Honestly, I plan to focus on the cricket after this…

09 Nov

Now that there is a season to sit back and enjoy. It has already delivered some interest, even if I just began watching today.

However, about NSW and those horrible events involving the Department of Community Services. I was at The Mine for a while today (delivering copies of my feature article in the South Sydney Herald) and chatted with someone who has experience with autistic children and the accompanying nutrition issues, which if neglected could produce the outcome we have been reading about. Beyond that I propose to say nothing about that issue.

However, consider some background issues. I have this memory in the late 80s of talking to a DOCS worker who said that there would sooner or later be a catastrophe. What he was referring to were the cuts in funding and staffing that were then happening, a result both of state (Liberal Party then under Greiner) and Federal (Hawke Labor) policies. Jim Belshaw will know much more about this, but I offer Working in Community Services: Management and Practice by Michael Wearing [Allen & Unwin 1998] in support.



Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse

This development in response to fears of pedophilia has had its down-side. Even when, as teachers, it was being explained to us some of us wondered how on earth DOCS would cope with the mountains of allegations and investigations, especially given that many of the allegations would probably prove to be baseless. Well perhaps we have been finding out. See The state of child protection (2003) from the Evatt Foundation.

Child protection staffing

Despite the large number of child protection reports produced in recent years, staffing data are difficult to come by. If we wanted, we could describe the absence of such information as ‘extraordinary’. One of the reasons why staffing information is difficult to collect is that services are provided by at least three types of agencies: state agencies, community-based organizations (CBOs), and charitable organisations…

Mandatory reporting of child protection cases has been introduced throughout Australia. Despite some debate, it is welcomed as a strategy to reduce the incidence of child abuse. But mandatory reporting also means an increase in caseloads. An absence of employment statistics makes it difficult to ascertain a precise picture of how great has been the caseload increase. However, there are indications that the increase in caseloads has been substantial. Government responses have varied.

New South Wales

Mandatory reporting was introduced 18 December 2000. The Legislative Council’s standing committee on social issues was directed to examine child protection services in April 2002. The Public Service Association of New South Wales (PSA) made a submission to the inquiry in June 2002. The committee reported in December 2002, finding that the number of contact reports, from all sources, increased by 34,408 between 1999-2000 and 2000-01. Also in December 2002, the minister for Community Services reported that the number of reports to the department of Community Services of suspected child abuse had increased from 33,000 in 1994/95 to 160,000 in 2001-02.

In its submission to the committee, the PSA said that ‘Whilst mandatory reporting has been a major cause for the drastic increase in the number of reports of child abuse and child neglect, it has served as a useful tool in identifying the true extent of child abuse and child neglect in our community. The only true response from any decent government would be to tackle the problem head on and provide the resources necessary to deliver the appropriate service’. The PSA recommended that additional ‘850 to 900’ caseworkers be employed, and that supplementary funding be provided for ancillary staff and computer equipment. Members of the PSA had previously identified what it called a ‘crisis’ in the department and had taken industrial action (April 2002) to bring the crisis to the attention of the departmental management, the minister and the community; and to protest at dismissal action taken by management in response to publicity given to a number of child deaths which had occurred. There had also been instances of assault against frontline staff of the department.

The industrial action resulted in what has become known as the ‘Kibble joint working party’ (the PSA was represented). The working party reported in June 2002 and concluded (amongst other things) that ‘There had been a significant increase in the volume of reports of children at risk of harm made to DoCS, and greater demands on caseworkers as a result of requirements under the 1998 Act, but staffing resources had not increased in line with this growth’. In December 2002, the minister announced that an additional $1billion had been provided for child and family services. The $1billion was allocated to 875 additional caseworkers (in addition to 130 which had already been announced), and $20million for ancillary staff.

The government’s decision to increase the number of child protection workers was a good outcome. However, it should be acknowledged that the decision was made eight months after crisis conditions were brought to the Government’s attention by industrial action.

I am told that DOCS finds it hard to keep workers, however, and given 1) the nature of the job and 2) the developments since 2002-3, the latest being those now being canvassed, this would not be surprising. I am wondering just what the realities are at the coal face. For example, how long do people stay working as case workers? What is the turnover? What continuity is there? What has been the impact of mandatory reporting on the size of case loads? Are there enough qualified and experienced people on the job?

I don’t know the answers. That’s why I’m asking them, and not in the spirit of blaming the actual case workers either… What about parental responsibility, for example? How much can DOCS be expected to do? Any ideas?

Sunday update: Jim’s very valuable history and analysis

I knew very well that what I was intuiting from my own experience and position would be given professional depth by someone as experienced in public administration as Jim Belshaw is. I am grateful for Problems in NSW Child Welfare. I commend it to your attention.

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Posted by on November 9, 2007 in Aussie interest, Current affairs



7 responses to “Honestly, I plan to focus on the cricket after this…

  1. Daniel

    November 10, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    The answer is to stop inappropriate parents from having children. Sterilization for some males and females should be mandatory.

    Surely, people should have to prove they can handle the responsibility of parenthood! Cheers.

  2. ninglun

    November 10, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Emotionally one might agree, Daniel, but in practice is another matter altogether. Such measures would probably prevent the births of many people who later could become good, even successful, citizens. Much too Draconian. There have been places, unfortunately, where such things were tried…

  3. Daniel

    November 10, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    Better to let some kids die terrible deaths, eh, Neil, while others suffer unbearable, damaging childhoods?

    Children’s lives and happiness surely should not be a lottery! That really is Draconian.

  4. ninglun

    November 10, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    Daniel, you are doing yourself a disservice by suggesting Sterilization for some males and females should be mandatory. Which God-like bureaucrat will decide? That policy has a very unpleasant history. It was in fact practised in some parts of the USA in the 20th century, but most notoriously of course in Nazi Germany.

    I cannot comment with any credibility on the specifics of the little girl who died at Hawks Nest. None of us can. What we have been learning about the family history there does suggest, however, terrible problems that are, I am sure, not unique to that family. It really is a big problem and has led to my thinking there are cases when “stealing children” might not be such a bad idea, so long as when they are rescued there is somewhere safe for them to be…

    I can say this about autism though. Children who are on some of the stimulant drugs used to treat it will refuse to, or not want to, eat or even drink; it may also, it seems, occur even without those drugs. I am told this by the parent of such a child, but it is well known — Feeding problems in children with autism spectrum disorders: a review. See too this letter in the Herald-Sun

    The girl in question was reported to suffer from autism. I am the mother of a young boy with severe autism and we have great difficulty keeping him nourished. Autistic children can refuse food to the point of starvation. Children with autism have many sensory dysfunctions and this can make them unable to feel hunger. It can also make them repulsed by the textures and smells of foods. Some autistic children have to be tube fed to prevent starvation but in the case of children severely affected with autism this is usually not an option because they pull the tube out themselves which is an even greater risk to them. My son also takes off his clothes and urinates on his bedroom floor as well as smears his faeces on the walls and carpet. Despite my efforts to keep his bedroom fresh and clean there is a bad smell in there from all of the times this has happened. Believe me there is a limit to how clean you can get carpet that has had faeces ground into it on a daily basis. I don’t think the public would judge my family the same way this poor family have been judged simply because we don’t have tattoo’s, we live in a nice house and my husband works in a professional role. Please do not pass judgement on this family and allow them to grieve their much loved daughter in peace.

    Posted by: Jodie of Melbourne 10:22pm November 08, 2007

    If parents are negligent or not coping, though, whatever the reason… I don’t have to join the dots, do I? I think Jodie’s account of her own son is honest and revealing, and her instinct — to defend the other family — is commendable. Certainly it is healthier than the tendency we all have to read something in the paper or see it on TV for a few minutes and then make “informed judgements” about it all… It would seem, though, that there is a history in that family with several authorities, including the Department of Education, going back years in their former home in Matraville, which may well mean that in fact Jodie is being too kind…

    However, tossing around ideas like “compulsory sterilization” is a bit like tossing a grenade…

    What I was trying to highlight was: 1) how much we are expecting of DOCS — expectations which have, I suggest, become increasingly unrealistic, given 2) the additional loads that they have been given in an environment of reduced support from government going back two decades. Honestly, who would want to be a DOCS case worker today? I deliberately — until this comment — avoided the specific case. The same applies to the “Lake Angel” case, again a dreadful tragedy, but again one where the whole story really is not known yet, maybe never will be.

  5. Daniel

    November 11, 2007 at 7:48 am

    Stealing children, eh? That would surely lead to a lengthy sentence if one were caught.

    Couldn’t we do a better job by tightening up the Department responsible for children, give them more power to seize kids at risk, put all parents on notice that they can’t just do as they like with their kids?

    And parents who have proven themselves to be bad parents, what are we going to do: let them continue to breed like rabbits? Is this what a responsible, caring society does?

    Something must be done to break the cycle, Neil! Putting it all in the too hard basket is no answer.

  6. ninglun

    November 11, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Stealing children, eh? That would surely lead to a lengthy sentence if one were caught. Used to happen all the time, Daniel. Remember the Stolen Generation? That was motivated partly by racist motives, partly by welfare motives. Also, in society at large in those days, many other children were removed by Welfare…

    Something must be done to break the cycle, Neil! Putting it all in the too hard basket is no answer. Complex social problems are hard, Daniel, otherwise they would not be complex social problems. Dramatic solutions sometimes — often, always? — compound the problem. Isn’t that becoming apparent with the NT Intervention?

  7. Jim Belshaw

    November 11, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks for the plug, Neil. I hope that it helps the discussion a little.

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