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.