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.


  1. There is a boy of about age 10 whose sibling is my sons age. I first saw him a few years ago when his mother was picking up the sibling at preschool. She was berating him for walking on the wet grass. What struck me was her tone and the expression on her face. I thought it was too harsh, but then perhaps she was having a rough day.
    The next time i saw them she was angry because... well there was no reason. He was just standing quietly waiting.
    Last year i saw him again at the pool. We were in the changerooms. Words cannot convey how she was treating him. During the 15 or so minutes she spat out criticism after criticism. Why wasnt he going up a level, like his sister. Why was he so slow. Wht did he let the towel touch the floor. Why was he so stupid. Even worse was the expression on her face. Pure hatred. Worse still the boy was quiet, doing everything asked of him, completely without the liveliness or energy boys have, like a zombie. He looked at me and i didnt know what to do.
    I have seen them a few more times. He no longer swims. He just sits quietly next to her while the sibling swims. She behaves completely differently to the sibling, smiling, talking nicely.
    I decided that i was a witness to emotional abuse and needed to do something. I found out what school they went to and called the principal. Told him my concerns. His response was that they had also reported her to docs and that i should too. I did but i doubt anything will be done.
    I also discovered he attends special classes for emotionally disturbed children. I have absolutely no doubt that any problems he has have been caused by living with a mother who openly detests him.
    So if social workers are wrong to see the child as the client, then who is looking out for the child? Sure this mum is disturbed and has targeted one of her children to express this, but what about his rights? How long should parents be given before the childs right to live an abuse-free life is upheld? Kids should not live in limbo between foster families. Adoption is one solution. Take money out of the equation. These children need a families love to heal their wounds.
    We seem to be more willing to protect animals from abuse more than children. Why do we treat domestic violence differently?
    BTW i do agree attachment can be taught to adults too, but i wonder if the time it takes to improve parenting skills costs the child too much.

    1. These are great points. I thank you for that. I have a similar incident which occurred a few years ago when I was waiting for a train. A young boy was being berated by his father and his mother was sitting nearby. She was as fearful of this man as her son. This was one of those situations like you where I thought someone could intervene and that I could see that the child would grow up to be a very angry young man. If I could guarantee that the system I would be placing him in by having him removed from his family, particularly his father, would be better I would love to see him removed. All children should be free of abuse. All children should have the right to be happy and functional.

      My point has always been that at the point of intervention, Child Protection Services should provide services which address all the issues. In the case I mentioned here they should address the Domestic Violence, then the relationship issues, and so on. In my experience they don't.

      Lets say that they remove this child and the parents continue their relationship and they have another child. Because the problems which brought about the removal of the first child are not addressed and the perpetuation of the problem continues. This happens time and time again because at the time of removal or notification Social Workers are faced an opportunity to address long standing problems and hopefully intervene in such a way that problems in the future can at least be minimised.

      In relation to your last point. A skilled practitioner and appropriate support services can address the parenting issues and yes people can change, with the motivation, in a very short period of time.