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?