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.

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