Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Child Protection Manual–Families SA

Over the past couple of years I have written about Child Protection issues facing my clients and those that affect my practice as a Social Worker. I thought that it was about time that we have a considered look at the very manual purported to be used by Families SA.

What I find fascinating is that this manual, I believe, is an accurate guide of Child Protection Services and the principles which underpin Social Work. The question has always been what aspect of this Manual are not understood and why is it that Social Workers fail to understand these principles. For the purpose of this blog I will point to only a few of these conflicting areas. Remember that there are many competing ideas and there will be some who work for Families SA who will disagree here. If you do then I encourage you to write your comments at the bottom of this post.
The governing principle is without dispute:-
Children and young people are entitled to be free from harm, have their rights upheld and their welfare promoted. For a child who has been, or is at risk of maltreatment, safety encompasses freedom from threat of danger, harm or loss. It also includes protection from physical, sexual and psychological harm and neglect and is essential if the child is to develop and reach independence.
Regarding the best interest of the child the Manual states:-
The importance of exercising the powers of the Act in the best interest of the child are recognised and consistent with the Family Law Act. If there is conflict of principles or interests, the best interest of the child shall prevail.
I doubt whether these is anyone who would disagree with either of these statements. What I have found confusing is the mantra offered by most Social Workers that they are acting in the best interest of the child. What the next part of the section “Best Interests” it goes on to say:-
This requires a sensitive judgement, based on skilled assessment, to
balance the struggle between the competing demands of immediate safety with the long-term psychological wellbeing of the child.
The key words are “sensitive” and “skilled”. What does “sensitive” mean in this context? It is complicated and requires a unique set of knowing's that go way beyond just acting in the best interest of the child. In fact in order to act in the best interest of the child the worker has to have a range of sensitivities. This includes the parents history and their capacity to change, cultural considerations, support and resources, understanding of the parents strengths, relationship building etc. Crossing over with these sensitivities are a range of skills, empathy, communication, reflection, listening, assessment, non-judgmentalism, counselling, mediation, advocacy, brokerage. There are also a range of further understandings including, family relationships, child development (not just attachment theory), system theory, strengths perspective, distribution and use of power, domestic violence, anger management, mental health, disability, working with diversity, working with indigenous clients and culturally diverse clients.
Herein lies the first problem. In order to fulfill the role of a Social Worker in child protection you are going to need a wide range of skills, training and supervision to meet the most basic requirements as outlined in the Family SA Practice Manual. When Social Workers are bereft of these skills they will make poor decisions and not only leave children at risk but also fail to assess the families capacity to care for the child. The end result is often a greater focus on risk management rather than an effort to practice according to the principles which underpin Social Work and which are supported by the Practice Manual.
The Manual mentions that the governing principle of Child Protection is in accord with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The manual refers to the convention by stating the following:-
The preamble to the Convention recognises the rights of all members of the family and recognises the family as having prime responsibility for the growth and well-being of all members, particularly children.
Why is then that in many cases the family is ignored as being even relevant and on too many occasions we see children being removed without any or very little consultation with the family. In a recent new paper article from the UK it was reported that in some council areas there was a significant reduction on removals because a change in policy which focused on family preservation was proving more effective than removing a child. What changed was a change in practice by the Social Workers. One wonders what that must have saved the government in terms of out of home care?
Now lets move to what the legislation is actually saying about what is in the best interest of children:-
In determining a child’s best interests, consideration must be given to the following:
(a) the desirability of keeping the child within the child’s own family and the undesirability of withdrawing the child unnecessarily from a neighbourhood or environment with which the child has an established sense of connection;
(b) the need to preserve and strengthen relationships between the child, the child's parents and grandparents and other members of the child's family (whether or not the child is to reside with those parents, grandparents or other family members);
I can hear some Child Protection workers screaming that this all seems to pick out issues around the families and their rights and isn’t focusing on the child. The focus on the child and their wellbeing is a given and never needs to be discussed. What I am discussing her are the competing ideas which are part of the equation but rarely considered. I am arguing though that if considered in many cases a better outcome for the child is likely to be found.
If these principles were upheld I am sure that Kim’s Story would not have been needed to be told. Recently Kim told me that he mother was going to be in the same town as Kim was having access with her child. Uncertain and fearful of the department, Kim didn’t know whether she should tell her mother where she was meeting with her child. She rang the Social Worker and asked if it was okay for her mother to meet with her daughter during access. The Social Worker clearly hadn’t read the manual because he said no, they needed more time and prior notice. What for? Some how family connections are not that important. Kim’s mother blamed her for this decision and is not talking to her. How is this decision going to strengthen family connections?
It is worth noting that no where in the Manual does it mention that the child is the client even though I have had Social Workers tell me that this is the case and that the parents in fact don’t have any rights. That is not true. The Manual doesn’t mention clients at all but rather focuses on family connections as being paramount. At no point does the Manual mention Attachment Theory as being critical in making an assessment even though this is a primary tool used by Social Workers to justify the removal of a child.
Under Partnership this is what the Manual has to say:-
Partnership

When a child protection notification leads to Families SA intervention, the parents have a right to an open and honest approach from social workers who should provide a clear explanation of their powers, actions and reasons for concern. They should strive to maintain a constructive relationship with parents at all times. Participatory case planning will facilitate family members sharing the responsibility for intervention outcomes.

Partnership is working with parents/caregivers and their networks to enable them to carry out the responsibility shared by both the State and parents/caregivers to promote the welfare of children. It is not about equal power, but about working together toward a common goal. It involves attitudes, skills, policies, decision making, services, accountability, and openness. It seeks to build on existing strategies of families, acknowledge power differences, and to work positively withdifference. (Morrison, 1992).

Children and families are best served within a context of multi-disciplinary teamwork, co-operation and commitment to the protection and wellbeing of the child. Families SA should facilitate interagency collaboration and ensure clear communication between government, non-government and community services and networks to ensure best outcomes for children and their families.
All of this makes for good practice but so many times I see Social Workers giving up on clients because it all seems too hard. This is the worst form of Social Work I can imagine. What we need to understand is that the reason why people give up is because they don’t have the skill set to work with the client in the first place. This says more about the worker than it does about the client.
Under Outcomes the manual states:-
The focus of services will be on preserving families whenever possible and Families SA will work with families to strengthen their parenting capacity and to ensure family responsibility for the care and protection of their children.
When Social Workers fail to identify strengths and are unable to provide a skilled assessment of clients then it is only inevitable that they will make mistakes and harm children.
It is evident from just the first few pages of the manual that the principles are not followed and that the practice frameworks of many Social Workers (not all) are the antithesis of Social Work and the Manual that is their to guide them.

26 comments:

  1. Hi Tony, I wish there were more skilled social workers out there like you as i know my story would have had a better outcome if i had a different worker who listened to my concerns as a parent and worked with me to have a more positive outcome for my family and my daughter. i have and will always put the needs of my daughter 1st as that has been my no.1 priority, if only all my hard work was acknowledged by fsa. i hope for my daughters sake that the social work practice changes and maybe not let unskilled and inexperienced young workers deal with child support cases that are more than likely too hard for them to deal with, as there inexperience is putting children at risk and not keeping the family connection strong. children should grow up knowing that their parents love them and knowing where they came from and who they are. love always Kim xoxo

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  2. Well worded Kim. You are one hell of a woman and a great Mother. It to your daughters detriment that she isn't prevented from experiencing you as a full time mother. The fight for justice continues.

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  3. my daughter had a baby she accidently bumped her head she got sick fsa has her till 18 years as bound from hospital to make note ofand called that her baby was bashed this was untrue statement now they took her second baby not even a day old from hospital family sa are wrong in how they work they dont take time to really see people we not all baby bashers accidents do happen

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  4. I find this blog really interesting from a social work student perspective and one that was a child under the guardianship myself. It helps give me greater insight into what it must be like for social workers in this area. Thank you making your relfections available online for people to see :)

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  5. What avenues are open for appeal when families sa have acted inappropriately?

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    1. I wonder too.
      Where does a person go when we can not afford a lawyer to get the gom child's wishes heard?

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  6. The real question is what have FSA done which you would think are inappropriate? Much of my time is spent identifying practices which are unhelpful. The problem is that very few people take responsibility for bad behaviour. It is unlikely that anyone is prepared to admit to poor decision making regardless of the damage these decisions may have on others. When poor decisions are made the best interests of the children are somehow forgotten. It is more important to remain with the original decision than it is to re-evaluate the current situation and demonstrate a sense of flexibility. I have yet to experience a Social Worker saying "I stuffed up and could have made a different decision, but I was young inexperienced and didn't have the knowledge."

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    1. "The problem is that very few people take responsibility for bad behavior. It is unlikely that anyone is prepared to admit to poor decision making regardless of the damage these decisions may have on others. When poor decisions are made the best interests of the children are somehow forgotten."

      Tony, while reading the above few sentences written by you I couldn't help but notice how they also apply to many parents of the innocent children within the 'system'. Not to mention how rare it is to hear those parents say " I stuffed up and could have made a different decision, but I was young, inexperienced and didn't have the knowledge."

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  7. Hi Tony,
    On Monday last week we had fsa roll up on my door step stating that my daughter had been physically abused by her father. When they came into my home they also told me that a report went in 3 wks ago about a bruise on her arm which I knew nothing about then they asked about the small bruise on her face and if I knew if it was there. I told them yes I knew that she had a small bruise on her face and told them that it was caused by her 11 month younger sister and through their rough playing and fighting. They came back on Friday to talk to my partner about the allegations against him and he told them basically the same thing I had about the bruising and that he never saw a bruise on her arm but knew about the one on her face and how she had come to get it. My partner then asked the lady worker "so it's all about me isn't it" she replied with "yep it's all about you" he then asked her if she thought he was guilty of doing this and she told him "yep I believe you did it" I even asked them if they had seen the bruise on her arm and they told me no that they haven't seen any bruises on her arm but did see the bruise on her face and I asked them if it looked like a "smack" on the face and they told me no they couldn't say so, but it was old. She even said that I'm in neglect as I didn't intervene. I even had a curtsy call from my daughters school regarding the matter of fsa turning up there accusing my partner of abuse. I asked the principal why they never put a report through about the bruise on her face they then told me thye had a look at it and it didn't look like of any concern as it wasn't done by an adult. Now we have to jump through hoops just to prove we are decent parents even when this lady from fsa has already condemned us

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  8. I am assuming that FSA to this point haven't removed your daughter. I would suggest that you don't have meetings with FSA unless there is someone with you. If you have been accused and judged unfairly then I suggest you send a complaint to the minister and ask for an explanation as to why the attending Social Worker made comments to you which were innappropriate and unhelpful. Remember that you have "rights" and that you must act on those rights. You have the right to be heard, you have the right to be undertood, you have the right not to be judged unfairly etc. Hope that helps.

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  9. The joy of being a FSA social worker... you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.... I can't even begin to describe to people the ethical dilemmas we are confronted with on a daily basis.

    I will add that it is rare for an FSA social worker to make decisions in isolation... the Senior Practitioner, Supervisor and Principal Social Worker/Principal Aboriginal Consultant provide consultation.

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  10. I appreciate your comments. You are the first FSA social worker that I have seen who has the courage to make a comment here. Even though it is anonymous. I would like to know what you do when you believe a certain path is the right one and a more senior SW disagrees? No that is an ethical dillema.

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  11. Hi, I am writing to find out a little more about my 'rights' in regards to a parental assessment administered by families sa and child protection services. My 5yr old daughter has been visiting her father on weekends as enforced by court order 2yrs ago. Before that he was not a willing and active part of her life, unlike my now ex partner and father of my second child. My daughter recently made disclosures of sexual abuse (she is not aware obviously that what he did was wrong and of a sexual nature) that occured at her father's house. I immediately took action and a police/child protection investigation was underway. I suggested that should my daughter be interviewed by anybody i feel she would be more comfortable speaking to a female. They assigned a younger male to the case, which happens to have the same features such as eye and hair color as her father.I asked if we could change that to better suit her needs, or atleast if the interview didnt go well, if she would have the opportunity to speak to somebody else preferably a female. Needless to say the outcome was unsatisfactory and in their opinion no sexual abuse occured, my daughter made her statements, but was not able to give enough information, in a narrative way apparently. No sensitivity has been displayed and fsa have not been opposed to access with her father. Nobody is willing speak to my daughter again, to find out what's going on here. nobody has acknowledged any emotional damage surrounding this for her, nor provided nor allowed me to provide any assistance for her emotional needs what so ever, such as counselling etc. I am not allowed to discuss this with her at all. Furthermore they have allowed access without doing the parenting assessment, which because of his allegations, they feel they are "very concerned" for the wellbeing of my 2 kids while living with me. Can anyone else see what's wrong with this picture? I have not sent my daughter back despite their opinions, and possibly face the judge if her father takes me to court on basis of contravention. I feel as though my safety concerns for my daughter have not been heard, or addressed, or even concidered. The parental assessment will begin sometime next week, and as fsa and cps have obviously horribly assessed this situation so far, i feel as though my concerns are not as 'important' as theirs, this sexual abuse gets swept under the carpet, and they come up with all sorts new concers. I have agreed to the assessment on the basis that i speak to a different interviewer, as i feel uncomfortable with the current worker and continuously get mis ineterpretted and he chooses to take what Iim saying the wrong way. i was told by fsa i was not allowed to, but i asked to speak to the person who made that decision. havent heard anything so i will ring tomorrow morning just to confirm, and then make a time to get the assessment going. my fear is that they actually don't care about the safety of my child,as they have neglected to properly look into this, and that i will not get a fair assessment as they are clearly unable to assess this situation for what it is. Any idea what to expect or what rights i am able to excercise? this has been a terrible experience for myself, and my main focus is to have justice for my daughter and provide the help and assistance any way she requires, so as to heal and move on from this. Kind Regards xx

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  12. It is not unusual to find people in your situation. The problem often relates to the disclosures made by the child and whether they would stand up in court. There always seems to be some sort of professional conflict when there is a matter before the family court. I have never been able to understand what this is about. The reality for you is that you believe your daughter has been sexually abused and that she is at further risk if returned to her father. Your concerns do matter. I have never worked with a woman who was concocting issues to seek revenge on an ex. It is understandable that you are fighting for the safety of your daughter but it also important to consider other avenues.

    A letter to the Minister is a good way to have your concerns registered and for at least some response to be provided. Not that you will get the response you want because they will be more interested in validating the poor decisions they have made. If you are concerned about the assessment process then take the matter to the Community Health Services Complaints Commission and ask them to look into it for you. You could also take the matter to the Office of the Guardian of Children and Young People.

    I believe the worst you can do is nothing. Make a noise.

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  13. As a former FSA Social Worker I found your blog interesting. While we all would love to practice the way you write about the practicality is there is not enough time in one day. Your caseload is often far too high to even focus on a family per day. I also found that a small portion of families were not even proactive while others went above and beyond. For me personally I hated the job so I left, not because of the families and children or the work but because my beliefs conflicted with the department on how a child is raised. I fought often with my snr prac and supervisor because of inconsistency. Court reports were amended so they read properly but I had to argue several times that the rewording was not what was meant. In the end I was fed up with the 'big headed power approach' of hierarchy. If good Social Work practice is to be achieved they need to stop outsourcing to other agencies and allow SW to practice wholistically with families and allow the time to do it. Unfortunately after being a SW in government for over 7 years in various roles, I rolled up my sleeves and no longer practice. I found every government department appears to practice like this and my drive and passion for SW has too they use our degrees in the wrong context for the job.

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    1. I think your experience are all too common. It is sad that you lost the passion. I know that to preserve my own integrity and to follow through on what social work meant to be I had to find another way. Private practice has worked for me more than I could have expected. Some of us have to remain and fight for what we believe in, and we have to fight for our client. Some day the way you and I want to practice social work has to be recognised and at some point we will have a voice and things will change and clients will be treated with respect.

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  14. i had to laugh at their bit on keeping the family together. Reunification is just a farce and word to them as they have ripped my family apart. I kept the grandchildren together for a year and then at a whim and lot of BS from them they have ripped the kids away and split them up. I am trying to go through all the right channels to be reconciled with the girls but meeting dead ends as they are a law unto themselves.
    being patronized and then age discrimination. Being told "i can be a grandfather' yeah right I see the girls now once a fortnight for an hour. after being there for 8 years for the eldest and the youngest all her life and with me for half of that. So tell me where is the reconciliation. even in their own words they have screwed them all up mentally.

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    1. Unfortunately there are many stories similar to yours. I have been working to change this experience but the reality is that many social workers are more interested in the need to label, categorize and punish rather than practice social work as it should be practiced. I can only suggest that if you believe in the fight then you continue fighting. Find new ways to get your point across. Insist that you are a good parent and ask them to continually justify the barriers which prevent you from having your grandchildren. If there aren't any then return to the youth or children's court and ask that the children be returned to you. Find a lawyer who is prepared to believe in you. Get as much documentation as you can which verifies who you are and the capacity you have to parent these children. The worst thing we can do to children is give them the message that we no longer care.

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  15. Hi Tony, I have just come across your blog. I am a social worker who is about to embark into child protection practice and so wonder if you are still maintaining your blog?

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    1. Sorry that I have failed to see your post until now. In answer to your question yes I am still maintaining my blog. Hope your practice is going well and you are able to offer Social Work as it should be practiced to your clients.

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  16. i was a kinship carer for a baby that was abused at 5weeks old. families sa remived the child and placed him into my care allowing the mother access. after access visitts he would return to me quitr withdrawn and not himself always down and clingy. i reported these actions to social workers and as he got older the actions become worse to the.point of when a social worker come to gethim for access he would cry with his arms out for me and bang his head on me. just before he turned 1 i was given 24hrs to hand him back to his abusive mother who they said has changed and although we had a strong bond i have not seen him since. the decisiin is wrong and i was told there was nothing i could do about it. is that true? i worry every day about him and his safety.

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  17. Jacinta, the reality is that foster carers have no legal writes. It is a sad aspect of foster caring that carers become very attached to the child/ren in their care. There is an aspect of foster caring which should be implemented in this country and that is a relationship developed between the foster parent and the biological parent. If you were working with the parent and could see that she was changing I guess you would celebrate her change and realise that this was in the best interest of the child. Unfortunately those sort of relationships are not permitted by FSA. As a Social Worker I believe that everyone is capable of change. I would hope that this was the case and that the child is now safe with his mother as the child was with you.

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  18. I can hear this I had my 4 month old taken from me by fsa in 2014. I have another child that hasn't been taken from me. At the start I got to see my child three days a week, then went to once a week to once a fortnight and now once a month for an hour. I have asked them if my other child can attend to see her sibling and they said no as my other child is not under investigation. My children have not seen each other in a yr. I've also asked about my mum attending they also said no as she hasn't been a major part of my child's life. What I don't get is they can one child away from a parent and leave another one with them. If u have any ideas as to what I can do about this as I've contacted mp about it and they lie to them so I sound like I'm not telling the truth.

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  19. If the department are acting in the best interest of the child they should be working to enable as much contact with you as possible. Siblings should be able to see each other often as well because that contact is important. I would be happy to work with you on this if you would like to give me a call me on 0414883153.

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  20. In just under two years of having families sa involved I have asked about having my other child come to access with me they told me no has she is not under investigation also asked about my mum (she works full time shift work at a hospital) they also said no has she has not been a big part of my child's life. Mind u my mum helped me with her for the first four weeks of her life.

    I've had my supervised time with my child cut back heaps.
    It started at three times a week for an hour half, cut back to once a week for an hour to once a fortnight and now it's once a month for an hour.

    Annoyed

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    1. Hi Nicole. I have responded the other post that you sent me. Call me and we can talk about these issues. 0414883153

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