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?