Monday, July 13, 2015

In Memory of Chloe Valentine

I was reminded today that Chloe Valentine would be eight years of age if she had survived the abuse of her mother and partner. If Families SA had intervened appropriately and placed Chloe in the care of her grandmother, Belinda Valentine, she would be celebrating her birthday in a loving a caring environment that would be full of dragonflies and beautiful paintings. She would be smiling and expressing the joy found in any child who feels safe, cherished and nurtured. Sadly, this is not the case. For the family that loved her and were robbed of this opportunity it is a particularly sad time.

It is hard for those of us who have never lost someone under these circumstances to understand the distress the remembrance of a birthday can bring. Chloe's death was preventable and this thought alone makes the distress more pronounced and unimaginable.

Chloe reminds me about the failings of a system which is designed to protect the most vulnerable in our community. Chloe was unable to reach her full potential. She was severely abused by adults who were consumed by drug use and violence. She was not only neglected by her mother and partner but she was also neglected by a child protection system whose mantra is "we act in the best interest of the child". Chloe is a continual reminder of how dysfunctional the system is that had the authority to protect her. She reminds me that the Social Workers assigned to work with her mother were incompetent and an embarrassment to the Social Work profession.

I am reminded by Chloe that the Social Work profession is responsible for failing this child. We have failed by not exerting our professional standards on an area of Social Work that has continually failed families. We have been complacent by believing that child protection is untouchable, an area of practice that operates in a vacuum. I am disgusted that a beautiful young child had to die, for a Coronial Inquest to take place, before anyone had the guts to say there is something wrong with the practice of these Social Workers and those who influence Social Work practice in this environment.

Chloe has helped me to understand that fighting for better practice standards within Child Protection is a worthwhile battle. She drives me to ensure that we don't experience another death of a child who is under the gaze of Child Protection services. I know how important it is to have those responsible for her death to take responsibility and to accept that changes need to take place. I know that over time the impact of this child's short life and the circumstances of her death will diminish. I am determined that this doesn't become my experience.

Chloe's legacy needs to be a continual reminder of all that is wrong with the child protection system. Her legacy is that we need change and that this change needs to come from those who manage the system which failed to protect her. I don't anticipate swift change but I suspect Chloe's death has created a great deal of navel gazing within the department and has shone the light on a department which has been besieged for years but saw itself as being so "complicated" that mere mortals wouldn't understand the nature of their business. This in the past, has exonerated them from any justification of their behaviour. Shining a light on them was almost impossible because they have to work with the worst client group and those who objected to their practices are the most vulnerable in our communities who expressed their disdain in anger.

Angry parents are not a good look and it was always easier to view this group of people as the "lunatic fringe". Until Chloe Valentine it was always the parents fault and this diversion prevented the scrutiny FamiliesSA needed. No one was going to listen to angry parents who needed to have their children removed because they were lousy parents.

Chloe's inquest shone the light squarely on FamilesSA and their practices. Chloe reminds me that the system is as dysfunctional as her mother.

The loss of this beautiful child is a tragedy. I never knew Chloe but I will celebrate her because she needs to be remembered for the wonderful innocence she portrayed and for the changes her death will create.

My thoughts go to her family who love her for the beauty she exhibited in a tormented world.