It is important that we understand that working with families is vital to the wellbeing of children. I understand that there are times when children need to be removed from families where they are being abused and I can understand that there are some parents who are unable to change for the sake of their children’s well being. Most parents are distressed at the removal of their children and most families want to make some changes. My experience tells me that the timeline given to implement change by Families SA is often too short and fails to consider the complex nature of the parents problems. Where drugs and violence are involved and particularly where there is generational abuse the change is going to be lengthy and the engagement with a parent will be vital to the overall outcome. I am convinced that if child protection workers could understand these complexities and commit themselves to working with the parent then there would be better outcomes for all.
Kids want to remain with their parents. Even in the most violent and dysfunctional families children want to remain in the environment in which they know even though it may be damaging for them. The role of Social Workers is to evaluate the impact the environment is having on the child and the potential for change of the parent/s. Some time last year I was at a meeting at Families SA and as I left the office I noticed a young women in tears being comforted by her partner. I engaged in a conversation with her and discovered that he children had been recently removed from her. She was devastated and feeling very helpless and hopeless about the situation. She didn’t know where to turn. She had no sense of hope or even understanding as to what she and her partner needed to do in order to have her children returned to her. I wondered about the intervention that had been put in place and whether the Social Worker’s had provided and accurate assessment of her and even considered the potential for change in her.
We had a meeting in my office a week later and I discovered some encouraging and valuable strengths this woman and her partner had. They are both intelligent and vibrant individuals. She had an horrific childhood where she experienced every form of abuse you could imagine at the hands of her mothers partners and finally when she was thirteen by the system her children now found themselves a part off. When I heard her story, which took about an hour, it became evident that this woman was prepared to make changes including a partner who was non-violent. I could not understand why the Social Workers could not see what I saw. I have come to understand that we practice a different version of Social Work. I have also come to understand that the skill set required to provide accurate assessments of clients is limited by many of the Child Protection Social Workers I encounter. They lack counselling skills, questioning skills, evaluation skills, negotiating skills, empathy and the ability to evaluate and acknowledge a persons strengths and to find ways to build on them.
Eventually, through some strong advocacy work and a new Social Worker, who had some of these skills, we were able to negotiate appropriate ways of working with the client. What became evident was that once the social worker became aware of the potential that existed with this couple the more dedicated the social worker became regarding working towards reunification. The children have been returned to their parents. Had the department remained in a negative and unhelpful frame of mind the antagonism which the couple felt and the resistance they displayed towards the department would have interfered with any attempt to reunify the family.
There are many families who don’t have the opportunity to be reunified because the Social Worker fails to work from a strengths based approach. So many opportunities are missed and so many families are not afforded the opportunity to change so that their children can have the life with their families that they disserve.