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Liberals the answer to child protection woes?

By johnboy - 6 January 2012 23

The Liberals’ Vicki Dunne is making hay from the latest in a long line of reviews into child protection in the ACT:

As the ACT Labor Government launches yet another review into care and protection, it is clear that the only way to fix the systems entrenched problems is through a change of government, according to ACT Shadow Family and Community Services Minister, Vicki Dunne.

Seven years ago, the ACT Labor Government was warned through the Vardon review of the care and protection system that there is a critical lack of quality placement options for children and young people needing the care and protection of the Territory Parent, Mrs Dunne said today.

Last year, the Public Advocate slammed the same government, for the same problems, saying care and protection breached the law 24 times which had a serious and detrimental impact on children for whom the Director General has responsibility.

After seven years of failing our most vulnerable children, the time for tokenism is over. This ACT Labor Government cannot manage care and protection and another review will not change that, or fix its inherent cultural problems.

What’s Your opinion?


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23 Responses to
Liberals the answer to child protection woes?
nyssa1976 2:48 pm 08 Jan 12

Violet, you are right. In situation I described before, CPS couldn’t give a rats despite the fact the person had pled guilty to assaulting a minor (they were legally represented) and CPS showed no concern whatsoever for the child.

Emails, phone calls, calls to the hotline all prove fruitless.

It annoys (and I’m being polite) me as the child in question would have benefited greatly from the intervention. Sadly it took several months of violence by the child towards another child, a suicide attempt (by said child) and finally a refusal by the child to attend access visits that the child has been able to move forward in a positive light and without any intervention by an agency.

Shame the FCA has a gag order or I would go public on the more disturbing details.

Violet68 2:22 pm 08 Jan 12

poetix said :

Furry Jesus (@9) you are absolutely right. I won’t be ringing the foster services. There’s no way I would foster a child as by the time he or she was seeking that care, the damage done would make it just too difficult. And I wouldn’t want my own child to be exposed to the behaviour that such a young person would understandably exhibit. So selfishness wins out, and the options for these children remain desperately few.

I didn’t comment earlier as the statement from Dunne had no policy ideas at all, just trust us and it’ll be better.

Not all children that require care are difficult. Sometimes it’s only temporary. Most kids will respond well to stability (continuity of care), routine and genuine affection. I’ve done a little bit of care (and knew the children so didn’t have to work too hard to settle them) and we have a family member who has been a foster carer for over 20 years (interstate) and she still loves it. Says it keeps her young. On the down side, she has had to ask for some children to be moved on because of certain behaviours. I like furryjesus’ idea about increasing the pay so one parent can remain at home with the children. I think that could be a disincentive for families to take this sort of thing on too.

Girt_Hindrance 1:18 pm 08 Jan 12

I spent some time working in a Youth Refuge in Canberra, one mandated to never refuse a Client. As such, we were trained in self defence, restraints, and intervention, de-escalation techniques and how to use a Hoffman Knife. When I left (burnt out), they were refurbishing the place with hang-proof everything, and fireproof everything else. That was an incredibly difficult job, and I’m very glad I did it for the time that I did, and that I left when I ran out of things to give them. I’d recommend the work to anyone fit, strong, and stable enough, but I personally could not return.
Any child that didn’t need to be in that environment, we would bust a gut trying to move them to a more appropriate and safer placement. It’s Hardcore work.

poetix 12:22 pm 08 Jan 12

Furry Jesus (@9) you are absolutely right. I won’t be ringing the foster services. There’s no way I would foster a child as by the time he or she was seeking that care, the damage done would make it just too difficult. And I wouldn’t want my own child to be exposed to the behaviour that such a young person would understandably exhibit. So selfishness wins out, and the options for these children remain desperately few.

I didn’t comment earlier as the statement from Dunne had no policy ideas at all, just trust us and it’ll be better.

EvanJames 12:03 pm 08 Jan 12

If kids taken into care resulted in the parents having to pay back their baby bonus and other family-based government payments, there’d be a lot more money in the child protection system. You see all these under-funded things that should be funded, and then look at how the government is pouring money into things that don’t need to be funded.

As for the non-profits, it’s usually an eye-opener when they move into government-funded service-provision (like the job network). Their gimlet-eyed attention to profit-making would have the suits at Mac Bank saying “steady on”.

Furry Jesus 11:59 am 08 Jan 12

johnboy said :

…Not sure about spending all that money on recruiting from overseas, paying relocation costs etc. I don’t know how dedicated those staff are to the children…The over reliance on certain staff members and high work loads, lack of training, funding etc just reflects the real need for an overhaul so there can be decent placement options for children who need it.

My point is that these problems are inherent to the out of home care system. One of the reasons governments (not just the ACT) look to other jurisdictions to recruit is that it’s so hard to find and keep good staff, and good carers. To make the sector work well, it needs huge cash inflows to reward good staff for coming and staying in both government and non-government areas. Just as we see in the rationale for recent pay increases to our politicians in Parliament – to motivate good people to take up public life as an alternative to the more lucrative options in the private sector…

But it’s more than money – the work needs to have much greater social value, university graduates need to see it as a high status career path. We need better social workers and other community services professionals, more than we need more dentists, but not enough people with the capacity to really lift the standards of the sector choose it as a life path. Not enough money, and not enough glamour.

Without enough really, really, really, good (have I emphasised that enough?) people to take the work to the level it needs to be and to mentor and support their colleagues (we mere mortals), governments of all colours will always be treading water.

And the children are the ones to suffer, or worse, to continue to suffer. See the Lost Generation exhibition at the National Museum. The excesses of the past may no longer be common institutional practice, but they still cast their shadow over children living in care or with abuse and neglect at home, today. ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’

Furry Jesus 11:23 am 08 Jan 12

johnboy said :

…without in any way wanting to speak for the Liberals, a new boss tends to focus minds and ask novel questions…

I worked in the sector for a very long time (outlived some of my colleagues!) before getting out. My point is that after seeing what happens in child protection service delivery after changes in government here and in other places I’ve lived, I’m extremely dubious that ‘new eyeballs and relationships at the top’ can ever solve the problem of finding sufficient quality placements, or attracting and retaining enough decent staff.

Your post described Vicki Dunne as ‘making hay’ from another review into care and protection, and saying that …’it is clear that the only way to fix the systems entrenched problems is through a change of government’. I challenge any idea that a change of government will ever be able to do anything but fiddle at the margins. Although I suppose it could have no difficulty in making it profoundly worse. Barry O’Farrell’s recent reductions in carer allowances for foster carers with adolescents is a recent case in point.

However, JB, I apologise with (reservations) for my remark on the number of posts reflecting a lack of interest for being premature.

Perhaps we’ll see a flood of comment from concerned RA members telling us that they’re all in the act of emailing Barnardos or Marymead or one of the others this very weekend to register an expression of interest in becoming foster carers, particularly for the high needs kids – the children who’ve suffered the worst abuse and neglect and hence bring huge behaviour challenges with them – or for the teenagers…

I am now holding my breath.

Violet68 11:05 am 08 Jan 12

Furry Jesus said :

The lack of interest in this topic is a sad reflection of the lack of interest in child protection issues, not just in Canberra, but in every other state and territory.

The biggest problem is having decent alternatives for children being removed from their parents’ care. Last year foster care agency recruitment netted only 15 new families (total for all agencies combined). I once worked on a specialist program with high needs kids (product of seriously abusive and neglectful families). We offered a higher rate of carer allowance so at least one of the parents didn’t need to work, and the quality of applicants made me want to put a gun to my head. “Do we have to spend the money on the children?”

There isn’t a government in Australia, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, that can run an effective system when most of the community don’t give a shit. Regardless of political orientation. The Carnell government presided over the same problems, and had the same struggles.

The work is tough, abuse of staff is common, the workload is appalling, and staff turnover is high, with only a few good people staying long enough to develop good skills and move into supervisory positions where they can give decent support to front line workers.

As for not-for-profits like the one who took the children into care in that old police station…don’t get me started. The commitment to training and supervision is erratic at best, and they have even bigger problems attracting good staff than the ACT government. If you’re a good worker, you’re relied on to bail them out with the tough cases all the time. You’re constantly in demand for extra work, you get tired and burnt out, but if you try to manage your workload you come under intense pressure, being made to feel guilty/selfish, and resented if you don’t give into begging…as if its your fault that the agency has only has relatively (or profoundly) unskilled incompetents to fall back on. Agencies are desperately over-reliant on their ‘diamond’ (hard to find) staff, but don’t really rise to the challenge of training because it reduces the profit margin. And is probably useless when the quality of the recruitment pool is so low as to be a waste of training resources anyway.

Without enough decent, intelligent and trainable staff and foster carers, too many agencies (including not-for-profits) lapse into warehousing as a second-best alternative for many of the children they care for. The ongoing experience of neglect in care for these children is never really discussed. We just focus on the occasional newsworthy incident of bad decision-making, abuse or tragic death, because it gives us the chance to wag our finger, like Vicki Dunne.

The ACT government didn’t need the Vardon report to be warned of a lack of quality placement options. Every foster care agency experiences this on a daily basis, and the government hears their accounts all the time.

Vicki Dunne doesn’t offer any clues as to how a change of government would create new quality placements, or sufficient numbers of them. Perhaps there’s a stack of ACT Liberals members who’ve signed a secret pledge to come on board as foster carers, once they’re in government. Or they’ve cracked the secret behind that loaves and fishes trick (Bible reference, for the uninitiated)…

Glad I didn’t get started.

You’re right about needing to support carers both financially and practically. Not sure about spending all that money on recruiting from overseas, paying relocation costs etc. I don’t know how dedicated those staff are to the children, rather than the bonus of gaining a subsidised pass into Australia. The over reliance on certain staff members and high work loads, lack of training, funding etc just reflects the real need for an overhaul so there can be decent placement options for children who need it.

johnboy 10:54 am 08 Jan 12

Well firstly number of comments does not equate to interest in a story.

But secondly, without in any way wanting to speak for the Liberals, a new boss tends to focus minds and ask novel questions.

You don’t have to be a paid up Liberal to wonder if the ACT Government wouldn’t benefit from new eyeballs and relationships at the top after ten pretty dismal years of administration.

Furry Jesus 10:50 am 08 Jan 12

The lack of interest in this topic is a sad reflection of the lack of interest in child protection issues, not just in Canberra, but in every other state and territory.

The biggest problem is having decent alternatives for children being removed from their parents’ care. Last year foster care agency recruitment netted only 15 new families (total for all agencies combined). I once worked on a specialist program with high needs kids (product of seriously abusive and neglectful families). We offered a higher rate of carer allowance so at least one of the parents didn’t need to work, and the quality of applicants made me want to put a gun to my head. “Do we have to spend the money on the children?”

There isn’t a government in Australia, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, that can run an effective system when most of the community don’t give a shit. Regardless of political orientation. The Carnell government presided over the same problems, and had the same struggles.

The work is tough, abuse of staff is common, the workload is appalling, and staff turnover is high, with only a few good people staying long enough to develop good skills and move into supervisory positions where they can give decent support to front line workers.

As for not-for-profits like the one who took the children into care in that old police station…don’t get me started. The commitment to training and supervision is erratic at best, and they have even bigger problems attracting good staff than the ACT government. If you’re a good worker, you’re relied on to bail them out with the tough cases all the time. You’re constantly in demand for extra work, you get tired and burnt out, but if you try to manage your workload you come under intense pressure, being made to feel guilty/selfish, and resented if you don’t give into begging…as if its your fault that the agency has only has relatively (or profoundly) unskilled incompetents to fall back on. Agencies are desperately over-reliant on their ‘diamond’ (hard to find) staff, but don’t really rise to the challenge of training because it reduces the profit margin. And is probably useless when the quality of the recruitment pool is so low as to be a waste of training resources anyway.

Without enough decent, intelligent and trainable staff and foster carers, too many agencies (including not-for-profits) lapse into warehousing as a second-best alternative for many of the children they care for. The ongoing experience of neglect in care for these children is never really discussed. We just focus on the occasional newsworthy incident of bad decision-making, abuse or tragic death, because it gives us the chance to wag our finger, like Vicki Dunne.

The ACT government didn’t need the Vardon report to be warned of a lack of quality placement options. Every foster care agency experiences this on a daily basis, and the government hears their accounts all the time.

Vicki Dunne doesn’t offer any clues as to how a change of government would create new quality placements, or sufficient numbers of them. Perhaps there’s a stack of ACT Liberals members who’ve signed a secret pledge to come on board as foster carers, once they’re in government. Or they’ve cracked the secret behind that loaves and fishes trick (Bible reference, for the uninitiated)…

Glad I didn’t get started.

Stevian 1:12 pm 07 Jan 12

EvanJames said :

Child Protection. An interesting term. When you talk about protecting something or someone, it’s usually from some exterior threat. But in the case of Child Protection, what it means is protection of children from…. their own parents.

Who, in many cases, present a clear and present danger

Violet68 10:37 am 07 Jan 12

EvanJames said :

Child Protection. An interesting term. When you talk about protecting something or someone, it’s usually from some exterior threat. But in the case of Child Protection, what it means is protection of children from…. their own parents.

Yes that can be true. However, children can be abused within the child protection system too. Parents are made accountable for their sins via CPS. Yet it appears CPS are accountable to noone. I welcome a thorough overhaul of the current department. Why is it that noone wants to work there and they have to recruit overseas and use money meant to support vulnerable children to pay relocation costs etc?
Nyssa, I have had opposite experiences where children have been removed from families where the risks were quite low and appropriate supports could have alleviated the situation. I have also seen children left in families where it is obvious intervention is required too – usually because they are not babies and can “fend” for themselves (according to CPS). I think the problem is a lack of consistency, vague policies and procedures. I don’t know how or even if their staff are supervised…….they’re always too busy to return calls or follow up on what they tell you they are going to do. Very difficult to deal with, and yep if you have lots of money to pay a good solicitor then you may get somewhere with them. Other than that, they are a law unto themselves.

nyssa1976 10:15 am 07 Jan 12

gooterz said :

The only way to protect children is have a good laywer and a lot of money!

Whole heartedly agreed with you. CPS are USELESS in the protection of children.

Apparently they can choose to ignore a child’s safety (already proven to have been abused and abuser charged), because a court order allows time with abuser……they can’t go against a court order regardless. Oh and before people say “why agree with the court order in the first place?’- here were the two options – agree or if you don’t agree you lose full custody and abuser gets them.

CPS can take the matter to court themselves and have the orders rescinded….they choose not to.

And finally when said abused child showed signed of anxiety and possible further abuse – CPS say to call cops (already had) but they wouldn’t be attending.

Our children deserve better.

gooterz 1:50 am 07 Jan 12

The only way to protect children is have a good laywer and a lot of money!

EvanJames 1:40 pm 06 Jan 12

Child Protection. An interesting term. When you talk about protecting something or someone, it’s usually from some exterior threat. But in the case of Child Protection, what it means is protection of children from…. their own parents.

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