Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Child Protection and the Court System

Over the past few months I have been working with a client towards having an eighteen year Child Protection order revoked. I was aware that the legal system is not designed to provide fair and equitable outcomes for the poor, disadvantaged and dis-empowered people in our community. It is perhaps my sense of social justice that drives my belief that if you have a valid and reasonable case you will be heard and justice will prevail. Regretfully, if you are fighting for a child to be returned to her mother after some years in care, regardless of the changes the mother has made, the chances are so slim it hardly seems the effort is worth the emotional distress.

What makes this worse is that the child protection system is so distorted and narrow that the social workers are unable to give up their power for the sake of the child and the parent. It is therefore unfair to lay the responsibility for this totally at the feet of the legal system, but at the intransigent nature of the system which believes that under all circumstances it is not possible for a parent to change or that a parent will never change enough to satisfy the workers. I believe that if my client was Mother Theresa she wouldn't have her child returned to her. I have spoken about this issue in many other forms over the years but I am still incredulous as to the negative way in which Social Work is practiced in this setting.

I would have thought that having significant change occur in a persons life needs to be celebrated. As Social Workers it is our role to acknowledge change and when possible demonstrate the benefits it presents. When talking to my client today we talked about out first meeting and she admitted that she didn't trust me because I was a Social Worker and it took her some time to understand that I was there to help her. To hear this saddens and angers me because it is the work of other Social Workers which creates this image. I spend much of my time confronted by the negativity which surrounds our profession because of the incompetence of many of the Social Workers who work particularly in Child Protection.

In this case I can remember a meeting with a newly appointed Social Worker, not too sure if he has a social work degree or not (not a member of the AASW), and he convinced me that he was not like all the other Social Workers we have worked with over the years. He acknowledged all the wonderful changes my client had made over the years. He even commented on the room my client had set up for her daughter, stating that he is going to work to have her returned to that "beautiful room". It was over twelve months ago that he made this comment. Overnight visits were promised but have never eventuated. He told us that he would never focus on her past but it was only how my client is managing now that is important. This is the same man who has never delivered on one of his promises. He is the same man who in a recent report for the court focused on the reasons for the removal rather than on all the changes the client has made. In fact this very obliging and critical man of other social workers (his own colleagues) opposed the return of the child based on the fact that the mother hadn't informed the department of the improvements she had made regarding her mental health.

A few years ago the client had received a favourable report from her psychologist. At that meeting the Social Worker and her Supervisor ignored the report and told her they were not interested in any report written. Three years ago they were given information referring to her mental health by a professional but ignored it and discounted the client's need to have her improvements acknowledged by FSA. Since then I have spoken many times about her improvements but none of this has been considered nor acknowledged. As an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker one would have thought that my assessment would have been valid. Stating in a court document that they knew nothing of the improvements in her mental health is a blatant lie.

The question all of this raises is how does a person with no money and confronted by a system which is bent on destroying the relationship between a mother and a daughter have and chance of being heard? I wonder under what circumstances could a parent have her child returned to her when the child is on a GOM 18 order?

I am certain though that if her parents were middle class and supportive of her that the situation would be different. Her father is the carer along with his partner but he is far from supportive of his daughter. This is a class issue which needs to be rectified or adequate funding arrangements be provided for people such as my client so that justice can be upheld.

I am unable to understand why it is not possible for all parties to get together and work towards a solution which gradually works towards re-unification? What is it that makes a group of social workers so entrenched in their views that they are unable to see that there may be a different outcome which is in everyone's best interest?