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.” firstname.lastname@example.org .