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.