Friday, October 8, 2010

Child Protection and long term orders

Currently I am working with a client whose child is under the guardianship of the Minister to the age of eighteen. This is an important case because it represents all that is unhelpful about Child Protection decision making and the long term care of children. We had applied for legal aid and were hopeful that once this was granted there would be a pathway to have the order varied. The lawyer contacted me and informed me that the only pathway would have been to have challenged the order within twenty one days of it being granted. To apply to the supreme court to have this challenged would have cost $2,000 for the application alone. When unemployed and at he lowest end of the socio-economic pile who has the money to seek such an application? That is just the application fee. Legal aid wont fund the actual court proceedings. The reality is that very few people, if any, can afford to challenge the legal system and child protection services once their child has been removed and a long term order is in place.

But it becomes more complicated and unjust than what I have mentioned. There is virtually no way that a parent can change an order, regardless of how much they have reached sainthood. However I am told that the Department is able to seek variations to orders and do this regularly. They can return to the court and change aspects of an order at a whim particularly if they believe the current order is not in the best interest of he child. They do not, and refuse to, change orders if the parent has changed his or her lifestyle and is even able to provide a better home than the one the child is currently living. It often appears that the department believes that in all circumstances they are the better parent. We all know that that isn’t the case.

How have we allowed a system to develop which is clearly inequitable. Are they afraid that if everyone had access to an appeal process that the department would be held accountable for the decisions they make. The department will argue that the parent has many opportunities to prove that they can parent differently and to some extent that is true but often the time frame for this is too small and the decision makers become too entrenched in their decision that they refuse to offer appropriate pathways towards re-unification. In my clients case this is what happened.

I admit that this is relatively new territory for me but I found it interesting that when I contacted the department and presented them with the legal interpretation I had been given the person I spoke to wasn’t certain as to the exact process either and suggested that I contact the clerk of the court to find out. If a senior Social Worker in the department cant be definitive about the legal ramifications and requirements then we have to wonder why we would expect front line staff to know either.

What this means for practice is that Social Workers are obligated to inform their clients of the implications of the workers actions. That includes the legal ramifications of the decisions of the court and the appeal process. Me client told me that if she had known this she would have responded differently to the court process in the beginning and challenged the GOM 18 order more vehemently. If I had known what I know now I would have have talked to her about these issues and also asked the social workers concerned why they weren’t talking to the client about the ramifications for the client and child.

When I hear Social Workers tell parents that even though the department are seeking a GOM 18 the client can still return to court I want to vomit. It is a gross misrepresentation of the actual situation, in fact it is a lie, either based on ignorance or just plain guilt. I wonder if Child Protection workers really understand the implications of their decisions and the long term impact this has on the parents and more importantly the child.

The client I am referring to here lives in a neat and very tidy home. Has great parenting skills. Is applying for university next year. Is very intelligent. No longer self harms. Has improved her mental health to the point one could argue it is no longer problematic. But under the current system no matter what she changes she will never be able to get her daughter back in her care. In fact the department thinks the child is better in a family where corporal punishment is the norm, leaving the child in the care of others for days on end is okay, and that the carers are aging and not able to provide the same care as her mother, is all in the best interest of the child.

The department is able to return to court and vary the order but are unwilling to do so. The client told me that she doesn’t care if the department remain involved she just wants her daughter back. But they don’t get it and I am left wondering, why? I sense that some of the people from the department, who have met my client, since I have been advocating for her, also are wondering what is going on here. But no one has the guts to challenge their workers decisions in the first instance, and more importantly no one has the guts to act in what is in the best interest of the child. 

I have worked with some fantastic social workers at Families SA. It distresses me that the decision making process, which ultimately changes peoples lives for ever, is allowed to be made by inexperienced unequipped Social Workers. I know if some of these more experienced and capable Social Workers had been given this case that there would have been a different outcome. 


  1. I am a foster carer and see the daily and long term effects on the children of being removed from parents. The children do 'adapt' to a secure and loving environment but are scarred by the abuse and the removal, theyre confused about why they can't return to their parent.

    I don't think its a matter of who is now the better parent, the foster carer or the biological parent..... yes of course the children should be with the biological parent, but the children are not removed for any small reason. And the system gives 12 month orders, often 2 consecutively, so the parent has sometimes 2 years to 'get their act together'.

    Also, I've seen cases of reunification, that the parent has had their children re-unified, only as soon as Families SA is out of the picture, to quickly return to the same destructive lifestyle that put the children in danger. Also, after children are removed, a parent that has no children in their care have 24/7 to get the help they need, which is available.

    If custody back to the parent was a lot easier, from the child's point of view, they can be removed from a biological parent, live with a carer for 2 years, be reunified with a parent, only to be removed again a few years later. I am not sure of the statistics, but I've heard its a very high percentage of reunifications that aren't successful.

    I definitely agree though, that biological parents should definitely be entitled to every defence and fighting chance and every bit of information available to them, because the impact on the children to be removed and brought up by someone other than their own parent, is huge.

    The social worker definitely is the different between a good placement and a difficult placement. I've seen children reunified to an unfit mother because of extremely bad judgement of a social worker and faults in the system. Also I've seen children not removed from parents leaving children in dangerous environments, but I haven't seen a child taken from a situation that they shouldn't have been.

    Our first thoughts usually are "this child doesn't seem to be that affected, maybe they shouldn't have been removed", then slowly but surely the disclosures come about the abuse they went through.

    Unfortunately, it seems rare for a parent to change from an extremely destructive lifestlye where a child is subject to neglect, violence and abuse of all kinds, to a healthy and secure environment within one or two years. So if they can't within that time frame, how long does a child wait, being told by the social worker ''mum is getting well, not much longer now" for 18months, only for mum to relapse again and again, then the order goes GOM18 and the child feels lied to and their hopes dashed.

    I'm not saying people can't be reformed, but it seems rare.

  2. It is clear that we live in different worlds. I experience many parents who have had their children removed that if given the right amount of support will become better parents. I have worked with families where their children should never have been removed in the first place. There are parents though who should never be parents and perhaps will never change. The system doesn't provide the opportunities for change.

    How many families have you worked with where their children have been removed? Probably not very many. It is common for Foster Parents to demonise the parents of children they care for. It is unhelpful because those foster parents convey messages to children which are unhelpful and damage any future relationship the child may choose to have with their parents.

    In the UK and now being trialed here is a very successful program where foster parents work with the biological parents. The judgments that Foster Parents may have need to be suspended so that a valued relationship between parent and child can be maintained.

    Not all children are removed because of sexual abuse or violence. They are often removed because of neglect and emotional abuse caused by many factors which when addressed can change the behaviour of the parent. I am more hopeful than you that change can take place but we need a way of working that acknowledges this change and rewards parents for the efforts they have made.

    1. We must live in different worlds Tony, because you say I must not have worked with many of the families, not so. We are very sympathetic to parents who've had children removed. We've had 2 GOM18 children for 6 years and have a good relationship with the mother (sometimes she will see us when she's feeling secure, sometimes not). We've had 2 sets of children go into kinship care, which is better than stranger foster carers, we've had a child re-unified with Mum, had a great experience with mum who was intelligent, good parent off drugs, then within 4 years back into bad relationships, ice and 2 of those children kidnapped by the ex. We are still in contact now, after 8 years. The children should be removed again, but haven't to date. We never talk the parents down, but encourage respect and value of their parents, no matter how damaged. We would love a system where we could work directly with the biological parents, but many parents are resentful and intimidated by us without even meeting us. All of the children we know of should have been removed. Maybe the orders should have been for longer to give the parents a better chance. In one case the mother had no father around, had 6 children with mostly different fathers, had severe hoarding issues, neglect etc. She probably should have 2 returned to her care and the others one by one should have been returned as conditions improved, but wrongly in this case they only gave her 1 year, all went GOM18 - that was wrong.

      I agree the system is unfair to parents in the respect that there's no overturning a GOM18 order. I think that if a parent can't prove lasting change within 2 years, then children should be placed long term....but there needs to be another type of order in place after that, that the children should be able to be returned if the parent can show long term sustainability of the change.

  3. I am going through a very similar circumstance with my 5 & 6yr old daughters yet its been declared by the same people i am a fit parent to my 14mnth old son who is in my care so shouldn't my older children be returned i dont know where to turn or who will help but my babies deserve to be home and have the opportunity of a normal life.... HELP ME

  4. I am going through a very similar circumstance with my 5 & 6yr old daughters yet its been declared by the same people i am a fit parent to my 14mnth old son who is in my care so shouldn't my older children be returned i dont know where to turn or who will help but my babies deserve to be home and have the opportunity of a normal life.... HELP ME

  5. I am going through a very similar circumstance with my 5 & 6yr old daughters yet its been declared by the same people i am a fit parent to my 14mnth old son who is in my care so shouldn't my older children be returned i dont know where to turn or who will help but my babies deserve to be home and have the opportunity of a normal life.... HELP ME

  6. I guess it is a little difficult commenting and offering advice with very few details. My questions would be around the risk factors that caused your daughters to be removed and whether they have been addressed. I would also be interested in the type of orders that your daughters are under and whose their carer? If you wish to have conversation with me away from the blog you can contact me at Looking forward to hearing from you.