How can John Rau, the Child Protection Reform Minister, get it so wrong. He stated “Social workers cannot act in the best interests of a child and the child’s irresponsible parent simultaneously.” I am unsure as to what he is actually telling us? Perhaps he means that the Social Workers that Families SA employ are so bereft of Social Work skills that they are unable to do what most of us do every day. If this is the case then perhaps there is a need for Social Workers to be better trained and for someone to identify the skills that are required for them to perform their tasks at a professional level. I am even more curious as to where they are going to find the Social Workers to work at the professional level he is alluding too. At this stage there has been little evidence that these people exist within this dysfunctional department. If these people do exist then they are not being utilised.
This is also a direct admission that the department recognises the need to work differently with families who are at risk of having their children removed. If this is a new realisation one wonders why they have come to this realisation now? Surely as long as we have had the State removing children from their families this has been the dominant problem. Some parents struggle with life for a variety of reasons. We know that if you are unemployed, uneducated, live in certain post codes, have a drug problem or of a low income you are likely to have contact with child protection services. We know that these people are always under the gaze of the State.
If they adopt this two tiered system it is doomed from the beginning. The first group will be the removal police who will not engage with the parents but will have the sole task of deciding if a child should be removed. I can assure you that this will mean the first encounter will not be a pleasant one. Anyone who follows, no matter how good their intention, will fail.
I would like to suggest that we have a National approach to child protection notifications that are assessed in accordance to the national child protection framework. It is time we looked to a unified national approach which means that State and Territory Governments need to give up their role of assessing Child Protection notifications. A Federal approach will provide a centralist view which should lead to a more consistent approach. Hopefully this may also mean that the there will be greater oversight of Child Protection and it will become a genuine national concern. So Mr Rau perhaps you should be thinking more broadly and work with the Federal Government to improve your funding and to develop a framework which makes you accountable.