Monday, December 20, 2010

Kim’s Story–the beginning

Following from my last post I have had a number of people enquire about the historical events which have brought us to where we are today. Kim was referred to me by a colleague who wasn’t able to continue the work. When I first met Kim she was a shy, guilt-ridden woman whose self esteem was so low that she found it difficult engaging in conversation. She found it difficult looking me in the eye. She had witnessed domestic violence when she was a child and had been made to feel responsible for her mother and younger brother. Kim came to me with some very dark writings and drawings which indicated that she was not in a very healthy position mentally.

She had contacted FamiliesSA because she was suffering from Post Natal Depression and was finding it difficult coping with her newly born daughter so in her effort to keep her daughter safe she sought help from a department she believed was suppose to offer her support. She was offered some assistance in terms of a live-in program for mothers who are struggling. The child was eventually returned to her and her partner but their daughter was a very restless child who needed Kim’s constant care and attention. There is no disputing that Kim was able to provide this but what has happened by now is that the department had identified this child as being a child at risk.

I have read the court documents around this case many times and it is difficult to identify what eventually brought about the second removal of their daughter. Some of this story is quite complicated but what is important is that during the first twelve months of the initial order Kim had made significant changes in her life. I have worked as a therapeutic counsellor for many years and rarely have I found someone who was able to make the changes evidenced by Kim. Social Workers failed to see any of these changes.

The Kim I first met is not the same person I experience today. There is still a long way to go for Kim but she now has a determination and sense of purpose. The loss of her daughter has caused her immeasurable distress but Kim has been able to find a way to work through all the demons which accompany such emotional pain. Regardless of the negative and unhelpful statements made about her by Families SA and others she is able to continue the fight. Together, Kim and Shane have been able to redefine themselves and construct a new meaning in their relationship and a wonderful resilience which would put most of us to shame.

I can remember when my children were removed from me by their mother and the depth of pain I felt at that time. I cried every night for six months. I didn’t have physical contact with them for many years. Perhaps I was able to reconcile this because I was the cause of the relationship breakup and my children were with their mother. I don’t know how I would respond if there was not reason that my children were taken away and that I had done all that I could to have them returned to me. I certainly wasn’t as powerless as Kim and Shane. I didn’t have a whole legal department working against me. I didn’t have a series of government workers parading a range of theories and confusing language which was beyond my comprehension.

I am so angry at those people who practice a bastardised version of Social Work which embodies the antithesis of what I believe. I find it hard to believe that a group of professionals couldn’t see that this woman and her partner were working hard to improve their circumstances and when they did so they were further punished. It is unjust that a person such as Kim can travel so far and then not be rewarded.

Within two years most of these Social Workers and Psychologists would have left he department. By the time this child is 18 none of them will be present to welcome her back to her mother and father. None will be present to take responsibility for any of the potential damage they may have caused. Who is going to be around to say that “we got it wrong concerning the attachment therapy stuff”? Kim and Shane are going to be there. Who is going to be there over the years to care for this child’s needs – the aging carers – probably not – the department – definitely not – her parents – if they are allowed?

Why can’t we make the next 13 years of this child’s life the best they can be by having her grow up with the people who love her the most? What makes this so hard to understand and comprehend particularly when her parents are going to provide her with a caring and nurturing environment?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kim’s Story–Child Protection gone mad

Some time ago I posted on YouTube a video called “Kims Story” which you can find here. This is a client whose case represents all that is wrong with child protection. I have been working with Kim and her partner for two years. In this time her daughter has been placed under the Guardianship of the Minister until she is eighteen. The child is three and a half and is placed in relative care with her grandfather and his partner.

It perhaps is rather naive of me to believe that injustice can be righted and that reasonable people will be able recognise when a gross injustice has been done. I now believe that within the child protection lurks a group of people who are so tainted by “the system” that they wouldn’t comprehend justice and fairness if it smacked them in the face. They are so embedded in the belief that when a child has been placed under a GOM18 order that this is the way the situation has to remain no matter how the parents change. The parents could be exemplary parents, saints in fact, canonised even, and the gatekeepers of this system would not be able to recognised the changes the parents had made.

The holy grail is the undying belief in attachment theory and what that represents in turns of the child’s future development. It is unfortunate that the Youth Court buys into this belief system. I found myself asking what action would be left to child protection workers if there was no such thing as attachment theory. It looks like “The Kings New Clothes”. Perhaps my task in life is to yell from the side lines, “the king isn’t wearing any clothes!” At this point I am not going to explain attachment theory but am going to talk about the situation which brought us to a meeting yesterday and which produced one of the worst professional days of my life.

I firmly believe that the changes Kim and Shane have made are so significant that they no longer met the original concerns of the department. In the original court order the Youth Court had set aside some notes which was designed by the crown solicitor to placate Kim and Shane by enticing them with an additional note on the order and which paves the way for further access and over night visits providing the department makes the appropriate assessment. The parents have been having unsupervised access once a week for over a year. It is clear from the original order and the type of access they were granted that the department didn’t have any major care concerns. It is important to note that the parents, particularly Kim, didn’t have a very complimentary report by the social worker and psychologist at the time of the original GOM 18 order. However they were granted these special conditions. Things have changed dramatically since. (Even though the original assessment had major flaws).

I have had a number of meetings with the CEO of Families SA advocating for Kim and not receiving any support what-so-ever. Clearly he and his senior staff have no power or they are just plain ignorant. I can’t even tell you how angry I am at him. They did agree to have a Psychologist report compiled to assess overnight access. Talk about being blindsided. This has to be the biggest betrayal I have ever experienced in my life.

Knowing the changes that Kim and Shane have made in their lives I believed a favourable report would be delivered. At the meeting on Monday the psychologist presented a range of platitudes which lacked meaning and could have been recited by a vending machine with more feeling. However she did compliment Kim and Shane on the progress they had made and she wasn’t critical of their parenting; in fact she noticed that Kim was particularly attentive of her daughter. Shit, I could have told them that.

Then came the slam dunk. Kim and Shane were criticised for having a bed set up for their daughter with her toys on it and told that they should get some grief counselling for the fact that they will not be getting their daughter back. If I had lost a child through death and I wanted to keep her room as a reminder of what she means to me and that was my way of managing my emotional pain then don’t ever tell me that I need to find a way to get over it. How insulting is that. This psychologist had no idea what this room meant to Kim and if she had an ounce of empathy would have kept her thoughts to herself.

There was also the time that Kim was told that her daughter didn’t love her. That did it. Kim broke down in tears and had to leave the room. Was that really necessary and what was the context in which it was said? Was it a comment prompted by the psychologist's unconscious thoughts and biased agenda?

Then came the final slam dunk. The recommendations were that because the child was in relative care and had a strong attachment to the step grandmother then it would be disruptive and interfere with her attachment and damage her forever, my take on it. I would love to have their crystal ball. The parents were only now allowed to have fortnightly supervised access for two hours.

We had asked for access over night and particularly this Christmas and because of this request have now gone so far backwards and against the original intent of the court order. However they are a law unto their own.

The next bit you are going to love. A week ago I met Kim’s brother who has been severely damaged by the brutality of his father, the man who now cares for Kim’s daughter. Her brother tells the story that when he was five he could hear a fight taking place in his parent's bedroom and his mother screaming for help. He burst into the room to find his father with his hands around his mother's throat. His mother's eyes were rolling back into her head and she was changing colour. This five year old boy threw himself onto his father at which point his father flung him against the wall. However, this was enough though for the father to stop strangling his wife. According to the department they know about this man's violence and it is just something from the past and therefore is not a concern to them. I know from other stories that this man's potential for violence is still real.

I would like anyone reading this to contact the Minister at the following address and register your shock at this level of injustice. If we can muster enough support I am sure the Minister will step in and review this case in an independent manner and hopefully find a way to change a system which fails to conform to social work standards. If she doesn’t act then perhaps we can all shout “look there is the minister without any clothes.” .

Friday, November 26, 2010

Working with families

It is important that we understand that working with families is vital to the wellbeing of children. I understand that there are times when children need to be removed from families where they are being abused and I can understand that there are some parents who are unable to change for the sake of their children’s well being. Most parents are distressed at the removal of their children and most families want to make some changes. My experience tells me that the timeline given to implement change by Families SA is often too short and fails to consider the complex nature of the parents problems. Where drugs and violence are involved and particularly where there is generational abuse the change is going to be lengthy and the engagement with a parent will be vital to the overall outcome. I am convinced that if child protection workers could understand these complexities and commit themselves to working with the parent then there would be better outcomes for all.

Kids want to remain with their parents. Even in the most violent and dysfunctional families children want to remain in the environment in which they know even though it may be damaging for them. The role of Social Workers is to evaluate the impact the environment is having on the child and the potential for change of the parent/s. Some time last year I was at a meeting at Families SA and as I left the office I noticed a young women in tears being comforted by her partner. I engaged in a conversation with her and discovered that he children had been recently removed from her. She was devastated and feeling very helpless and hopeless about the situation. She didn’t know where to turn. She had no sense of hope or even understanding as to what she and her partner needed to do in order to have her children returned to her. I wondered about the intervention that had been put in place and whether the Social Worker’s had provided and accurate assessment of her and even considered the potential for change in her.

We had a meeting in my office a week later and I discovered some encouraging and valuable strengths this woman and her partner had. They are both intelligent and vibrant individuals. She had an horrific childhood where she experienced every form of abuse you could imagine at the hands of her mothers partners and finally when she was thirteen by the system her children now found themselves a part off. When I heard her story, which took about an hour, it became evident that this woman was prepared to make changes including a partner who was non-violent. I could not understand why the Social Workers could not see what I saw. I have come to understand that we practice a different version of Social Work. I have also come to understand that the skill set required to provide accurate assessments of clients is limited by many of the Child Protection Social Workers I encounter. They lack counselling skills, questioning skills, evaluation skills, negotiating skills, empathy and the ability to evaluate and acknowledge a persons strengths and to find ways to build on them.

Eventually, through some strong advocacy work and a new Social Worker, who had some of these skills, we were able to negotiate appropriate ways of working with the client. What became evident was that once the social worker became aware of the potential that existed with this couple the more dedicated the social worker became regarding working towards reunification. The children have been returned to their parents. Had the department remained in a negative and unhelpful frame of mind the antagonism which the couple felt and the resistance they displayed towards the department would have interfered with any attempt to reunify the family.

There are many families who don’t have the opportunity to be reunified because the Social Worker fails to work from a strengths based approach. So many opportunities are missed and so many families are not afforded the opportunity to change so that their children can have the life with their families that they disserve. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Child Protection and the system which protects it

There is a fabulous article in the UK Telegraph which says all that needs to be said about child protection and the system which protects it from scrutiny. Read the article here. I read many articles from around the world which talk about child protection always in the same way. There is a universal way of viewing child protection and very little of it is good. The article mentioned here could have been written about any child protection system in Australia. It fascinates me that the very system which is so talked about and the emotive nature of child protection has become so protected and so unjust and inequitable that it belies the very scrutiny it receives.

In order for the government to protect their system they must appear to be active and vigilant against those parents who do abuse their children. As in the recent prosecution of the six parents who abused their children it becomes evident that this was more about being seen to be active and vigilant and to give the impression that there are horrific cases of abuse and that the government is on the ball and taking firm action. A case such as this and other cases where parents are abusing children should not pursued us that the system is working. It goes without saying, but I will say it again, that we need to protect children from harm. I know from personal involvement with the case mentioned above that the system will not be able to provide these damaged children the care they are going to need to overcome the abuse they have suffered ,as it was not able to help the adults when they were children to overcome the abuse they experienced. And so the cycle continues.

I have worked with a client whose son was sexually abused while in care. The abuser was arrested but not charged because the child was too young to give evidence even though child pornography was discovered on the abusers computer. To what extent is the government culpable for placing a child at risk? An apology was eventually offered as a result of my advocacy work, but I am sure the department would have pushed this under the carpet had it not been for my involvement.

The problem seems to be that the department doesn’t hold itself up for scrutiny. I know that there is a culture which propagates inadequacy whereby social workers and others object to a critical eye being cast over their practice. They object to being critiqued probably for fear that they may have their weaknesses revealed. It has always seemed hypocritical that the very organisation which has a “Big Brother” view of clients is fearful of the same gazed cast upon them. When ever I have a meeting or phone call with a social worker from FSA they have been told to have another worker to note what has been said. Now what is that all about? Not that I object all that much but do I have the luxury of having someone standing by who can sit with me when I have a conversation with them? Who sits with clients when they are at meetings and elsewhere? Before FSA turn up on your door step do they warn you that they are coming and suggest that you have someone present with you, taking notes for future reference?  I can tell you from personal experience that they do not like someone else turning up with a client, certainly if it is a professional.

I wonder how FSA look at what they do and to what extent do they retrain staff who are not performing appropriately. Who even knows what appropriate is? What is the standard of service because it certainly isn’t what is written in the Child Protection Manual?

I am hoping that the good Social Workers who work in the department will one day all band together and stop the practices which disadvantage and disempower people. I am hoping that one day the good Social Workers will critique colleagues who behave badly and report them for mal-practice. I am hopeful that the Social Workers who work for FSA realise that they have the best job in the world if they practiced according to Social Work principles. It isn’t all that hard, unless you are feeling as vulnerable as the clients you are suppose to help.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Child Protection and long term orders

Currently I am working with a client whose child is under the guardianship of the Minister to the age of eighteen. This is an important case because it represents all that is unhelpful about Child Protection decision making and the long term care of children. We had applied for legal aid and were hopeful that once this was granted there would be a pathway to have the order varied. The lawyer contacted me and informed me that the only pathway would have been to have challenged the order within twenty one days of it being granted. To apply to the supreme court to have this challenged would have cost $2,000 for the application alone. When unemployed and at he lowest end of the socio-economic pile who has the money to seek such an application? That is just the application fee. Legal aid wont fund the actual court proceedings. The reality is that very few people, if any, can afford to challenge the legal system and child protection services once their child has been removed and a long term order is in place.

But it becomes more complicated and unjust than what I have mentioned. There is virtually no way that a parent can change an order, regardless of how much they have reached sainthood. However I am told that the Department is able to seek variations to orders and do this regularly. They can return to the court and change aspects of an order at a whim particularly if they believe the current order is not in the best interest of he child. They do not, and refuse to, change orders if the parent has changed his or her lifestyle and is even able to provide a better home than the one the child is currently living. It often appears that the department believes that in all circumstances they are the better parent. We all know that that isn’t the case.

How have we allowed a system to develop which is clearly inequitable. Are they afraid that if everyone had access to an appeal process that the department would be held accountable for the decisions they make. The department will argue that the parent has many opportunities to prove that they can parent differently and to some extent that is true but often the time frame for this is too small and the decision makers become too entrenched in their decision that they refuse to offer appropriate pathways towards re-unification. In my clients case this is what happened.

I admit that this is relatively new territory for me but I found it interesting that when I contacted the department and presented them with the legal interpretation I had been given the person I spoke to wasn’t certain as to the exact process either and suggested that I contact the clerk of the court to find out. If a senior Social Worker in the department cant be definitive about the legal ramifications and requirements then we have to wonder why we would expect front line staff to know either.

What this means for practice is that Social Workers are obligated to inform their clients of the implications of the workers actions. That includes the legal ramifications of the decisions of the court and the appeal process. Me client told me that if she had known this she would have responded differently to the court process in the beginning and challenged the GOM 18 order more vehemently. If I had known what I know now I would have have talked to her about these issues and also asked the social workers concerned why they weren’t talking to the client about the ramifications for the client and child.

When I hear Social Workers tell parents that even though the department are seeking a GOM 18 the client can still return to court I want to vomit. It is a gross misrepresentation of the actual situation, in fact it is a lie, either based on ignorance or just plain guilt. I wonder if Child Protection workers really understand the implications of their decisions and the long term impact this has on the parents and more importantly the child.

The client I am referring to here lives in a neat and very tidy home. Has great parenting skills. Is applying for university next year. Is very intelligent. No longer self harms. Has improved her mental health to the point one could argue it is no longer problematic. But under the current system no matter what she changes she will never be able to get her daughter back in her care. In fact the department thinks the child is better in a family where corporal punishment is the norm, leaving the child in the care of others for days on end is okay, and that the carers are aging and not able to provide the same care as her mother, is all in the best interest of the child.

The department is able to return to court and vary the order but are unwilling to do so. The client told me that she doesn’t care if the department remain involved she just wants her daughter back. But they don’t get it and I am left wondering, why? I sense that some of the people from the department, who have met my client, since I have been advocating for her, also are wondering what is going on here. But no one has the guts to challenge their workers decisions in the first instance, and more importantly no one has the guts to act in what is in the best interest of the child. 

I have worked with some fantastic social workers at Families SA. It distresses me that the decision making process, which ultimately changes peoples lives for ever, is allowed to be made by inexperienced unequipped Social Workers. I know if some of these more experienced and capable Social Workers had been given this case that there would have been a different outcome. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Response to Jeremy Summut and Child Protection

I was listening to Jeremy Summut talk about child protection on radio national tonight and then searched for more information on the man and other things he may have said about the subject. He seems to have easy access to the ABC so they obviously regard him as somewhat of an expert on the subject. One of his entries on the ABC.

His statements on the whole are unhelpful because he seems to lose sight of the fundamental problem. Summut believes that the Child Protection Services are more interested in preserving the families than they are in protecting children from harm. My work with Families SA has proved to be a little different from that. On the whole the focus is definitely on what is in the best interest of the child, well that is the mantra presented at most meetings with Social Workers. I certainly support that notion, and I don’t think anyone would dare to suggest anything different.

What Summut and others fail to talk about is the decision making process and the experience of those making the decisions. Then there is the supervisory support offered those making the decisions and the way the supervision of social workers and psychologists is conducted. Then there is the one I love and that is that none of these people are accountable to anyone. They are professionals but most of them, particularly social workers are not compelled to belong to their peak body, the AASW. They are shielded by their organisation and only answerable to people who support the negative aspects of the work they do.

If Mr Summut wants the system to change then he needs to understand more about the profession which underpins the problem, Social Work. Social Work has a specific way of critical analyses which incorporates a more systemic view of the world and which takes into account all the facets of a person’s life. The balancing act between what is in the best interest of the child and the parents propensity for change cannot be ignored but in many cases is not even considered. As a Social Worker I have seen many parents change as a result of the intervention of social workers at Families SA, now that has definitely been in the best interest of the children. I have also seen parents change and the changes not even recognised by the Social Workers. Inconsistency is another issue. The inability to have consistent protocols and values is appalling and puts more children and their families at risk than anything else.

Then there is my pet problem which seems to be ignored by Mr Summut and that is societies failure to understand that if we are not able to change the parent then they will continue to have more children who will become GOM kids. So while Mr Summut dismisses parents as being important perhaps he could calculate for us all the cost benefit if we worked with every family who have multiple children in government care and what we could save if 50% of those families found better ways of parenting after their first child was removed. The problem Mr Summut is that we give up on them too easily, just like you. That we don’t cherish the family and what it represents in all its forms. I know that when we work with the family productively we have great outcomes. What we need to do is find ways to engage and understand the systemic problems which have brought the children into the gaze of the Minister in the first place.

Child protection is all about protecting children from harm. It is also about demonstrating better ways of engagement with parents so that we can develop partnerships which work towards change. I certainly don’t have an issue where it is evident that parents are not able to change at this stage. I have a problem where unrealistic goals are set in a short period of time and parents are set up to fail.

Summut’s response to this problem is too simplistic and way left of centre. It is narrow and regardless of the research he says he has done it is tainted with a narrow view of the problem.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Who notices what you do?

I have often thought about the loneliness of the work we do. In my world everyday I am confronted by the sad stories of my clients. They come to me because they want help. Whatever that looks like. I listen and try as best as is possible to understand what they have experienced. For the hour they spend with me I focus exclusively on their experiences and the emotional pain many of these experiences have caused them. Clients express all the range of emotions you can imagine during that hour. Some leave relieved that they have been able to expel their feelings. From these emotions they develop understandings that they wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for this experience. Others come to me because they just want to be understood and validated in some way. There are so many reasons why clients visit with me and not all of them are helpful (eg. to validate bad behaviour).

The clients I enjoy working with the most are those who are the most disempowered in the community - those who are looking for a sense of justice and someone who will go beyond being a counsellor and who will advocate for them. These clients want a voice amongst a screaming bureaucracy and professionals who have all the power and impose that power with little to no understanding of the clients experiences. I love this work because it represents the best form of Social Work.

It has its problems though because there is no funding for this work in private practice and all I ever receive from other professionals is negativity. I will be waiting for a long time before I hear any of those professionals I work with while advocating for clients tell me that they appreciate the work I do. I know I am an irritation to many of them because I am there to speak for my client. One would think that within the Social Work profession we would celebrate difference. To have someone critique your work and to suggest other ways of working I would have thought was a positive aspect of Social Work. We haven’t developed as a profession where we see this as an essential aspect of he work we do even though it is codified in the AASW code of ethics.

I am aware that amongst child protection workers I am often seen as “the enemy”. I am frustrated that the work I do is not valued. I am angry that I am viewed as an irritation. I am resentful that there are some social workers who haven’t even met me pass judgement on me because of what others have said about me. I am disappointed in my own profession because no one has supported me in the work I do. I have attended many meetings over the years with other social workers who bag Families SA in ways that I would never think of doing but none of them have ever confronted the organisation or workers about unhelpful practices. They tend to hide amongst anonymity and the sly comment when they think they are talking to a sympathetic listener, but they do nothing. 

So I am like the “Shag on the rock”, easy pickings and a clear shot, for anyone who wants to take out their frustrations. Not only do I not get paid for the work I do with this client group but it is emotionally exhausting. Recently a client told me that her partner stated that I wasn’t doing enough for them to have their child returned to them. Not only have I been working for them for twelve months without any payment what so ever, I field calls from them evenings and on weekends. I have meetings about their case at the highest possible level. I feel their pain and frustration. I keep this to myself but it has a toll. I go through periods when I lack enthusiasm and start staring down a very dark and deep hole. This is not a good place to be.

I am not seeking sympathy but I am seeking understanding. I know that I am reasonably competent at what I do. My goal has always been to work as a partnership with other professionals because it is through that sort of collegiate enterprise that we will have the best outcomes. I know from experience that is the case. We need to understand what it means to have other critique the work we do and we need to understand that the more we understand the practices of others, either helpful or not, we will be develop a better and more comprehensive idea of our own practice. This produces better outcomes for clients.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reflections on Child Protection work

It has always concerned me that professionals who I work in child protection don’t understand the work I do. About nine months ago a client told me that a solicitor they were working with told them that I have a vendetta against Families SA. I know from my interaction with other Social Workers at Families SA that for some strange reason that seems to be the common misunderstanding. I am writing blog so that it can be clearly understood what I do and to correct this impression of who I am and the work I do.

Over the past eighteen months I have taken on advocacy work for those people who have had children removed by Families SA. I have attended more family care meetings and Child Protection Unit conferences than I can remember. I believe I have a sound understanding of what Child Protection is about. I am not an expert but I know enough to understand processes and the logic which places children under the care of the Minister. Above everything else I have very strong and entrenched views of what constitutes competent Social Work practice. This doesn’t mean that I am correct in my views even though to this point no one has challenged me on them.

Over this period I have met many Social Workers who work for Families SA. Of those people the vast majority are fabulous Social Workers who work with all the skills and competence one would expect from a Social Worker working in a very difficult environment with very complicated cases, and a lot of them. I love seeing people work in this way and with each of those people I have commented on their skills and the pleasure I receive from watching them work. I sat in on a psychological assessment with a client recently and I witnessed some of the most competent interviewing I have ever seen. It was fantastic and very reassuring. To think that I have a vendetta or don’t like “Families SA” and therefore its workers could not be further from the truth.

I know that only once have I had anyone offer a criticism of what I do. A Social Worker told me at the beginning of an inquiry into a clients access plan that she felt intimidated because I ask questions. Well that was probably the most creative feedback I have every had. It certainly silences you when someone tells you that asking questions is harmful to them. A part from that thoughtful feedback I have never had anyone tell me that what I was doing was disrespectful of them or harmful to the client. No that isn’t true on at least three occasions I have had people tell me that I am not interested in what is in the best interest of the child. That also couldn’t be further from the truth. There have been some clients whom I wouldn’t advocate for the child to be returned, however I will advocate for the client to be heard and for appropriate processes put into place for the parents to have access to their child. I will advocate for the child when I believe they are placed in an unsafe environment. I have a few of those.

It is true that I have registered complaints about practice and process. I have registered complaints when I have been yelled at, when I have been told that the social worker will not engage with me, when clients have not been heard, when clients have been disempowered and disenfranchised, when proper assessments haven’t been followed, when bias is blatantly obvious, when the clients strengths and needs are not articulated, when case plans are shoddy and inappropriate, when children are placed in relative care with a carer who has a history of violence.

To my knowledge I am the only social worker who works with these clients in an advocacy role and who is in Private Practice. For some strange unknown reason this scares people. Perhaps I am prepared to confront these issues rather than sweep them under the carpet. As a professional Social Worker I find it difficult to turn a blind eye to people who have legitimate issues which need to be addressed. ALL of the people I work with come from low social economic backgrounds and are usually poorly educated. They are the most powerless people in our community facing one of the most traumatic event any parent could imagine, losing a child. I make no apologies for confronting the gatekeepers of this system with the problems the client is facing.

My role has always been to work collaboratively with Families SA Social Workers so we can have outcomes which are in the best interest of the child. This means that I will on occasions disagree with how they practice but only if they practice outside the guidelines of the AASW Code of Ethics and their own Child Protection Manual. This includes abusive and disempowering behaviour. It is unfortunate that they are not accountable to anyone until now. They are not accountable to me personally but they are accountable to the profession.

I wish to be clear that it doesn’t matter what organisation you work for if I am working with a client who you are working with I will celebrate good practice but if you step outside of standard social work practice and are harming clients I will let you know. It is pleasing though that this is only a few. The same rules apply to me. I make mistakes and often will say something in the moment which I regret later. I have made assessments which I discovered were too hasty and for which I had little information. From every mistake I make I hope I learn something about myself and my practice.

What is pleasing is that no one reads my blogs but one day perhaps these notations will come in handy at least for my own amusement.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Emotions and Kevin Rudd

It was a day of mixed emotions as we saw the end of Rudd and the beginning of Gillard. I was interested in getting rid of Howard and excited about a new government in 2007. There was something refreshing about a new approach to politics with Rudd, sort of a sense of the unexpected we experienced during the Whitlam years.

Then it all turned sour as Rudd lost confidence in himself and the public began to see through the facade. We began to witness a man who had very little confidence in others and failed to consult with those who new better than him. Politicians are so closely scrutinised these days that we are able to see the skid marks in their underwear.

Kevin became dogged with his sense of his own importance and forgot that the skid marks were becoming more and more obvious. Every time he bent over the cracks became more obvious.

Regardless how we saw him and how disappointed we became in him it was with a great deal of sadness that we witnessed a broken man who, regardless of his lack of people skills was shattered that he wasn’t able to fulfil his dreams. I don’t think he was a “bad” man at all but he did work his staff hard and expected them to work hours that were simply unrealistic, all to fit his distorted view of the world. He did expect others to implement programs without much thought and planning even though he still worked his staff to death. Perhaps they were too tired to give his projects the clear headed approach they deserved.

There he was before all of us crying. No matter what you thought of Rudd if you were a half decent human being you had to have some sort of emotional connection with the humiliation he was feeling. Even Abbott had some emotional twinge, that may remind him that his day may also not be too far away, especially if he loses the next election. But what does it mean to shed tears like this? What are the emotions which a person experiences who holds such a high powered position? Why is it that the only person who has displayed such open emotional distress was Bob Hawke? Maybe its a Labour Party thing. Is it just the lofty position from which they have fallen or is it the fact that a large ego took such a beating that they are grieving their own deflated sense of self?

At his final press conference her reflected on the stolen generation and the people who were spread out on the lawn in front of parliament house. He clearly saw that as a very emotional experience. He could have talked about the emotions he felt a long time ago. I suppose we have to wait until we read his memoirs. The Rudd we saw today was human and not the monotone boring policy driven git we had become tired off. If he had been able to express himself in the way he did today over the past couple of years perhaps he wouldn’t have had to fall from such a high place.

The lesson we all can learn from this is that emotions are an important aspect of who we are. We try to hide from them and we make out that they shouldn’t play a part in our life particularly if we hold public office. The reality is that people connect with you when you display emotions as they did today. This doesn’t mean that our life has to be full of tears but I am sure that talking about feelings would be just as significant. To identify what our feelings are and describe them in appropriate ways allows us to see others for what they really are and not just see the facade. Feelings have great meaning and it is therefore the expressing of them which gives meaning to our lives.

Hears hoping that Julia doesn’t buy into the same political philosophy as Rudd and allows us to see her emotional self.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Attachment Theory

To better understand where child protection comes from regarding attachment theory I have undertaken the daunting task of reading what I could find on Attachment Theory. I have discovered that it is difficult critiquing something of which you may not have all that much understanding and which also makes some sense. I have often wondered about the application of the theory and whether it was in keeping with Social Work theory.

I become concerned where I witness any theory being used as a means of controlling individuals or a group of individuals. There are occasions when I see Social Workers doing this and to my horror I find myself confronting them and making myself seem like something I don't want to be, namely their enemy. What I see around attachment theory is this theory being used as a means of controlling women who are struggling with parenting. What I often see is young women, who have never had children and profess to be social workers, controlling the lives of the most dis-empowered group in our society - young women who are mothers.

Their seems to be an erroneous belief that because a child reaches a certain age they are then damaged for life and will then struggle to have meaningful relationships so somehow these young social workers role is to save these children from this experience. The truth is that we build attachment based on our experiences of the time. For a child to continue to have carers who provide appropriate attachment will provide a positive experience for the child. The onus is therefore on the child protection agency to ensure that the biological parents and any other carers are providing the appropriate attachment and when biological parents are able to be consistent regarding their attachment then it is reasonable to give the child back them. The notion that attachment is about carers behaviour and that the attachment is to the way a child is treated and this could be by a number of carers providing it is consistent rather than by the one carer. Most people in Child Protection would disagree with this notion. If they agree they would have to re think the way they work.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Working with Families SA

Over the years I have always had a mixed experience working with Families SA. There are times I find working with them a credit to our profession and then there are other times when I find myself bewildered and wondering if we all come from the same profession. I am convinced that some of us certainly attended a completely different University who had a unique and damaging way of presenting Social Work values and  principles. Or is it that in the effort to discover what social work means to us we take on a view which is more in keeping with our own skewed view of life? I believe it is the latter because I am at fault here as well. Have I taken on the role of Social Work because it has a certain meaning to me? That I believe in Social Justice, that people should be empowered to have the life they want, that it is helpful not to judge others and that I need to accept the differences of others. There is much more that can be added here which describes what social work means to me but that isn’t all that important to the issue I wish to raise in this post.

I wonder how we become our values regardless of our professional values. That somehow we make those values fit with us that we convince ourselves that we are acting in the best interest of our clients when to others we are doing the opposite. We then have to protect our position or otherwise we are not being true to ourselves and our version of the profession. We enclose ourselves in the bastardised version we begin to believe that this is our sense of truth and that anything outside of this is an anathema to all that we believe in. This becomes the cry not only for the worker but also for all those who agree with them. This builds a cultural belief which when confronted now has a mass of believers who will resist any idea which is counter to their own. Now there are a community of like believers. Welcome to Families SA.

Recently I attended a meeting with Families SA social workers to discuss access arrangements for a client as well as canvas the idea that a GOM 18 order can be amended to include re-unification of the child with her parents. It is difficult for me to describe the emotions I felt when I noticed the social workers berating the client for accommodation offered her recently by Housing SA when they were not able to offer housing when she was in crisis and had her daughter removed. The issue was that the housing was too far away from the carers and that the child had to travel too far from the carers to the parents home. This was their error not the clients.

This is a common story and a theme for many of the social workers I work with. They are stuck in a version of social work which lacks compassion and understanding. Which lacks a sense of creativity and reasonableness which would best fit with the client. There is a rigidity which limits the possibilities and presents “failure” as the only alternative. The challenge is to take the fight to our own profession and give our clients a louder voice so that they are heard amongst the chatter of poorly qualified social workers the and dangerous practices they espouse.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Different Standards

Do you want your blood to boil? Look at these two web sites. This one first. Now that you have had a quick look at what Families SA think about the parent of children who have been removed from care. You can now look at this site and realise how much in comparison they hold carers in such high esteem. Look here. I ask how can they show such distain towards parents by having almost nothing to say about parents rights and responsibilities. It is as if the parents don’t have any and the carers have all the rights you can think of. So clearly the carers are more important than the parents. What do you think?

Being Silent

Over the years I have had the privilege of working with many people who have been faced with workplace conflict. I remember when I had the same experience some years ago and my experience was the same as all these other people and I don’t seem to understand what is happening and need someone to explain it to me. This week I had a women come to  see me who was confronted with a workplace which was somewhat toxic and when complained about it was immediately silenced. She was told that she was not to talk about what had happened to her with anyone in the workplace.

This meant that she now had no one in her life that she could talk to about what was happening. It took a great deal of courage for her to raise the issue with HR but now she was silenced. Life at home wasn’t very supportive so it was unlikely that she could talk about work and feel supported. What does it mean when we are given instructions by HR to not say anything. What are they going to do if you do talk to your best friend who happens to work  in the same office? Are they going to sack you and continue the abuse? Is talking to someone who already understands what has been happening to you, likely to change anything? 

There is always your work EAP but that is limited and you can’t use them on a daily  basis if you want to debrief. Silencing an individual prevents any immediate debriefing process from taking place. You can’t say to the person next to you, “He said it to me again” for fear of losing your job or damaging your case. What the silencing does is prevent you from gathering up all those other poor workers who have been bullied by this person. Silencing prevents you from highlighting the inadequate management practices which have allowed the bullying to persist.

Perhaps we need to say “NO” to demands about how we are to behave when we are the victim of bullying.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Child Protection and the world wide phenomenon

I subscribe to a Google alert on child protection. It continually amazes me at the number of countries confronted by the same issues that we experience in Australia. I see the same complaints, the same type of practice, the same allegations levelled at Social Workers. If what we experience here is world wide one has to wonder what there is about social work practices and child protection in particular which has created a phenomenon which goes beyond borders, oceans and continents.

There is no doubt that we are all on the same page which is the need to protect children from harm and that the safety of children is paramount. This common and noble goal is to be commended and there is no one who will challenge these values. What is common though are two diametrically opposed factors.

There is growing concern about the extent that children are abused or unsafe in the parental home and that they are sometimes murdered because of this abuse. We as a society have to express our anger at these tragedies by blaming those given the responsibility to care for all children in our society. This responsibility usually lies with government departments and finally with those who do the bidding of the government, social workers. Human indignation and laying blame are universal human traits which have no boundaries.

It is unfortunate that the only information provided about the Social Work profession is through child protection. We rarely hear social workers standing by their actions or challenging the system which fails children over and over again.

The second similarity is that governments make for poor parents. I don’t know when we are going to accept this premise and find other ways to move on beyond governments being seen as the panacea for all child protection issues. When governments realise that the best parent is the biological parent in most cases a significant shift will take place that perhaps we will find more appropriate and creative ways to support families who are in crisis. There are times when we need to act when children are being abused. My experience tells me thought that there are many occasions when parents are simply struggling with life in general and children in particular. Governments who decide to act in partnership with  parents will produce more significant outcomes. Governments in essence accept that partnerships are important but in reality are so risk management orientated that they loose sight of their real purpose.

We could see this world wide phenomenon as an opportunity to do things differently. While we are focussing on removing children when they don’t need to be removed governments are not able to focus on those who need to be. I wonder how many tier ones can be shifted into other categories and whether new assessment approaches could be developed which offer parents the support they really need. When are we going to understand that the removal of children from their home is an extremely traumatic experience, often greater than the trauma in the home? We need a balance and at this point no one in the world seems to have found it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Understanding the past

I wonder how people work when I discover that they know very little about past experiences of clients. Recently I was talking to a Social Worker from Families SA and while he was an engaging person and cared greatly about the profession and how he worked I found it interesting that he knew very little of the clients past. To understand a clients present situation, how they are choosing at this time to respond to their world, and the emotional attachment they have to events of the past seems to be a primary concern to me. To fail to understand this often leaves the client feeling misunderstood, isolated and alone.

A client recently discussed with me some horrific events as a child. As she was telling me the story I became quite emotional. It was as if I could see the events unfolding before me. What she experienced was traumatic, abusive in the extreme. Through this story and others I was able to understand how she experienced her life and why anger, disappointment, frustration, resentment and abandonment sit in her life. How can we truly empathise if we fail to hear the stories and relate those stories to the way the client is interacting with the “now”? How can the client feel understood and trusting if they are not understood in this way?

What evolves from this level of understanding is a sense of partnership and dedication which is an important aspect of the therapeutic process. In relation to child protection and the partnership which is suppose to be developed between workers and the parent it is imperative that the client is heard and the worker understands the complexities of the clients lives and the reasons why the client may choose to respond in aggressive or unhelpful ways.

My experience working with Social Workers from child protection services is that they are so locked into the notion that the client is the child and that they are working towards the best interest of the child that they fail to see the whole picture which excludes the parents. Ironically this means that they also fail to see the impact and trauma created by the child being in care. This form of ignorance creates an environment of mistrust and fear.

To acknowledge the trauma, past and present, and to find pathways to understanding this is working in the best interest of the children. To assist parents to understand their own past and the impact this has had on their children is powerful. Unfortunately though this is often handballed to other professionals because it is not considered to be the role of child protection workers. Yet it should be a fundamental role of all child protection workers.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Attachment Theory and its impact on parenting

It fascinates me that the main aspect of attachment theory is the notion that attachment is a vital part of our development, a concept which isn’t ever in question. Where attachment, in the context of child protection, seems to fall down is the impact it has on parents who experienced poor upbringings and therefore poor attachment. That parents who were themselves subjected to poor parents, through no fault of their own, repeat the pattern of poor attachment themselves because they too have failed to develop meaningful relationships, and haven’t been taught to interact with others in a meaningful way. These parents are penalised by a system which is so child focussed that it doesn’t understand the complexities of peoples lives and doesn’t offer resolution of the parents own parenting issues.

We need to understand that attachment is a process which is learnt while very young but can be learnt at any age even in adulthood. This means that for those parents who have experienced poor attachment when they were growing up have an opportunity to develop some understanding of attachment in their own lives. For a parent to explore the impact of poor attachment as a child will give them a better understanding of the impact of attachment on their children’s lives. As they explore the meaning of this and the way it has affected  their life then they are more likely to put the impact of attachment into context.

To receive the message that they are poor parents because they fail to attach to their children is unhelpful and lumbers them with an inaccurate version of their experiences. To view parents as a product of the way they were parented is a more constructive way of viewing their parenting which opens up pathways to explore these experiences and to find resolution which has real meaning.

I wonder what outcomes would be developed if we spent more time and money understanding their experiences and helping them to seek resolution rather than presenting them with negative versions of who they are. A parent who is abused as a child, has low self image because of parents inability to validate them positively, and who were seen as an intrusion in their parents lives, needs to be assured that they can change how these experiences may continue to play out.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Children in care and the Courts

I subscribe to a number of Google alerts, one of them is child protection. These alerts keep me aware of what is happening in the world of child protection around the globe. What I have discovered that it doesn’t matter where you live the same problems we experience are happening in the four corners of the world. An article I read tonight is worth reading and raises more questions than are answered. You can find it here.

What this article tells us is that it is the poor who are the bad parents. That in the US, even though there are 500,000 children in care, and only 6% to 7% have experienced sexual abuse, two third come from poor families. How’s the next bit that tells us that 40% could have been returned home at the end of one week and 60% within three months. Are these figures known to the authorities? Do those in Families SA know how they damage the children they are suppose to protect often more than if they remained with their family. What is the percentage of families who are re-united with their children and those who are re-united are they done so within a three month time frame?

I love the idea that we should open up the courts for public scrutiny and hopefully make those who implement the laws more accountable. It is not possible for any one to enter the Youth Court and as I mentioned in a previous post some one can point their finger at you and tell the bailiff that you are a potential witness and without checking the accuracy of the statement the bailiff has the power to restrict your attendance in the court. Some one told me today that the Youth Court has no rules. Those who play in this court generally, are a completely different beast from those who play in the other courts. Of course what this means is that the court can be used to gag and stifle discussion which may be helpful in changing this abusive process. So who is benefiting from this cone of silence.

It seems undemocratic, dare I say it, un-Australian, to have an institution sanctioned by government which sits a part from government and which fails to question the nature of child protection and the credentials of those who are authorised to protect our children. Those  who work in the court system blindly accept what is told them by un-credentialed and poorly trained professionals. Those of us who are appropriately credentialed who face the court system are seen as the enemy and treated with contempt. The system remains unchallenged and those who maintain the system get to live in a state of ignorance while dispensing blind justice.

I am certainly feeling angry today. Does it show?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Social Work and the “cold shoulder”

Today I was asked by a client to attend court with her – to offer support. This was fine by me she hadn’t yet found a lawyer to represent her in the youth court. Another lawyer bailed on her and she was needing a little moral support as she faced another round of emotional abuse at the hand of a system which is more inclined to look after itself than it is to consider how others are interacting with the system.

As I was waiting in front of the court room I was informed by the bailiff that I wasn’t able to enter the court because I was likely to be called as a witness. Now this is true and I certainly understand the reason for this but when I saw the client’s social worker from Families SA go in I thought “now that doesn’t seem right”. Even though it hadn’t been decided whether the case was going to trial at this point. An insignificant but vaguely relevant fact. If I was going to be a witness for this client then I am reasonably sure that the social worker in charge of this case is also going to be called as a witness. Social Workers are always called to talk about the reasons why the child was removed. Why is it then was I told that I was not allowed into the court room?

As time goes by I am becoming more and more cynical. Could this double standard be the crowns effort to control by preventing my client from receiving any support while in the court room? Is it possible that a social worker who strives for clients to be represented by whom ever they choose and who understands concepts of equity and fairness and who practices according to social work values, would try to limit and restrict the trade of another social workers? One would hope not.

Then there was the cold shoulder. The social worker concerned is someone with whom I have a great deal of respect and believed was a valuable addition to our profession. As she approached me I thought, “Will she have the courage to eyeball me or would she ignore me?” She made every effort to not look at me. A couple of weeks before in a meeting with this same client she also found it difficult looking at me. I am able to understand that I am not the greatest looking guy on earth but I am also not the worst either.

So what is the “Cold Shoulder” really about. Do I make her feel uncomfortable? Perhaps. But why? The last and only time I met with her was in my office about the above mentioned client and I thought it went well. Obviously I misread the signs because it must have gone badly for her. I wonder what I must have said or what impression I left which would have caused someone to give the “Cold Shoulder” with such purpose and zeal?

There are many people who give me the “Cold Shoulder” at Families SA so it is no longer all that concerning. I figure that if I am getting under their skin and causing this sort of response and am basically doing nothing but what social workers are meant to do and what they are meant to do but don’t, then I must have heaps of power I didn’t know I had.

What is important is that each week I work with over forty people and there is not one who would give me the cold shoulder because I know that the quality of the work I do is more than competent and they experience the benefit of my training and skills. I wonder how many social workers with Families SA could make the same statement. So give me the cold shoulder as much as you like. You have no power over me. As you avoid my gaze next time ask what am I doing this for. Think about how silly you look and how unprofessional you are behaving.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Social Work and those who don't like you

As you may already know from some of my previous posts I am involved in working with families of children who have been removed by Child Protection Services. A couple of days ago I was contacted by a TV station to see if I would be interviewed and offer professional comment that will support their story around the dysfunction of the agency which manages child protection in this state. The thought of putting myself "out there" is when I am confronting individuals or small groups of people is fine but where thousands of people will see me is another thing all together. What will I say? Will it make any sense? Will I look like an idiot? It was predictable that all they wanted to take was very small portion to support their story. Talk about five seconds of fame.

It has been lovely how so many of my friends who happened to not blink and see the segment have commented so politely. Now there is one exception to this and this is the reason for this blog. Many years ago I was asked to work with a client of a friend of mine who worked with Families SA. My friend, a fellow social worker, asked if I would work with this client to help him manage some intimidating behaviour. My experience working with men is that often if the desire is strong enough and the consequences significant we can make some significant changes.

There was certainly no doubt he wanted to have his children returned to him and his partner, but his behaviour was so extreme that he kept on putting people off side. He intimidated and bullied everyone he met. The reception staff at the office were fearful of him. Other workers took restraining orders out against him. Regardless of all of this I did believe that he had some genuine grievances against the department and even though he didn't have the skills to express these and acted badly I still needed to express his concerns in an appropriate way.

He calls me on occasions to let me know of his latest efforts to abuse others and that he is going to make people pay for what they have done to him. He hasn't directed this sort of behaviour at me to this point. Well, when he saw me on television he called me within thirty seconds telling me that I was on television because of the support he had offered me. Hold on, this had nothing to do with him at all. Where was all this crap coming from? After a minute of abuse I hung up. Then he called me again and I didn't answer the call and he left a message which was vile and abusive. He has clearly become worse and more obsessed over the years.

A part from writing about the experience I discovered that I was able to let it go. Within five minutes I was able to enter a group I was running and have one of the best sessions I have had for a long time.

There was a time when I would have been hurt by what he said and the intensity of my feelings would have been almost debilitating, but that didn't happen. Regardless of what he said I was able to move on and not allow someones version of me take over and affect me negatively. What I have been able to realise is that no matter how dedicated and professional we are we are not going to please everyone. With the work I have been doing with clients of Families SA and the conflict this produces I now realise that I am unable to change entrenched views. It interests me that some professionals in the department which this client has been battling for years have a very similar view of the world. They are "right" and to be critiqued is simply a no go zone. Like the abusive client, they are not prepared to view other ways of working which will enhance their interactions with others.

It is sad that some can't find ways to stand back and acknowledge the damage their behaviour does to others.

How nice it is to realise that the power is not to be shared with others but it is something which sits inside me and belongs to no other.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Workplace Bullying

For many years I have been working to help organisations face the problem of workplace bullying as well as writing programs which best address the issue. How long does it take before a significant even has to take place before a vital issue such as this becomes newsworthy enough for the media and others to report the damage done from disrespectful and harmful workplaces. Last week the owner of a cafe and his employees were fined a substantial amount of money because of the death caused by them of an employee who was bullied. We know that bullying takes place, most workers have experienced it or seen it perpetrated against others. Most of us though do nothing about it.

By doing nothing means that we are as liable as those who bullied. If there was someone who had noticed the bullying of the young women who suicided then perhaps she would have felt protected from those who were doing the bullying and encouraged to leave. Who knows what the outcome may have been but it could have been different from what eventuated. By ignoring bullying we are saying it is okay and we are putting lives at risk. If we all made a stand against disrespectful behaviour we would create working environments which would be far more productive, fun to work in and enhance our sense of wellbeing.

If only we could learn that to acknowledge that we have hurt someone is not about being a wimp and that asking how you can behave differently isn't about giving up your power but enhancing it. How many managers do we know who practice any of this? If they are not practicing it then how can we expect them to "get it" and therefore how impossible would it be to ask them to change.

I have reflected on cultural change since I worked in Rockhampton for three months to do just that. Unless you have the big stick and the authority not much is going to change. All the training programs you can afford are not going to change entrenched bullying. There is not a program or worker on the face of this earth who is able to change the culture of an organisation unless those at the top are prepared to support any effort to change and model those changes.

More people will have their lives ruined or die at the hands of bullies. It is about time we all did something about it. Say NO to bad behaviour - talk about how it makes you feel - tell them how you expect them to behave - explain the consequences if they choose not to change. You may not be important enough to them for them to want to change their behaviour. Accept that not everyone thinks and behaves as you do. But remember that most people do. Find those that do because together you may have the power to make a difference.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Social workers - who are we?

It is evident, to me any way, that many of us struggle to articulate who we are, what we do and what makes us different from other professions. I wonder why this is so difficult. For a number of years I have been supervising University Students who are on placement and am amazed how many of them are unable to explain any of the above. It is somewhat disturbing that a fourth year student is unable to articulate not only what social work is but why they chose to spend four years towards a degree in the first place. What sort of Social Workers are we producing if they are unable to express what the profession is about and how they practice social work. It is no wonder that the public and other professions have a skewed and misunderstood of what social worker is. A worker for a large federal government department viewed social workers as people who hand out bus tickets to those who can't afford them. For some social workers that may be the total limit of their skill set.

The universities don't seem to value the profession. You don't need a very high TER to make it into university. Not that I see that as bad thing but just think for a moment how the profession would be viewed if we limited places and the TER was say 95? Would a high TER add value to the profession? Would this also mean that we would take more notice of what the profession meant? We would probably become elitist academics who had no idea of equity and fairness.

So what is it that prohibits the inability to articulate the great virtues of this great profession. It could be that no one models them. Perhaps those doing the modeling, back to teachers and supervisors, don't get it either.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Child Protection and Social Work Practice

For some time now I have been working with parents of children who have been removed by Families SA the child protection agency in South Australia. Even though this work has not been all that financially rewarding there is something about this work which represents social work in its purist form. Representing clients who are the most marginalised in our community is what social work is meant to do. In all our work it is about acknowledging the strengths, dignity and worth of all our clients. In this work it is imperative that we use our social work skills to enhance the experiences of people who have suffered the extreme experience of having their children removed from them or being removed from their family.

The work of social workers within child protection is vital because it is about keeping children safe. The childs needs are paramount and this is certainly acknowledged myself through the work I do. However the system and the practice of some social workers needs to be challenged. Here is the problem. This is such a complicated area and one which needs to be understood and critiqued. I am the first to admit that I don't understand all that I can about child protection but I am able to inform my practice in this area by adhering to the basic principles of practice as outlined through the AASW's code of ethics and the Practice Manual. The practice manual states that regardless of the area in which we work the principles of practice remain the same. When offering a critique of practice we need to keep this in mind.

I have been criticised for offering a critique of practice and recently I have had two different clients tell me that they have been told that I have a vendetta against Families SA. I need to be clear here that this could not be furtherest from the truth. The reality is that there are some social workers who don't understand the difference between a difference of opinion and personal criticism. I am open to a critique of my own practice and welcome the opportunity to talk about what I do and why I do it and what it means to the client and the community. It interests me that some social workers from Families SA will not engage in this process. What they seem to do is disengage from conversations and in two instance have refused to have conversations with me about the clients we jointly represent. This has proved to disadvantage the client and prohibited my practice by disengaging with me when issues of paramount concern to the client are not relaid to the clients social worker. This effectively is restrictive of trade and contravenes the AASW Code of Ethics. More of the impact of this in another post.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Social Work and Meaning

One of the key struggles I have around Social Work is that I often seem out of step with the majority of Social Workers. Perhaps I need to put that in some sort of context. When I graduated I was determined to work in the role of counsellor. My final placement was working as a counsellor in an NGO who ran a gambling counselling program. I loved the work even though the pay was poor. Welcome to NGO's. Another issue for another time.

I have had some time working as a volunteer counsellor for many years and trained volunteer counsellors for that organisation. My experience of counselling may not have been from the same orientation as social work but I certainly had to skill set to know what I was doing. This coupled with my Social Work training meant that I thought I was a reasonably competent counsellor. As it turned out I must have been because I wasn't supervised for my manager for six years. I was told that I wasn't liked and that there were issues with my practice but never told who disliked me or what the practice issues. Needless to say I left after a lengthy and protracted workplace bullying dispute.

While all of this was going on I was working with groups for other organisations. The NGO didn't like that. I had a private practice happening at the same time but only very small and certainly not financially viable to set up my full time practice. I am not going to bore you now with the history because that will be told in another format. That damn book I have been writing for five years and averaging about one page per year. How sad is that?

When I reflect back on the fifteen years I have been practicing as a Social Worker I now realise that the more I attempt to give Social Work meaning I am faced with more and more conflict. As the posts progress I will talk more about the conflicts and how they have impacted me and shaped the way I think and practice Social Work. If you are a Professional Social Worker or Social Work student I hope you will benefit from some of these conflicts and more importantly I hope that what I say will confront you and challenge your beliefs about who you are and why you practice Social Work.

We need to accept that Social Work is a value laden profession. Without understanding the values and principles which govern Social Work as well as understanding your own values and principles you will never understand Social Work. If you fail to contemplate and to operationalise the values which underpin the profession how can you possibly practice Social Work? I don't want this to seem simplistic and a quick way of identifying poor practicing Social Workers. What this represents is an idea which can be explored. At the moment I am having the best time exploring this all by my self. That is the way my practice is most of the time.

What we will be looking at in future posts is what does Social Work look like what we explore its values and principles and what are we practicing if we don't understand the principles of the profession we profess to be a part off?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

First Up

I am a Social Worker in Private Practice. Prior to Private Practice I worked with an NGO which, even though I left under severe stress the experience provided me with much valuable knowledge and understandings. Even though I wouldn't suggest this experience to anyone. Thoughts of suicide, and severe depression were not good outcomes from my first experience working as a social worker. However I was able to salvage a little of my self and find ways to move beyond the bullying and head in a completely different direction.

Here I am seven years later still maintaining a private practice and being able to pay the bills and keep food on the table.

I have decided to open this blog because I realised that I have so much that I need to say and even if there isn't anyone reading this, I still can use it as a means of expressing myself and venting my frustrations. With a little bit of luck perhaps someone will read it and gain something from what I say. Its a little refreshing to know that I can go Blah and that I don't have to be extremely political correct and I can say what I want to say without naming people. That it is okay to spout of at the mouth and know that it doesn't really matter. I don't intend to hurt others through what I write but I certainly may hurt some peoples feelings as I rant about the social work profession and the encounters I have with other professionals who are working from a completely different framework than mine.

There are times I feel very alone working in the areas that I work. I am able to organise some form of supervision with colleagues that I know but often it is a lonely place listening to peoples stories and giving all the time but not necessarily receiving anything from anyone else. Always being available but rarely having people available to you to talk to about all manner of disasters which may be happening in my life. I am indeed grateful for the staff who work in the same office suite that I do because they are fantastic to talk to but they are very busy as well.

Confidentiality is a problem so it will be difficult talking about clients and related issues. I will have to be mindful that anyone can access this blog and may make connections between what I am saying and themselves. If I just remain focussed on myself then I suppose I will be relatively safe. How egocentric is that? Feel okay with that though. Focusing on self, oh, what a good idea.

This is an intro in a sense and will follow with some more challenging ideas and concepts that hopefully will amaze myself.