The time has come for all of us to face the stark reality that the child protection system will continue to remove children unnecessarily and to fail to protect those children who are at risk of harm. Children will die, children will be placed in long-term placements where they will have little access to parents and siblings. Children will be taken when working with the parents could have meant that those children would have been returned to them, children will be removed because the child protection system fails to identify at-risk families.
It is bleak and it is depressing that these are the stark realities of our time and they are the challenges which we face. Please don't misunderstand me, this is not defeatist. It is laying out the grounds of the struggle and finding a way to confront each of these realities so that we can devise a plan for structural and cultural change which provides the best outcome for children.
I have heard some say that we should abandon the child protection system altogether. Doing so would create havoc and fail to protect children from those in our society who wish to harm them. We are obligated to protect the most vulnerable in our community. We, therefore, need to accept that a child protection system is a necessity but it needs to be structurally and philosophically different. Together we need to wonder what that would look like. What would we need to do if we were to identify all those families where domestic violence, drug use, mental health and poverty were impacting adversely the lives of children? Do we need to accept that within those families there will be parents who are not prepared to address their behaviours and who will continue to abuse their children? Yes, there will be those parents. There will be children who will need to be removed and placed in safe, secure and nurturing homes.
How do we ensure that children who are removed receive the love and nurturing they need given the traumas they may have experienced? The people who are assigned the task of helping these children rebuild their lives need to not only be well trained and have a unique skill set but they also need an unparalleled commitment to these children. I am reminded of a time, a long while ago, when I was at school, and there was that special teacher who believed in me and there were all those other teachers, all earning the same money, who never gave me that same sense of belief. It isn't therefore how much these people are paid it is about their belief system and how that impacts the way children feel about themselves.
Perhaps, this is the key. If we could find a way to invest in only those people who had this unique belief system then perhaps we would be able to change the system in a way which would benefit everyone?
What we need is a supportive nurturing system which embraces everyone. We need people who work within the system to suspend their judgements and to accept the inherent value which is in all people. The current model is deficit laden and will never produce the outcomes we require. As long as this model is operational we will always have conflicts between workers and parents. The moment we label and categorise people we are diminishing their true value and the message we are providing to them is that they are worthless, hopeless and powerless. Once we determine that they are "lesser than" we are never going to improve the outcome for the parents and particularly for their children.
If we wish to change this system we need to think about how we view the people with whom we are working. Any view which we hold which diminishes the position and power of another person denigrates the work we do and provides outcomes which are not in the best interest of children.
The answer to all of this is quite simple. To discover what works all we need to do is ask those who are impacted by the system. My experience, working with parents, is that they can clearly articulate who are the "good" and "bad" workers. We failed to take seriously what the uses of the system tell us. I think this is partly because the workers do not wish to be confronted by their own failings and misgivings. Imagine, every worker's position and future employment was dependent upon the grading they received from the people they worked with. This would not be a grading based on whether or not you return the child but it would be a grading based on how they interacted with the parent or child. It would be determined by how well they listened and whether they are able to empathise and whether they were able to work constructively with the parent towards joint outcomes.
Even though I began this blog on a negative note, I would wish to emphasise that change is possible if we change the way we choose to work and develop a philosophy and framework which makes workers accountable.