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.

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