Monday, September 19, 2011

Open letter to Minister Rankine

I have decided to include an email that I have sent to Minister Rankine who is the Minister responsible for Child Protection in this state. I know that I have taken all the proper steps at this stage to have this matter resolved but have failed dismally when it comes to having someone recognise the injustice. Hopefully the Minister will have the guts to do something about it. Stay posted for any updates.


Dear Minister Rankine,
I have been working with the parents of A for over two years. My role has been to work with the parents so that they could have their daughter returned to them. My goal is to give those who are most disempowered a voice when they are least likely to be heard.  During this period I have had a number of conversations with David Waterford and Roger McCarron regarding this family and the injustice surrounding the removal of A. Over the journey I have raised many of B and C’s concerns regarding the care arrangements of their daughter. To say that I am frustrated, annoyed and angry by the way this family has been treated is an understatement. I have been grateful for the time David and Roger have afforded me by listening to my continual stream of complaints but all of this has come to nothing.

The primary issue here is that your department failed to understand the mental wellbeing issues surrounding B at the time B called your department for help, particularly her Post Natal Depression. I won’t go through the long and drawn out history of this case but it is important to understand that at this point in these parents life, they have a good relationship, there are not mental health concerns and they have secured long term accommodation. There is no drug or alcohol abuse. There is no domestic violence. Their home is immaculately kept. B is undertaking a bridging course at Flinders University so that she can enter university next year to study Social Work. Given these circumstances alone the child should be returned to her parents. I have observed these parents with their child and I can assure you that they are more than competent loving parents who would never harm their daughter.

The child is now living with her maternal grandfather and his partner. We have raised a series of concerns regarding the grandfather which were never investigated at the time that the child was placed with him. None of these concerns have been treated seriously by your Department. Recently it was reported by the child that she had made reference to the grandfather’s penis . It was discovered that he still showers with the grandchild, who is four. We mentioned the inappropriateness of this to your department. They stated that they had discussed this with the grandfather and then provided an excuse for this sort of behaviour. It was also disclosed by the mother that the grandfather was known for flashing himself at the women who use to live next door to him when B was a child. We also know that this man was extremely violent to his ex-wife, B’s mother. We also know that this wasn’t investigated until last year after we raised the issue and the psychologist who provided a review of the situation had to ask him about this. It is evident from his response that he doesn’t take any responsibility for his behaviour and still blames his ex-wife for his behaviour. Your department failed to understand that the potential for violence from this man is extreme and that the child is potentially at risk from a number of fronts.

Last year we were seeking to have the child have an overnight stay at Christmas. At that time the parents were seeing their daughter weekly on a Friday. The department decided that they needed to have a review of the child situation to see if this was appropriate. The review was presented to the parents at the Marion office and was the worst moment I as a Social Worker have ever experienced. Even though the attachment was now viewed as satisfactory and the report in general was favourable the Psychologist in her limited experience and limited practice wisdom recommended that contact be cut from one full day per week to two hours a fortnight. This was so out of left field that none of us in our wildest dreams would have thought that the department would make such a suggestion. Remember that this was meant to be a review to see if over-night access was appropriate for Christmas. It is difficult to describe the level of betrayal I felt from David Waterford. Why were these parents punished for wanting to spend Christmas with their daughter and watch her open her presents in the morning when she woke up. They have not had that joy for many years. Why would you deprive them not just of that but take away their time with their daughter? Particularly when your own report doesn’t identify any risk factors. It appears to me that your department is so risk averse that you are afraid to make changes that are in fact in the best interest of the child. You have inexperienced staff who are making decisions which are counter to your mandate because they are fearful that they may be making a mistake but when they do, as they have in this case, they haven’t the courage to admit the error but instead retreat further from the parents and try to alienate them all in the guise of protecting the child.

The parents, in an effort to prove that they are good parents and that the issues where presented by the department at the outset were changed, asked an independent Forensic Psychologist to assess them. They had to borrow $1,300 for this assessment. You will find the report attached. In this report it confirmed all that I had been telling David. However your department saw fit to rip shreds of Dr White and his report.

I had posted here David Waterford’s response to the report but due to such a negative response I have chosen to remove it from this post.

It is clear that conversations with David and your department are fruitless and the risk aversion your staff display will always remain as a barrier to productive and professional social work. I am asking you to review this matter and to take definitive action which will ensure that this child is protected and returned to her parents. I have asked David to conduct an independent review of this families current situation but he has failed to do so. I urge you to accept the notion that occasionally your staff get it wrong. I urge you in good conscience to rectify this gross miscarriage of justice and to accept that peoples circumstances can change, and that when that happens those people need to be rewarded, and that ultimately children need to live with their biological parents if their parents can provide them with a safe and nurturing environment.

Unfortunately the legislation doesn’t allow parents who have changed circumstances to return to court so we are reliant on your good will and professionalism to ensure that parents like B and C have your support so that you can return to court and amend the current order.

This is my final effort to engage with your department to resolve this issue. If this child isn’t returned to her parents she will be damaged for life and those responsible will be you, David and those who have worked to keep her away from her parents. There will be a time when A will talk about her experiences in care and the confusion which will exist for her as to why she was kept with her aging grandparents and not living with her capable loving parents. We are not able to hold you accountable for any action you have taken which will damage this child but we can find ways to make this issue more public. Only you can decide what damage that may cause.

I would like a meeting with you so that we can all decide and a way forward.
I am looking forward to your response.


Tony Tonkin BSW MAASW
Accredited Mental Health Social Worker
Ph Mob 0414 883 153

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