Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Still Forgotten Australians–The Foster Care System

As of June 30th 2011, in Australia, there were 37,648 children in out-of –home care. This is an increase of 4.9% on 2009. ( The cost of maintaining out-of-home care is $2.3 billion. It is important that we understand this is not just about the financial strain on our economy and we shouldn’t make this about the money, but this does raise an issue about the “Child Protection Industry” and the part we all play in supporting it. I have argued for some time that we are continuing to support an industry which fails family on a regular basis. I know that this is not the intention of those who work in the industry but it is a regrettable outcome.

I wonder about what we have learnt from the past? I wonder about the inquiries into childhood abuse and the child protection industry in general? How many apologies can we issue before they are like the abusive partner who keeps saying they are “Sorry” after beating the crap out of their partner. We will continue to get it wrong until we acknowledge that there is something basically wrong with the current system. We are creating another system of abused kids who will have to wait until they are into middle age before they are offered another apology.

We will always need a system which cares for kids who are unable to live with their parents. How many of the children currently in care could not be returned to their families. Last week Tim Carmody, who heads the Queensland Inquiry into the Child Protection system, was recommending that each of the 8,000 children in care be evaluated to see who could be returned to their parents. Carmody acknowledged that parents change and that there are many parents who are no longer living with their abusive partner or are no longer using drugs. My biggest beef has been that we ignore the idea that parents can change and that there needs to be some consideration for this within the system which takes children away from their parents. One just has to look at the complicated and often expensive process to have a case re-heard by the Youth Court, that you realise how difficult a review is.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if David Waterford sought to review each case by an independent group of professionals with the view to re-unification. The financial savings would be significant and the damage caused to children living away from their parents will be minimized. How about putting the savings into more services to support parents so that children were not removed at all or only for a temporary period?

If we continue to fail these children we will be breading another “Forgotten Generation”. To all you Social Workers out there, practice as you were taught, apply the ethical standards of our profession and instruct your organisation about Social Work Practice. Challenge prejudicial and judgemental behaviour, work to ensure that the strengths of parents are identified and built on, engage with parents at a meaningful level, as helper and facilitator for change.

Don’t say stupid and unhelpful comments that put down parents and make them feel like failures and second class citizens. Recently I had a woman call me and told me a disturbing story about a Social Worker who told her that “child sexual abuse isn’t as bad as some forms of abuse and besides the kids get over it.” This came from a senior social worker who clearly is a fabulous role model to others who work with him. If this is the sort of thinking that pervades the department then we are no further down the track than we were fifty years ago when we were blaming kids and locking them up for being abandoned. Has out thinking changed? NO. I am angered and very disappointed to hear that Social Workers are propagating this sort of crap.

Lets just so “Sorry” to all the children the system is abusing now and the tens of thousands we will abuse in the future.