "child abuse". It is safer to talk about health benefits or changes to taxation or education than it is to talk about something we don't understand and which can be discounted as a social ill, which is only experienced in the backwaters of our worse communities, and most of us never go there.

Lying in these forbidden places though is an untapped resource which could be unlocked if we choose to believe in these people. I was talking to a heavily tattooed man this afternoon who has never discussed his horrific past. The fact that I wanted to talk to him and that I wasn't going to judge him meant that he was prepared to talk to me. In the recesses of these communities sit people, like him, who want to experience life differently. They just need someone who is prepared to believe in them. That is not very complicated, is it?



Friday, January 22, 2016

Child Protection Party - A Commitment to Change

For some time I have pondered how to change practice within child protection but after having met with the CEO of Families SA and realised that he was not interested in what others had to say or even willing to listen to the issues I and others presented it became evident that we needed to think differently about the problem. In essence, the problem is that children are not best served by the current practice methods. The reality is that children are not served well in this country. If you come from a violent and abusive family, if there is a an alcohol or drug problem, if you are uneducated, if you are unemployed or on a benefit, if you are physically and/or mentally challenged, you are at risk of having your children removed. If you have been in care you are likely to have your children removed. If you are a child living within these environments you are likely to be abused. If you are seen as part of the lower or underclass you are likely to have some contact with the Child Protection System. It is for these reasons that the Child Protection Party has been established.

It has always concerned me that the power differential between those who control the Child Protection System and those who are subjugated to it is extreme. The emphasis on removing children rather than working with the families and solving the problem creates a power struggle which the children and parents are not going to win. The Child Protection Party’s aim is to change that imbalance so that those with the least amount of power can demand better services, more effective interactions with workers and better outcomes for their children.

I have read many articles on the virtues of a range of practice models which may implement some change but I rarely see a practice model which is based on feedback and ideas from parents and care leavers. Yet the information is available which tells us that no matter what model is used, the outcomes are generally poor. I believe that without a fervent desire to help parents and children, without the commitment to maintain family contacts and without the commitment towards re-unification any system or practice model will fail.

I understand that there will be parents who will not have the desire to make changes in their lives, there will be children who will have to be removed and never returned to their parents, there will be children who will die at the hands of their parents and there will be children who will be abused while in care. We will never eradicate bad parenting and we will never eradicate family violence but there is plenty of room to make a significant difference.

It is important that as a community we work to ensure that children are safe. It is important that we have conversations which focus on the well-being of children. To this point Child Protection Services have not demonstrated that they have an investment in public education concerning primary health care. It is a little like the police not being interested in community policing or not being interested in limiting the number of road deaths. Prevention is about education and creating a drive to change the way the community thinks about child protection.

I find it sad though, that many clients have turned to Child Protection Services to help them when they have been struggling only to find they have been punished for doing so by having their children removed. How different would it be if a parent realised that drugs, domestic violence and mental health issues were inhibiting the way they were parenting and they knew that contacting Child Protection Services would help them. To know they would be connected with social workers who will work with them and keep them and their children safe without removing them, or offer them respite while they worked through their problems. How different would it be if we could work collaboratively with families so they knew that they wouldn’t have to go through court or be threatened with orders which would take their children permanently from them. What a difference that would make? In a caring, humane society that is what we should be offering. That is the sort of community the Child Protection Party believes is our right.

I read report after report which can identify the demographic which is at risk but can not convince governments to implement the policies which will bring about change. The body of evidence is there but the will is not.

I have never seen an advertisement highlighting the need to provide a healthy environment for children. How about an advertisement advertising the help that will be offered by Child Protection Services if you are struggling and you want to talk to someone about the issues that sit in your life. Wouldn’t it be great if a person would visit you in your home and begin working with you to work through the issues that have caused you to feel depressed or overwhelmed? Wouldn’t it be great just to have someone who believed in you? If we were able to have that degree of confidence in CPS we would have redefined what Child Protection means.

As a political party we are committed to making significant change so that the needs of children and their parents can be met.

The Child Protection Party is your voice for change.
Contact us at t.tonkin@childprotectionparty.org and 0414883153

Monday, September 7, 2015

Domestic Violence Needs a Better Approach

Frankly, Violence should stop. It is abhorrent to any reasonable person that, we as a species, keep violating each other in the most horrific ways. While we are shocked by the violence of terrorist groups, war and despotic governments, including those of western cultures, we are failing to focus on the horrific violence which is evident around us. We fail to care that the violence perpetrated within our communities and by our neighbours is as horrific as anything we may see on television. Yet there are women and children who are trapped in relationships which are extremely violent and abusive. Often they feel powerless and in too many cases fearful for their lives. They live in an environment where they are captors to a tormentor who is only interested in having his narcissistic needs met.

Currently two women per week are murdered at the hands of men who would prefer to kill their partner and sometimes their children rather than have them leave. As someone who has worked in this area for over twenty years I often feel powerless when it comes to making a difference in this area. When working with men who are violent I know that I am confronting and cause men to feel uncomfortable because there is no shying away from the impact their behaviour has on those closest to them. I refuse to make excuses for men who behave in this way. I also refuse to blame women for remaining in these relationships.

I understand the reasons why men choose to behave violently as I understand why women remain in these relationships. However there is no excuse for any behaviour that belittles, threatens or damages another human being. There is no excuse for another person to want to control another for the purpose of self gratification or because one person feels unworthy of another. As a species we have to learn that we are not dependent on another for our happiness. Men generally believe that without their partner and children they are not complete, that an element of their sense of self is intrinsically attached to other people. This is a debilitating view which governs our actions and eventually destroys our sense of freedom and well-being.

It is with great sadness that I read an article in the Age by Psychologist Sallee McLaren. Here she insists that she has an authoritative understanding of Domestic Violence when all she reveals is that she has no understanding of the trauma women, who are in Violent relationships, find themselves. She reinvents the old chestnut about girls wanting to wear pink and being socialised into positions of powerlessness. This is a poor argument because it makes girls responsible for a socialisation process for which they are not responsible. Lets imagine that all men decided they would act respectfully under all circumstances. Imagine if all men understood that their happiness wasn't dependent upon the relationship with their partner. Imagine if all children saw this modelled.

Unfortunately children are caught in the middle and have no power to change or influence their experience. The failure to protect children from violence is a rapidly increasing problem. The Federal Government decided to decrease the funding to DV services and then made Rosie Battie Australian of the year. Through this appointment they have turned the focus back on Domestic Violence and by doing so have highlighted their inadequacies. If we truly care about children we would be funding prevention programs which address issues of power and control. We should accept that women and children are not responsible for the violence perpetrated against them. We know that women are berated for remaining in violent relationships without any understanding of the mental abuse they experience and the impact this have on their decision making, even there inability to protect their children. It is our responsibility to find the space to work with parents so that they can better protect their children.

I know that it took me many years to develop skills and understandings that enabled me to work more effectively with those who were victims and abusers. I know that Child Protection workers wont necessarily have the skills to work with families where Domestic Violence is a concern, but it is not unreasonable for them to do this work and realise what skills they need to develop. However, if they continue to "mother blame" and fail to confront the impact that violence has on women and children then their learning will be limited.