Saturday, January 31, 2015

Child Protection Party

For some time I have pondered how to change practice within child protection but after having met with the CEO of Families SA and realised that he was not interested in what others had to say or even willing to listen to the issues I and others presented it became evident that we needed to think differently about the problem. In essence, the problem is that children are not best served by the current practice methods. The reality is that children are not served well in this country. If you come from a violent and abusive family, if there is a an alcohol or drug problem, if you are uneducated, if you are unemployed or on a benefit, if you are physically and/or mentally challenged, you are at risk of having your children removed. If you have been in care you are likely to have your children removed. If you are a child living within these environments you are likely to be abused. If you are seen as part of the lower or underclass you are likely to have some contact with the Child Protection System. It is for these reasons that the Child Protection Party has been established.
It has always concerned me that the power differential between those who control the Child Protection System and those who are subjugated to it is extreme. The emphasis on removing children rather than working with the families and solving the problem creates a power struggle which the children and parents are not going to win. The Child Protection Party’s aim is to change that imbalance so that those with the least amount of power can demand better services, more effective interactions with workers and better outcomes for their children.
I have read many articles on the virtues of a range of practice models which may implement some change but I rarely see a practice model which is based on feedback and ideas from parents and care leavers. Yet the information is available which tells us that no matter what model is used, the outcomes are generally poor. I believe that without a fervent desire to help parents and children, without the commitment to maintain family contacts and without the commitment towards re-unification any system or practice model will fail.
I understand that there will be parents who will not have the desire to make changes in their lives, there will be children who will have to be removed and never returned to their parents, there will be children who will die at the hands of their parents and there will be children who will be abused while in care. We will never eradicate bad parenting and we will never eradicate family violence but there is plenty of room to make a significant difference.
It is important that as a community we work to ensure that children are safe. It is important that we have conversations which focus on the well-being of children. To this point Child Protection Services have not demonstrated that they have an investment in public education concerning primary health care. It is a little like the police not being interested in community policing or not being interested in limiting the number of road deaths. Prevention is about education and creating a drive to change the way the community thinks about child protection.
I find it sad though, that many clients have turned to Child Protection Services to help them when they have been struggling only to find they have been punished for doing so by having their children removed. How different would it be if a parent realised that drugs, domestic violence and mental health issues were inhibiting the way they were parenting and they knew that contacting Child Protection Services would help them. They know they would be connected with social workers who will work with them and keep them and their children safe without removing them, or offer them respite while they worked through their problems. How different would it be if we could work peacefully with families so they knew that they wouldn’t have to go through court or be threatened with orders which would take their children permanently from them. What a difference that would make?  In a caring, humane society that is what we should be offering. That is the sort of community the Child Protection Party believes is our right.
I read report after report which can identify the demographic which is at risk but can not convince governments to implement the policies which will bring about change. The body of evidence is there but the will is not.
I have never seen an advertisement highlighting the need to provide a healthy environment for children. How about an advertisement advertising the help that will be offered by Child Protection Services if you are struggling and you want to talk to someone about the issues that sit in your life. Wouldn’t it be great if a person would visit you in your home and begin working with you to work through the issues that have caused you to feel depressed or overwhelmed? Wouldn’t it be great just to have someone who believed in you? If we were able to have that degree of confidence in CPS we would have redefined what Child Protection means.
The Child Protection Party is your voice for change.
Contact us at and 0414883153

Friday, January 2, 2015

Social Work, Child Protection and FSA Chief Executive

Which one of the three areas in the title don't belong? The answer is "FSA Chief Executive". A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with the new Chief Executive of FamiliesSA. This became one of the most humiliating and distressing moments I have ever experienced. I attended this meeting with an open mind about a man I had never met and knew nothing about. In my usual naive state I believed that he was going to hear what we had to say with an open mind and with a spirit of co-operation. Four of us were present at the meeting which was organised by a friend who was a long serving FSA employee. He began the meeting by talking about his experiences working with FSA and what this meant to him. I was the next to speak. My "agenda" was to seek some clarification over a current issue concerning being ignored and prevented from accessing information that my client had asked me to attain. What I needed clarified was the role of Advocates according to the new CE. I mentioned the issue that confronted me the previous week and the worker and office concerned. Mr Etienne Scheepers began an attack which took me and the others in the group by utter surprise. He accused me of having an "agenda". Clearly this man doesn't have an agenda when he attends meetings. The hypocrisy here is that he clearly had an "agenda". He had made up his mind that he was going to attack me and exert his authority from the moment I spoke. He accused me of "setting him up" and boxing him into a corner. He raised his voice and he was plainly intimidating. I was so stunned that I didn't know what to say. I was feeling very emotional because the attack was so venomous and uncalled for. I was in a state of shock and for ten minutes sat there feeling humiliated, denigrated and tearful in front of my friends. I eventually explained that I had to leave because I was feeling so emotional.

My friend came and retrieved me at the lifts and suggested that I return to the meeting, which I did. At the end of the meeting Mr Scheepers asked for sometime for me to respond to what had happened earlier and to his credit he did offer an apology. Unfortunately the damage had been done and it was a little like slapping someone around and then saying they are sorry for how that made you feel. Well, don't slap me in the first place. Once a person has demonstrated disrespectful behaviour whatever follows is often meaningless, and that is how it was for me. The apology didn't diminish how I felt.

As I have mentioned in previous posts the battle with my colleagues in Child Protection has been ongoing but on this occasion it was as if all the abuse and crap I had been dealing with for so many years came down on top of me like a mud-slide of abuse. At no point have I been abusive of my colleagues or denigrated them in any way. I have always focused on practice issues and behaviours which were inappropriate. My intention has been to improve practice so that Children and Parents have better outcomes. It isn't very complicated.

In the past I have worked very harmoniously with David Waterford. There were times when David and I would disagree vehemently but we always respected each other. At no point did I ever feel disrespected by David nor any of his management team. David employed the strategy that it was better to keep your enemies close. The dialogue David and I had was always about what is in the best interest of the parents and children I was representing. Even though we may disagree on practice issues he and later Rosemary Whitten, would at least listen. However I have come to realise that Mr Scheepers is not one of those who is prepared to listen because he has already made up his mind who I am and that, for unknown reasons I am definitely the "enemy" and it is his job to ensure that I know my place.

Mr Scheepers, what you and many of your colleagues don't understand is that I do this work because I believe in the role of Social Workers to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our community have a voice. I now know Mr Scheepers that you consider Social Workers to be no more than "Support Workers". This was your definition not mine which makes me wonder whether you consider Social Workers who work for you in the same way. He worked very hard to diminish who I was as a Social Worker which indicates an underlying prejudice against the very profession which provides the service his organisation delivers.

Unlike David Waterford I know that I am not ever going to be heard by Mr Scheepers. This is rather unfortunate because it changes the rules. In the past David tolerated me because it diverted my complaints about practice to his office and avoided 'Ministerial's". From this moment on, because of Mr Scheepers abusive behaviour, I have decided to work with all advocates to establish a consistent and relentless approach that will apply continual pressure for change. I have decided that we will work more closely with the media considering cases which are news worthy. Because Mr Scheepers has chosen to take an aggressive approach we will be establishing strategies which will be more politically aligned. I have been more than comfortable discussing my concerns every couple of months with someone from FSA but clearly this avenue is no longer available. None of this is my preferred option. If my clients no longer have a voice through negotiations with colleagues or management then I have to accept that they will need to be heard through other means.

I am confused as to why a lawyer who knows nothing about Social Work, the very profession that delivers your services, can provide the leadership required? It is like having a lawyer president of the AMA. Clearly the intent is to have someone at the top who can ride out the scandals which plague the organisation. It is going to be easy for him to declare that these scandals were not on his watch. It is going to be interesting to see how he responds when the next one occurs, and as long as there is no change to practice, there will be others.