Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Child Protection Party - Inaugural Speech

This speech was given to the inaugural meeting of the Child Protection Party.

We are a party for all children in care, all care leavers (forgotten Australians), the stolen generation, forced adoptions, foster parents, kinship carers, birth parents and family members, former child migrants and anyone who cares about the well-being of children.

This is a new and exciting day in Australia’s history because for the first time we are launching a Political Party with a specific focus on protecting the most vulnerable in our community, our children. As a community it is our obligation to ensure that children are safe, that they live in a caring and nurturing environment. It is our responsibility to make a stand against practices which harm or damage children, that prohibit children from reaching their full potential and restrict children from growing into productive and valued adults.

The Child Protection Party is established to provide a voice to all children. The abuse of children is a scourge on our society and one which as a community we have not confronted. It is important that we now place the issue of child abuse on the agenda so that we talk about it and find solutions for a problem which damages thousands of children every day. The Child Protection Party will highlight the need to develop services which care for children appropriately, which acknowledges that parents need help and that governments need to take responsibility for an issue which has been neglected for far too long.

It is disturbing when one notices that the number of children entering out of home care is increasing each year. That children are being abused while in care and neglected by the very service when is designed to protect them. Governments do not have the will to make the changes necessary to stop the decline in notifications and the removal of children. Governments of all persuasions believe that it is better to cut services such as Domestic Violence, youth and homeless services because these are issues which are not vote catching issues, they don’t hit the hip pocket of most Australians and they are issues that we lose interest in very quickly. They believe that establishing inquiry after inquiry will stop the dissenters and will bring a slight hush over the problem. It is important that they are seen to be doing something rather than nothing at all. They believe in minimising risk at the expense of the child and family. They fail to address poor clinical practice which leads to poor decision making. The Child Protection Party is not going to allow this behaviour to continue. It is our duty to educate the public in the long term damage to children who have been abused and the continual state of denial Governments have demonstrated in the refusal to appropriately address the problem. We will be continually highlighting the fact that “the State” is the worst parent.

It has been estimated that the annual cost of child abuse in this country is $9 billion. The total lifetime costs associated with outcomes for young people leaving care were estimated to be $738,741 (2004-05 dollars) per care leaver.

We spend on child abuse prevention about $2 billion. This tells us that what is offered as “prevention” is not working. Governments need to provide additional services and realise that primary health care is part of the solution. If you can imagine a pyramid and at the bottom are services which are needed and at the top are child protection and the costs are in proportion to the area in the triangle. The bottom area is the largest and needs to be fully resourced. We need services for people who are asking for help because they recognised that they are not coping, we need services for parents who are at risk and we need services for those whose children have been removed.
The key principles which underpin the Child Protection Party are, equity, fairness and social justice.
I believe that anyone can change. The most important tool a person needs is simply someone believing in them. My experience tells me that generally most parents love their children. Nearly everyone that I work with has come from a very dysfunctional home. Often there has been violence, drug use and sexual abuse. The start some of these people have had has been far from ideal. The barrier this presents regarding parenting their own children is immense. Social Workers at Families SA are ill equipped to work with these people, who happen to be most of their clients. It is easier to categorise, label and place them in the “too hard basket”. The unskilled Social Worker feels overwhelmed and goes to the default position “I am acting in the best interest of the child”. They become authorative, controlling and often passive aggressive. It saddens me that they behave in this way. However the outcome is that they fail to work with parents, they fail to keep the family connections, the child is distressed and often aggressive, usually identified as a problem of the parent particularly the mother, future outcomes for the child are ignored and the needs of the parents are discounted.

The Child Protection Party is no longer going to allow these behaviours to persist. We are going to report all behaviours by Child Protection workers which is unhelpful. We are going to maintain a list of those workers fail to demonstrate ethical behaviour. We are going to maintain a list of those who behave ethically.

I acknowledge that there are many Social and Welfare workers who are very skilled and to the best they can within an unsupportive system. I know that there are equally some fantastic Foster parents who give all they can to the children in their care. I acknowledge that there are parents who damage their children in the most vial and horrific way. I acknowledge that there are many parents who are not prepared to change. I acknowledge that children need to be removed from their home and separated from their parents. What I know more than anything else is that children need to feel loved, safe and nurtured. The best place for that is, if possible, with their family.

We are going to seek change in the way child protection cases are to be heard by the youth court. We are going to advocate for a less adversarial system.

We will be seeking change for Aboriginal children, children in detention and the disabled. All children through you and this party will from this day on have a political voice which is going to bring about effective and lasting change.

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