Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What is the "rotten culture" of the child protection system?

The question we need to be asking ourselves at this important time, of reevaluation and naval gazing concerning child protection not only in the state of South Australia but nationally is, "how 'rotten' is the culture, who is responsible for it and whether it is likely to change?" What we also need to wonder about is whether parents and particularly children will benefit from these changes?

What I find the most frustrating is that what we are being told now is not new and didn't need an expensive inquiry to tell us what those outside of the department have known for years. Someone just had to ask. If management are blind to change, refuse to admit that they have failed and continue to do what they have always done, and we continue with the same management philosophy and mindset then we are going to reap the same. So now that it is official old knowledge what can we expect from the same people who constructed the debacle in the first place? The sad response has to be - not very much.

Nyland states "that a culture of arrogance, mistrust, bullying and dishonesty is endemic with the department." When one considers this statement you have to doubt the decision making process which has taken kids from families, placed them in unsuitable foster families or kinship care. A culture that is based in mistrust and bullying is going to manipulate decisions which impact the wellbeing of children for the rest of their lives. No one is taking responsibility for the damage done by the creation of a department that is more dysfunctional than the families they should be working with. I don't see Premier Weatheral or Minister Close admitting to the disaster they have created because they failed to understand the dynamics of the Child Protection System and the role of those they chose to manage it.

It is evident from the Nyland report that social workers were critical of the way they are managed and viewed by management. I find it difficult to understand why social workers blame the Department for the poor decisions that are made by others. Recently I was at a meeting where a client was informed that the DCP were applying for an 18 year order on four children. This was a poor decision and I believe the Social Worker knew this but she was simply doing what her manager had told her. As Nyland stated "Workers feel they are heavily managed from a high level, particularly by executives who micromanage casework decisions and do not give sufficient weight to the professional expertise held by staff." I can understand that a young social worker may not have the courage to make a stand against a superior. I do wonder how the young Social Worker advocated for the parent if she was feeling intimidated by her manager. The decision this social worker was delivering was not only unnecessary but it was going to harm the children concerned. The children were going to be removed from their grandmother and will be placed in foster care where they are likely to be separated. The decision is plainly wrong and at odds with the work the mother has been doing, but the decision to separate this family forever was made by those who were not working with the family. I can cite many examples where this has occurred. If Social Workers want to be taken seriously then they have to make a stand for their Professional ethics and back their Professional decisions. Social Workers allow themselves to become the victim here, at the expense of the children.

Nyland states that "nothing has changed". For us to have the expectation that it will change is naive and is not borne out by past behaviours. That those who know very little about cases are making decisions that impacts people's lives and the lives of their offspring is a matter of great concern and requires all of us to protest in the strongest possible terms.

What allows those who know nothing to make the decisions about everything is predicated on the notion that there will never be any recourse. The facelessness of those making the decisions makes it almost impossible to discover the decision maker. It is easier to blame the person at the front line than it is to blame the person who approved the decision or influenced it. It is a culture of anonymity, where those responsible for the failure of the system will never be named nor held accountable.

Let's not lay the blame solely at the feet of management. As mentioned above it is the duty of every Social Worker to take responsibility for their own ethical practice. My experience has been that Social Workers, often young, believe that they know all there is to know about the profession once they have completed their two placements and graduated. The truth is that they know very little about the profession and how they should behave and the responsibility they have to their profession. Very few are members of the AASW.

Two years ago the Department implemented Strength Based Casework as their model of practice. In my view SBC represented a solid approach to Social Work and at least gave a solid framework from which to work. Soon after its introduction I asked CPS Social Workers what they thought of the new program. All of them told me that it was "Social Work 101". Nyland notes that Social Workers referred to CBS as "common sense social work", which validates my experience. What this told me was that they had no idea what SW 101 was but it was clear that they were not prepared to work differently because, as limited as their experiences were, they "knew it all". The first rule of Social Work is that "You will never know it all." Because they believe that they are the fountain of all that is Social Work, they will never learn from their mistakes, they will never view bad decisions as being damaging to children, they will always defend poor decision making. They will never be capable of looking backwards and learning from their mistakes. This is the culture of naivete.

It is fascinating that the major criticism offered in relation to the use of SBC was that it focussed more on the family than the children and therefore put the children at risk. One would have thought that the focus on family and making sure children are safe within their family is a noble objective. What does this tell us about the mindset of Social Workers when they see this as an unhelpful aspect of the program?

We know what the "rotten culture" is, the big question is who has the courage to change it?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Why the Child Protection Party is so important

The Child Protection Party is the most important change on the political landscape for many years. You may be wondering how that is possible with the advent of the Greens, One Nation, the Justice Party and all the other fringe parties lurking around the perimeter of politics. There is no doubt that the competition for positions is great and the enthusiasm by all the minor parties to have a place at the table is hotly contested. Then there is off course the two major parties and what they present that keeps us all fastened to the "two-party system" which has kept us amused for over a century.

The Child Protection Party have a commitment to the well-being of all children. All other political parties play lip-service to the idea that children are important and that services must be provided which will improve their future. What the "others" fail to realise is that unless we seek solutions to the number of children being abused in and out of "care" nothing is ever going to change. In the meantime we are placing our children at risk of harm and are establishing a future which continues to ignore the rights of children to grow up feeling safe and secure.

The challenge is to give every child a voice within a system which refuses to acknowledge the part a healthy child will play in the future of our country. As the population ages we will be dependent on the good-will of those who have the power to determine the conditions in which the older generation lives. As we pass on the authority and power to the young we can only hope that they have the compassion and understanding to produce a way of life which is commensurate with the values we have given them. If we ignore the potential that lies in each child we are condemning future generations to the misery that besets those who have suffered at the hands of adults.    

It is imperative that we recognise the pending damage which may be caused by ignoring the needs of the young. Our societal duty is to acknowledge that we must all do what we can to ensure a bright future exists for all children regardless of the country they are born in or the socio-economic environment they live.

We must understand that we have the power to encourage their parents to be better parents. We have the power to teach those who have not been shown how to parent, to parent. We have the power to show parents that they are damaging their children and that they have an opportunity to do better. We have the power not to judge. Above all, we have the power to believe in those who don't believe in themselves.

Together we can make a difference that will change the way we view children and the people that raise them. We can find the gems that sit within everyone and bring them to light. We can no longer sit back and hope that "it will all get better", like a whimsical dream.

This is the time to take action by joining with the Child Protection Party so that together we can all make a difference.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Child Protection Week - May we never forget

Child Protection Week is a time to reflect on what a good child protection system should look like and whether the key stakeholders are equipped to make the changes needed. Each year children die in care or die because they slip through the cracks or have been ignored by a system which continually fails to correct its own dysfunctionality.

This is a week when we should remember those who have experienced out-of-home placements. Those who have been removed from families who have failed to parent their children with care and love. We shall remember those who have been emotionally, physically and sexually abused by a system which doesn't understand the experiences of children and the trauma caused by the removal from their biological parents. We will remember all those children who have been failed by a system which replaces "bad parenting" with poor guardianship.

We all know that children are the most vulnerable members of our community, they have to be protected by responsible adults but one has to wonder who are the responsible adults making decisions about what is in the best interest of the child. How can so many "responsible adults" get it wrong on so many occasions? Why do we as a society allow our politicians to escape rebuke? Why do we allow these self-serving individuals to continue their reign of terror over our children?

As a community we need to celebrate "Child Protection Week" by making a stand against decisions which we view as damaging our children. We need to use this week as a way to become committed to the cause of protecting our children. As the founder of the Child Protection Party I speak to many people each week concerning the removal of their children. I am not here to suggest that all these people are blameless when it comes to parenting their children. I have worked with many parents where the removal of their children was justifiable. However in each case the parents and the children need a voice. I have also seen parents turn their lives around and make significant changes which would justify the return of their children but be denied this opportunity because of their past.

Child Protection Week should celebrate those parents who have made the changes necessary. We should also acknowledge that those parents were not responsible for the way they were parented. We all should fight for the right of each parent to change. We should acknowledge that drug abuse, domestic violence, emotional abuse and sexual abuse should not form any part of a child's life. During this week we should make a stand against all forms of abuse and tell those we know who are disrespecting their children that this has to stop. We first need to look within our own home and ensure that we are doing what we are telling others to do.

Our responsibility to children is to celebrate their "right" to be respected and loved in ways which makes them feel valued. It is incumbent upon all of us who are taking up this fight to be acting in ways which support the values we espouse. It is the height of hypocrisy to be abusive of others and then to advocate that children should be safe. The moment we are putting someone down or modeling behaviour that would be seen as abusive of a child we are no better then the abuser. I know it sounds a little self-righteous, but if we fail to express the values which underpin our cause then we are no different from our detractors.

Child Protection Week should be a celebration of the "rights" of the child. These rights should be enforced by everyone who works and lives with children.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why Child Protection is a disaster - The Nyland Report

The release of the Nyland Report into child protection in South Australia is just another example of a meaningless report being written by a judge who for reasons I don't understand is purported to have the ability to decipher a system which has left most people confused since its inception. I am not suggesting for a moment that some of the recommendations don't have merit because many of them are significant. What I am critical of is the lack of understanding concerning the culture and lack of transparency which has left children vulnerable and parents without a voice. If we are to understand the problems which exist within child protection services everywhere we have to understand what there is about the human experience that allows all these systems to function in a vacuum, answerable to no one.

We need to tighten some of the legislation so it has more meaning in our contemporary society, but we need to grapple with the idea that the people who influence, manage and determine the outcomes of this system are governed by their own biases which are driven by a middle class sense of righteousness. This is the enigmatic culture that lurks behind every assessment and decision bringing despair and chaos to many families. What is needed is a sense of humanity and understanding that breeds cooperation, meaningfulness and a joint responsibility. The values and principles which should drive people to do this work are often lacking. It is here where the culture needs to change.

Legislation may change and money may be poured into the system but it will do nothing to change the ingredients that are going to determine substantive outcomes for children and families.

If we wish to change a culture we need to understand what determines the current culture and how it has been supported over time. Someone has to say the way you are thinking and acting is unhelpful and you need to change. If you are unable to abide by the principles that are important to the wellbeing of families then there is no place for you in this organisation. Those principles need to be understood by those who govern the system. Regretfully, there is no indication that the gatekeepers of the system have any inkling of the standard required for the child protection system in order to deliver better outcomes.

Nyland and others may express outrage at this abusive system but we all acknowledge that it fails children and families over and over again. Being outraged is not going to solve the problem. We have to stand together against those who fail to uphold basic principles of cooperation, respect and partnering.

If you ask a parent who has had their children removed what workers they enjoyed working with they will tell you that the worker who was interested in them and displayed empathy was the one they felt connected to and the one whom they would want to develop a partnership with. This week I met with a woman who had four children removed from her and she gave the above assessment of a worker she had worked with before her case was transferred to another office. Her current worker, whom I know, she described as lacking empathy and "he appeared as if he was a businessman." .

To change the culture we need workers to "fight" for their clients. Most of the people I work with have the capacity to be better parents and deserve to have their children in their care. Workers need to make a stand against practices within their organisation which prevents them from representing their clients effectively. In the past I have been told by FSA workers that the child is the client. Herein lies another problem and is in need of drastic change. From a social work perspective anyone who you encounter in the context of your work is a "client". If workers could accept this concept and worked effectively with all those involved less children would be removed and more parents would find effective ways of parenting.

As I have mentioned in many posts before, politicians don't have the political will to resolve this issue. It appears complicated because they don't understand the problem. They expect people like Nyland to present them with the all encompassing panacea. She has presented some practical changes but she has failed to address the cultural dysfunctionality which pervades the department. We need to confront the stark reality. The Department has no idea as to what constitutes an effective worker. They fail to understand why they lose staff at an alarming rate. They have chosen to do nothing about this problem even though it has been evident for decades. They are removing children at records rates and no one seems to care.

To her credit she talks about primary health care. This is a great idea. Yes, lets help parents at risk of losing their children to be better parents. Why should we offer this to NGO's who will use the funding to build bigger organisations but lack scrutiny and transparency. These organisation pay poorly because in order for them to win funding they have to be competitive thus employing unqualified and poorly trained staff to deliver services.

It is true that greater funding is required but the services offered have to be the best equipped with professional staff who have specific training in the field and who are well paid with all the resources to do their job properly. There is no greater investment than the one we make in our children.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

WAR - Rally - Kids in Detention

I would like to recognise that we are on Kaurna land and that we pay tribute to the past and present owners of this land. We are here today because we have viewed barbaric and inhumane treatment of children.  

I want to talk to you about the horror we experienced this week and the impact this has on those of us who attempt to give a voice to the most disempowered individuals in our community. We do not accept that there is any justifiable reason for abusing any child. We believe that all children should live in a safe, nurturing environment. When the State steps in to care for children when parents are unable to care for them, then that environment should be respectful and create a space where a child can develop a sense of self that is purposeful and valued. These values are shared by those of us who care for the mental and physical well-being of all children. This is every child’s right. 

What we witnessed on Monday night was a flagrant disregard of these rights perpetrated by government officials on children. What makes this more sickening is that the use of spit hoods and restraining chairs was sanctioned by the government. Ministers and government officials ordered and paid for these devices. What did they think they were going to be used for? This is government sanctioned child abuse. I am concerned about the mentality of our elected officials when they endorse abusive behaviours on our children. What sort of society are we creating if we allow our governments to behave in this way? How little respect do they have for human dignity and the well-being of our children in particular?

I call on Mr Weatheral to tell us if the devices used in the Northern Territory are used in this state. I call for an audit of our youth detention centres so that we can feel comfortable that our children are have not suffered the same abuse.  If this abusive behaviour was perpetrated by a parent the child would be removed from their care. The parent is made accountable for their behaviour. There are consequences. What are the consequences to the scores of people responsible for this state sanctioned abuse? 

There will be a Royal Commission – yes another one. But there is no need to wait for its findings. Those who conducted the abuse should be charged and hopefully jailed. Those who have colluded with this process of systematic abuse should be sacked. Those who witnessed it but chose to do nothing are just as guilty as those who committed the abuse, they also should also be sacked. To change this culture of abuse we as a community have to say enough is enough. We are no longer going to tolerate incompetence and the wilful neglect of our children.  As someone who works with parents whose children have been removed I wonder about the degree to which those who represent the government are acting in many cases in the best interest of the child.

 There will be some who will justify the behaviour of the guards and the restraints used. There will be some who will say they were acting in the best interest of the child. In my professional career I have heard those statements over and over again, a mantra which justifies the decision making process which isn’t always in the child’s best interest. There are those who blame the children, see them as bad kids, deserving of whatever punishment is dished out to them. 

I say to those who hold these distorted views that under no circumstance no human should be tortured or abused in this way and least of all children. 

Tony Tonkin
Founder and Leader
Child Protection Party

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Kids in Detention - A Wider Systemic Problem

Words fail to describe how I felt when I viewed the ABC 4 Corners program on Monday night. It prompted a live feed on Facebook. The YouTube video of my response can be found here.

It has become apparent that the Minister responsible was made aware of the ABC's presentation before it was released, but chose not to view it and therefore didn't comment on it. In 2014 there was an inquiry into Youth Detention in the NT and this report was kept from the public. One can assume that issues such as those revealed on Monday night were mentioned in this report. What this means to me is that the institutionalised abuse of children is of no concern to Governments until it is exposed by journalists.

The Child Protection Party and I have heard many stories concerning the abuse of children while in care. Parents and children are not heard, they are labelled irrelevant, because those in power are those who determine what outcomes are "best" for the child. The treatment of those boys in the ABC report was seen as appropriate given that they were troublesome kids. The guards were able to behave as they pleased because they were unchecked. There was no standard of care or even a basic sense of human decency exhibited in the treatment of these children. It is abhorrent to me that what we viewed is just the beginning of a process of denial and mistreatment that runs throughout the "care" system.

What we need to confront is that children, in our society, are a commodity, abused and mistreated because they don't have a voice. While we become incensed about pedophilia and the damage inflicted on children we should be equally outraged about a system which continues to damage children and is endorsed by those who are assigned to care for our children. We not only have to confront this problem but we have to find solutions to a culture which flagrantly denies the most vulnerable people in our community their basic human rights.

As I write this post I can feel the anger and rage inflaming inside me. This is because I have been claiming for years that we are doing NOTHING about the culture which allows our children to be continually abused. I am frustrated because my calls and those of others have not been heard. We have all been seen as part of the "Lunatic Fringe", been demonised and dismissed. We are now approaching a time when we will have to be heard because the evidence is mounting that the "State" is not only the worst parent it also continues to traumatise and damage children.

I can not understand why we would take children away from their parents, who in many cases could address the "risk factors" which caused their children to be removed, and then create further trauma in the children's lives which will impact them for the rest of their lives. Why do we allow people to work with children who are deplete of any compassion or empathy demonstrated by behaviour which rapes a child of their sense of self and belonging? We should not be surprised when these children turn to crime and become disconnected from society. They become this way because of the treatment of those who are suppose to "care" for them. These people don't "care" for these children at all. They hold children in such contempt that they denigrate and humiliate them. These people should never work with children so we have to wonder who employs them and supervises them. Why do we allow these foxes in the hen coop?

I would like to know who agreed to the use of the restraining chair? Surely there was a discussion with management about this chair and under what circumstances it would be used. The fact that this discussion must have taken place because the chair didn't materialise out of thin air, doesn't this mean that no one recognised the problem. The thought that a chair of this nature was going to be used to abuse children surely should have rung a few bells for those who administer this system. Those people are just as much a part of this problem as those who tied down the child or sprayed the children. We need to be asking where the Minister was in this process? Anyone who condones any of these methods in complicat and needs to be removed from their position. Anyone who physically abused these children should be charged with assault and imprisoned into the very system they administer.

What we witnessed on Monday night is the extreme end of the problem but it is a systemic culture which permeates down to the moment a child is removed and placed into "care".

My call is to all who work in this system to consider - when you remove a child from their parents how are you personally going to provide the best outcome for this child? What are you going to do that will ensure that this child will be returned to the people who love this child? If you are unable to fulfill this obligation to the child then get out. If you choose to stay and say nothing about the dysfunctionality of the system then you are as responsible for any abuse perpetrated against these children as the abuser. If you stay, then make a stand and demand change.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

National Framework for Protecting Children - Why isn't it used?

The National Framework for Protecting Australia's children was published in 2009. It begins with the catch phrase "Protecting Children is Everyone's Business". The intent of this document is to muster support and co-operation between all levels of Government and the Community. There is an assumption in this report that we are doing all that we can to influence constructive change in the area of child protection. Even though we know that the number of notifications and the number of children taken into care is increasing those who right these reports  tend to want to believe that we are doing all that we can to correct the flow of children into out of home services.

The National Framework expresses all the platitudes one would expect from a document written by public servants who don't wish to be critical of their masters. It is as if they are walking fine line between a soft version of reality and plain deceit. An example of this is the graph below.

Here we see a true indicator of where services should be spent and who is responsible for those services. The writers state that this diagram, in reality, looks more like an hour glass. I would suggest that a truer version would have this diagram as in inverted pyramid. We are using so much of the funding propping up the "Statutory System" and very little supporting the "Universal preventative initiatives to support all families and children". 

The great disappointment by this document is that the writers want us to believe that as a nation we are “onto it”. We needn’t worry because those who manage child protection services in this country have the solution, even though the stats and anecdotal evidence doesn’t support that notion.

“The six supporting outcomes are:

1. Children live in safe and supportive families and communities
2. Children and families access adequate support to promote safety and intervene early
3. Risk factors for child abuse and neglect are addressed
4. Children who have been abused or neglected receive the support and care they need for their safety and wellbeing
5. Indigenous children are supported and safe in their families and communities
6. Child sexual abuse and exploitation is prevented and survivors receive adequate support”

As noble as these outcomes are there is no evidence that any of these outcomes are met by any Government. There is no suggestion that funding should be increased in any of these areas to produce better outcomes. There is no reflection on whether different types of services are required, yet they remain with the status quo and discuss better organising services so they are more efficient. An analyses needs to be made as to what services are inefficient but more importantly governments need to be talking to stakeholders not service providers.

A prime example of a great idea but a miserable failure is:-

 2.4 “Enhance services and supports for children and families.

“Comprehensive evaluation of family law reforms designed to strengthen family
relationships, including:
- research into the characteristics of shared care parenting arrangements that work in the best interests of the child
- research on the impact of family violence on relationship breakdown”

None of the above have been achieved.

Why do Governments put forward the best rhetoric and then produce the worst outcomes? It verifies what I have always believed and that is they truly don’t understand the nature of the problem. Yes, we need services for those who are the most disadvantaged but we are not prepared to invest in those services. The National Framework aligns with the status quo. What they are saying is “We know there is a problem but we have no idea as to how we should approach it?” It is like the parent who recognises that his/her child is acting badly but fails to understand the world of the child which may be causing the behaviour.

It is the lack insight and understanding which is preventing all Governments from approaching child protection with a new vision.

It has been seven years since this document was formulated and yet nothing has changed. I wonder who looks back over this document and asks why haven't we achieved the goals? We need to be asking who is responsible for failing the children and families of this country? 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Youth Court and the lack of justice

I am working with a young couple who are fighting to have their child returned to them. They have been told by legal aid that they do not qualify because there is no merit in their case, in other words a decision has been reached by some junior solicitor that the case is not winnable. When did we begin deciding that people were not entitled to legal representation because some obscure individual decided that the case lacked merit. I fail to understand how this is "just" and represents a basic human right for people, any person, to be appropriately represented.

When these people were told that they were not to be funded I offered to represent them as a "Friend of the Court". They applied to the court to have me represent them but they were told the following:-

"I refer to your letter dated 27th June 2016 wherein you request to be represented in this matter by a third party, Mr Tony Tonkin, at the trial of this matter on the 5th July 2016.
The Judge who is listed to hear the trial has refused your request."

No explanation was offered as to why this decision was made. Because I thought the response may be about their antagonism towards me I suggested another person to represent them but that was also declined. A further email was received by the parents from the court:-

"The Snr Judge has advised that it is not unusual in this Court for parties to be unrepresented.  Many parents are unable to obtain legal assistance at trial."

The contempt the court has towards parents is explicit in the courts response to the parents. In other words they think so little of parents that they treat them with total contempt by denying them the right to be represented appropriately. The parents and I discussed a strategy, if they have to self-represent. We designed a range or questions which could be asked of the witnesses and a format which would present the parents case in the best possible light.

The parents have informed me today that the court process has not gone well. They have asked questions of the Social Worker about her experience and whether she was qualified to offer an informed opinion on the matter before the court. The father was shut down when he began asking these questions. His questioning was opposed by the Crown and supported by the judge. The crown was permitted to ask any questions they like, some very similar to those the parent was not allowed to ask. How can any reasonable person suggest that this is just?

The parent commented that he believed he was on trial and that very little had to do with his son and parenting. The parents were told that FSA was applying for a long term order because the Social Workers believe that past issues of the parents would take at least three years to be addressed and that the child would be too attached to the Foster Parents by that time and it would not be in the best interest of the child to have him return to the parents care. As a therapist I know that the worst thing you can do is to assess how long it is going to take for someone to work through past issues. If they have a crappy therapist then this may be the case but to set a time period when you don't even know what the issues may be and you don't understand the drive the client may have to discuss their "issues" is unhelpful. If a Social Worker made this type of recommendation then they have failed their profession because they have failed the client.

This case demonstrates the inadequacies of the Youth Court and the blatant disregard for the parents and subsequently the child. As I have mentioned in other blogs the department is obsessed with managing risk thus failing to take into account the changes parents have made. The Child Protection Party is calling for a change to the Youth Court and are advocating to change the legislation so that it addresses the changes people make and doesn't rely on flimsy social work practices to determine the outcome.

The experience of these parents are common-place within the child protection system. Parents such as these need a voice. If you have had similar experiences or can offer some insight into the way the system can change I would be pleased to hear from you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reforms to FamiliesSA

The Nyland report into FamiliesSA has highlighted the changes that most of us have been anticipating for years. It makes one wonder why it is that they need to have an inquiry into what most people knew to begin with. The Report suggests that management need to have some experience in the area of child protection. I guess that now excludes the current CE of FamiliesSA. How did it make sense that to manage an organisation with a strong professional staff component you would employ non-professional staff to manage. This goes from the top down.

Social Work is a profession with high ethical principles. It is the only profession where "social justice" is embedded in its code of ethics. How is it possible for an organisation to manifest those values if the people running the organisation don't understand them or even won't allow them to be expressed?

Child Protection is not going to change by appointing someone from overseas, as if they have the solution to the problem. Real change will only occur when we begin to think about Child Protection differently. Below I offer the recommendations of the Child Protection Party.

Our recommendations are:-

  1. Children need to maintain connections with their biological family.
  2. Where possible children need to remain with their biological family.
  3. Siblings should remain together.
  4. Parents should be provided with as much contact with their children as they would like when a child is in care.
  5. Relationships with foster parents and biological parents should be fostered and supported by the agency.
  6. Ongoing and continual support should be provided for foster parents.
  7. Children in care should receive additional educational and social supports.
  8. Children exiting care should be offered additional educational support eg easier access to University and other further education. 
  9. Social Workers should be registered with the AASW before they are employed.
  10. Social Workers who fail to comply with the standards set by the AASW should not be practicing in this area and breaches should be reported to the AASW.
  11. Social Workers need to be trained to engage with parents and family members with the view to implementing change so that children can remain within their family.
  12. Social Workers need to acquire the skill set to work effectively in this area.
  13. Services need to be provided for family that are at risk of having their children removed. Engagement with these services should be viewed as a positive step and not result in a child being removed unless the child is at risk of serious harm.
  14. The Youth Court should be abolished and a structure created which provides a voice for parents and children. Lawyers should be prohibited from this court. Cases should be submitted to a panel, consisting of a social worker, judge, lawyer, psychologist and a stakeholder or member of the public. This court should provide the Child Protection agency with a case plan and monitor its progress.
  15. All Social Workers  should be supervised according to the standards established by the AASW.

I am certain that I have missed some important areas but I incorporated the most salient. Unless these areas are addressed nothing will change. It is imperative that we continue the conversation and not accept Nyland's report as the solution to the problem because it fails in so many areas. I am hoping that her final report will highlight some of the areas I have mentioned above.

It is disappointing that so many of us over the years have offered ideas that will make the changes required, but it has become apparent that the gatekeepers in the child protection industry do not want to accept and implement these vital changes. I believe that those in power do not understand the real issues and that failure to grasp what really needs to change will produce more of the same and the dysfunctionality of FSA will continue.

As the founder of the Child Protection Party I offer these suggestions so that they can be debated and when a state election is held we will be able to take these to that election and win.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Child Protection is like the Kings New Clothes

Over the past couple of week I have been contemplating the lack of movement within the child protection industry. It has always been a frustration. Recently, I attended a rally organised by SCAAT. I came to realise that no matter how loud you shout or how angry you are or how attacking you may be, nothing changes. I can appreciate that to stand in a public place and express your emotions is somewhat therapeutic - but it changes nothing.

I was talking last night to a friend who has a significant profile and she told me that she was told by a senior member of government that she had nothing to offer because she was not a professional. The fact that she is a stakeholder clearly has no relevance to these people. As a professional Social Worker with over twenty years experience I have no influence.

In New Zealand they have decided to abandon their failed child protection system and implement a new model which is based on conversations with stakeholders. Surely those who use the system are best equipped to evaluate it.

Yet, governments in our country are not prepared to listen to users but want to shut them down. Why this is the case is something I struggle to understand? My own experience tells me that governments are fearful of criticism and will do all they can to avoid dissenting voices, even from within. They are not going to change if they remain insular and resistant to voices who offer an alternative.

I formed a political party, in frustration, because my voice wasn't being heard. This is the case for all of us who sit outside the Child Protection System. It is even more terrifying for those who are fighting to have their children returned. I have come to understand that the more powerful you believe you are the less you need to be transparent. The reality is the less transparent you are the more flawed you are likely to be. The idea that the people within the Child Protection System have all the answers is blatantly not true but the belief that they hold all the knowledge is part of their false reality. It is the Kings New Clothes effect. If the mantra becomes "we are acting in the best interest of children" all who manage the system begin to believe this. There then becomes no place for any idea which challenges the belief, because by now the belief has become the thread that holds everything together. As long as the mantra is noble and respectable then those who support the principle will do all that they can to protect the "King".

It doesn't take one person to shout "the King isn't wearing any clothes" it takes a crowd to shout "the King isn't wearing any clothes". At the moment there isn't a crowd. Sure there are a few with loud voices but the numbers are not present.

The following is an excerpt from the British Journal of Social Work:-

"The long-standing concern about over-intervention in the child protection
system was strongly voiced in the 1990s in a summary of
government-funded research which identified as central:
. . . the criticism that many investigations are undertaken, many families
are visited and case conferences called but that in the end, little support
is offered to the family. In such situations, it is unsurprising that
participants become angry, alienated and bewildered. Furthermore, the
children are not helped and a chunk of valuable child care resource has
been consumed with little apparent benefit (Department of Health,
1995, pp. 54–5)." Referrals and Child Protection in
England: One in Five Children Referred
to Children’s Services and One in
Nineteen Investigated before the Age of
Five. British Journal of Social Work (2016) 0, 1–19

How is it possible that the Child Protection System has not changed over the decades? Why hasn't there been wide spread posturing, criticism and reflection resulting in positive change? What keeps us locked into a system that by most standards, and the standards of the Social Work profession in particular, is not meeting ethical and professional standards?

The answer to these questions lies in the belief that Child Protection is too complex. Well it isn't. Nothing frustrates me more than hearing the word "complex". This is used to have us believe that there are few who hold the secrets to the problem and us "poor mortals" would not be able to understand the complexities presented by the problem. "The System" and those who control the system are the "Gatekeepers" of this knowledge and so there is no need to share it with those who will not understand such complexities. The problem is that those who control the "system" are locked into the power which accompanies being the "Gatekeeper". To relinquish this power would mean that they would have to give up the "system" and therefore acknowledge that the "system" doesn't belong to them.

Child protection is a community issue it is everyone's problem. We all should be feeding into the system ideas for change. Children, parents, relatives, other professionals should be equally informing the way the "system" should be functioning. Politicians should be working to ensure that this information is operationalised and funded appropriately.

It was with great dismay that I read recently the National Child Protection Framework. This is a document signed off by all State Ministers. In a limited way it tells us what is the standard expected from child protection services around Australia. It tells us that there needs to be more funding and that there is a distinct role for Federal and State Governments. What is lacking is a distinct and well argued funding programs.

There is considerable ignorance in this area by the community. Child Protection doesn't attract the attention of the media unless there is a death of a child or pedophilia. That hundreds of children are being removed every day is not a concern to most people because most people don't experience the suffering and damage to children and families by some of these removals.

As a nation we are in denial that children are being removed at alarming rates. Unless it is happening to us it is not happening. We blame "bad parents" and fail to find ways to break the cycle that produces poor parenting practices. Hidden in the dark corner of our communities lies this thing we call "child abuse". It is safer to talk about health benefits or changes to taxation or education than it is to talk about something we don't understand and which can be discounted as a social ill, which is only experienced in the backwaters of our worse communities, and most of us never go there.

Lying in these forbidden places though is an untapped resource which could be unlocked if we choose to believe in these people. I was talking to a heavily tattooed man this afternoon who has never discussed his horrific past. The fact that I wanted to talk to him and that I wasn't going to judge him meant that he was prepared to talk to me. In the recesses of these communities sit people, like him, who want to experience life differently. They just need someone who is prepared to believe in them. That is not very complicated, is it?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Child Protection Party - A Commitment to Change

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. To 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 collaboratively 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.

As a political party we are committed to making significant change so that the needs of children and their parents can be met.

The Child Protection Party is your voice for change.
Contact us at and 0414883153