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.