Monday, December 20, 2010

Kim’s Story–the beginning

Following from my last post I have had a number of people enquire about the historical events which have brought us to where we are today. Kim was referred to me by a colleague who wasn’t able to continue the work. When I first met Kim she was a shy, guilt-ridden woman whose self esteem was so low that she found it difficult engaging in conversation. She found it difficult looking me in the eye. She had witnessed domestic violence when she was a child and had been made to feel responsible for her mother and younger brother. Kim came to me with some very dark writings and drawings which indicated that she was not in a very healthy position mentally.

She had contacted FamiliesSA because she was suffering from Post Natal Depression and was finding it difficult coping with her newly born daughter so in her effort to keep her daughter safe she sought help from a department she believed was suppose to offer her support. She was offered some assistance in terms of a live-in program for mothers who are struggling. The child was eventually returned to her and her partner but their daughter was a very restless child who needed Kim’s constant care and attention. There is no disputing that Kim was able to provide this but what has happened by now is that the department had identified this child as being a child at risk.

I have read the court documents around this case many times and it is difficult to identify what eventually brought about the second removal of their daughter. Some of this story is quite complicated but what is important is that during the first twelve months of the initial order Kim had made significant changes in her life. I have worked as a therapeutic counsellor for many years and rarely have I found someone who was able to make the changes evidenced by Kim. Social Workers failed to see any of these changes.

The Kim I first met is not the same person I experience today. There is still a long way to go for Kim but she now has a determination and sense of purpose. The loss of her daughter has caused her immeasurable distress but Kim has been able to find a way to work through all the demons which accompany such emotional pain. Regardless of the negative and unhelpful statements made about her by Families SA and others she is able to continue the fight. Together, Kim and Shane have been able to redefine themselves and construct a new meaning in their relationship and a wonderful resilience which would put most of us to shame.

I can remember when my children were removed from me by their mother and the depth of pain I felt at that time. I cried every night for six months. I didn’t have physical contact with them for many years. Perhaps I was able to reconcile this because I was the cause of the relationship breakup and my children were with their mother. I don’t know how I would respond if there was not reason that my children were taken away and that I had done all that I could to have them returned to me. I certainly wasn’t as powerless as Kim and Shane. I didn’t have a whole legal department working against me. I didn’t have a series of government workers parading a range of theories and confusing language which was beyond my comprehension.

I am so angry at those people who practice a bastardised version of Social Work which embodies the antithesis of what I believe. I find it hard to believe that a group of professionals couldn’t see that this woman and her partner were working hard to improve their circumstances and when they did so they were further punished. It is unjust that a person such as Kim can travel so far and then not be rewarded.

Within two years most of these Social Workers and Psychologists would have left he department. By the time this child is 18 none of them will be present to welcome her back to her mother and father. None will be present to take responsibility for any of the potential damage they may have caused. Who is going to be around to say that “we got it wrong concerning the attachment therapy stuff”? Kim and Shane are going to be there. Who is going to be there over the years to care for this child’s needs – the aging carers – probably not – the department – definitely not – her parents – if they are allowed?

Why can’t we make the next 13 years of this child’s life the best they can be by having her grow up with the people who love her the most? What makes this so hard to understand and comprehend particularly when her parents are going to provide her with a caring and nurturing environment?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kim’s Story–Child Protection gone mad

Some time ago I posted on YouTube a video called “Kims Story” which you can find here. This is a client whose case represents all that is wrong with child protection. I have been working with Kim and her partner for two years. In this time her daughter has been placed under the Guardianship of the Minister until she is eighteen. The child is three and a half and is placed in relative care with her grandfather and his partner.

It perhaps is rather naive of me to believe that injustice can be righted and that reasonable people will be able recognise when a gross injustice has been done. I now believe that within the child protection lurks a group of people who are so tainted by “the system” that they wouldn’t comprehend justice and fairness if it smacked them in the face. They are so embedded in the belief that when a child has been placed under a GOM18 order that this is the way the situation has to remain no matter how the parents change. The parents could be exemplary parents, saints in fact, canonised even, and the gatekeepers of this system would not be able to recognised the changes the parents had made.

The holy grail is the undying belief in attachment theory and what that represents in turns of the child’s future development. It is unfortunate that the Youth Court buys into this belief system. I found myself asking what action would be left to child protection workers if there was no such thing as attachment theory. It looks like “The Kings New Clothes”. Perhaps my task in life is to yell from the side lines, “the king isn’t wearing any clothes!” At this point I am not going to explain attachment theory but am going to talk about the situation which brought us to a meeting yesterday and which produced one of the worst professional days of my life.

I firmly believe that the changes Kim and Shane have made are so significant that they no longer met the original concerns of the department. In the original court order the Youth Court had set aside some notes which was designed by the crown solicitor to placate Kim and Shane by enticing them with an additional note on the order and which paves the way for further access and over night visits providing the department makes the appropriate assessment. The parents have been having unsupervised access once a week for over a year. It is clear from the original order and the type of access they were granted that the department didn’t have any major care concerns. It is important to note that the parents, particularly Kim, didn’t have a very complimentary report by the social worker and psychologist at the time of the original GOM 18 order. However they were granted these special conditions. Things have changed dramatically since. (Even though the original assessment had major flaws).

I have had a number of meetings with the CEO of Families SA advocating for Kim and not receiving any support what-so-ever. Clearly he and his senior staff have no power or they are just plain ignorant. I can’t even tell you how angry I am at him. They did agree to have a Psychologist report compiled to assess overnight access. Talk about being blindsided. This has to be the biggest betrayal I have ever experienced in my life.

Knowing the changes that Kim and Shane have made in their lives I believed a favourable report would be delivered. At the meeting on Monday the psychologist presented a range of platitudes which lacked meaning and could have been recited by a vending machine with more feeling. However she did compliment Kim and Shane on the progress they had made and she wasn’t critical of their parenting; in fact she noticed that Kim was particularly attentive of her daughter. Shit, I could have told them that.

Then came the slam dunk. Kim and Shane were criticised for having a bed set up for their daughter with her toys on it and told that they should get some grief counselling for the fact that they will not be getting their daughter back. If I had lost a child through death and I wanted to keep her room as a reminder of what she means to me and that was my way of managing my emotional pain then don’t ever tell me that I need to find a way to get over it. How insulting is that. This psychologist had no idea what this room meant to Kim and if she had an ounce of empathy would have kept her thoughts to herself.

There was also the time that Kim was told that her daughter didn’t love her. That did it. Kim broke down in tears and had to leave the room. Was that really necessary and what was the context in which it was said? Was it a comment prompted by the psychologist's unconscious thoughts and biased agenda?

Then came the final slam dunk. The recommendations were that because the child was in relative care and had a strong attachment to the step grandmother then it would be disruptive and interfere with her attachment and damage her forever, my take on it. I would love to have their crystal ball. The parents were only now allowed to have fortnightly supervised access for two hours.

We had asked for access over night and particularly this Christmas and because of this request have now gone so far backwards and against the original intent of the court order. However they are a law unto their own.

The next bit you are going to love. A week ago I met Kim’s brother who has been severely damaged by the brutality of his father, the man who now cares for Kim’s daughter. Her brother tells the story that when he was five he could hear a fight taking place in his parent's bedroom and his mother screaming for help. He burst into the room to find his father with his hands around his mother's throat. His mother's eyes were rolling back into her head and she was changing colour. This five year old boy threw himself onto his father at which point his father flung him against the wall. However, this was enough though for the father to stop strangling his wife. According to the department they know about this man's violence and it is just something from the past and therefore is not a concern to them. I know from other stories that this man's potential for violence is still real.

I would like anyone reading this to contact the Minister at the following address and register your shock at this level of injustice. If we can muster enough support I am sure the Minister will step in and review this case in an independent manner and hopefully find a way to change a system which fails to conform to social work standards. If she doesn’t act then perhaps we can all shout “look there is the minister without any clothes.” .