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Posts from the ‘Child Protection and Domestic Violence’ Category

Re-shaping the System. But into What?

Widespread media commentary has noted that, whilst most inquiries into the abuse and neglect of children are ‘crisis-driven’ and prompted by scandalous treatment of an individual child or family, no such impetus has underpinned the establishment of Queensland’s current Child Protection Inquiry.  Rather, its stated rationale is to deliver a ‘road map’ for child protection over the next decade.

Jurisdictions across Australia and internationally are struggling with re-shaping or reforming their child protection systems.  Queensland is similarly struggling and, despite the absence of a high-profile scandal relating to ways in which an individual child or family has been dealt with by the system, it may be easily argued that Queensland’s child protection system is nevertheless in crisis.

The Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Foster Care completed by the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) in 2004 led to significant increases in funding to and for government and non-government services.  Despite this, or even because of it, ‘demand’ for statutory and non-statutory services has increased, while ‘supply’ is outstripped.  For example, notifications of abuse or neglect that have been assessed as a ‘high priority’ are not being promptly investigated and less-than-suitable placements in out-of-home care are often occurring.

Queensland’s situation has characteristics and elements that are the same as those that exist in other jurisdictions within Australia as well as some that are significantly different.  Queensland is the ‘same’ in so far as the ‘child protection system’ as it exists within all States and Territories is complex, it encompasses multiple government and non-government service providers and child and family needs are becoming increasingly complex.  ‘Differences’ in Queensland which must also be accounted for stem from, for example, the spread of population across a vast and diverse geographic area, the comparatively more recent provision of government-funded services by community-based organisations and rapid expansion of out-of-home care placements.  Despite knowledge about the economic and human benefits of investing in prevention and early intervention, resource allocation as it is managed by all States and Territories, remains skewed towards tertiary interventions to a greater or lesser extent.

At the commencement of this inquiry, the most recent publicly available data (2010/11) indicates that while there has been movement up and down in the number of children entering and exiting out-of-home care each year, the actual rate/1000 children entering care in Queensland decreased from 2.5/1000 in 2009/11 to 2.2/1000 children in 2010/11. Children are however staying longer in out-of-home care, and a contributing factor to the overall situation is that children who entered around the time of the CMC Inquiry have remained in the system.

Despite the examination of components of the system by previous inquiries, demand increasing and resources tripling, the pathway provided to children and families through Queensland’s ‘child protection system’ remains fundamentally the same as it exists in other jurisdictions, with more or less attention given to the pathways into or those that sit alongside the system.

Inquiries typically fail to conceptualise the child protection system in a different way and therefore focus on doing the same things ‘better’ or doing ‘more of the same’, rather than advocating for different and new approaches.  Usual recommendations have included standardising or automating procedures, introducing structural changes for administering the system and underlining ‘reforms’ requiring legislative changes.  Examples from the CMC inquiry include the recommendation to regulate kinship care in the same way as foster care which has become problematic to the recruitment of potential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship carers, whilst more fundamental issues such as the need for a devolution of responsibility for protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to community-controlled and led organisations were not addressed.

This inquiry has an advantage over previous inquiries in that the Commissioner has been charged with making a “full and careful inquiry in an open and independent manner of Queensland’s child protection system”.   In taking advantage of this opportunity, It is imperative that the inquiry works back from the desired outcomes being sought for children, families and communities, informed by what is known about ‘what works and doesn’t work’, rather than simply recommending ‘more of the same’ in terms of existing solutions (eg. more resources, training and early intervention) or approaches (eg. adopting a public health model).  Whilst recommendations of this kind may, at least in part, carry some benefits, they are unlikely to significantly re-shape the child protection system or pave the way towards the adoption of a new paradigm.

To really make a difference for children and families whose circumstances lead them to being at risk of entering the child protection system or those already in contact or entrenched in the system, this inquiry must question the drivers that are immobilising the child protection system and making it resistant to change.  These are the drivers that are apparent not only in Queensland, but elsewhere as well.  They are the drivers that lead to the under-inclusion of some children and families and the over-inclusion of others, the ongoing insufficient capacity to properly service children and families arising from mismatches between the interventions individual families need and what they are offered, and the inequitable spread and access to services.

From the start of the inquiry, the Commissioner should be thinking about how to focus the recommendations on ‘outcomes’, rather than confining his examination to a review of ‘outputs’ or ‘processes’. The Commissioner should also be mindful of the ways in which the development and implementation of responses to his recommendations will be independently monitored to ascertain that the outcomes being achieved for children and families actually improve, in preference to simply reporting on the progress of implementing responses to recommendations.

In addition, a major challenge that exists concerns the context of fiscal restraint in which the inquiry is being conducted.  In accordance with the terms of reference established for the inquiry, the recommendations made by the Commissioner must be “affordable, deliverable and provide effective and efficient outcomes”.

This imperative sits within an environment where a major scaling back of the Queensland public service is taking place that has included the shedding of employees (albeit those who are purportedly not in ‘front-line’ positions) who have exercised roles and functions within a number of government departments that are related to the administration or delivery of child protection services as well as the discontinuation of grants to a number of non-government organisations.

The concern that must be considered by both the Commissioner and the government is whether the reduction in numbers of personnel across both the government and non-government sectors will deplete capacity to properly and adequately implement the recommendations which may arise from the inquiry.  Reductions in ‘policy’ and ‘program development’ personnel and system administrators within both the government and non-governments sectors may not be an effective cost saving measure in the longer term if there is insufficient capacity left to undertake the detailed policy analysis, program development, change management and monitoring functions that will be needed to implement major reforms.

Forewarning of what may be required to re-shape the child protection system comes from the United Kingdom.  With more than a year having transpired since the conclusion of the review of the United Kingdom’s child protection system that was led by Professor Eileen Munro, those charged with the responsibility of shifting the system away from being overly bureaucratised and procedurally driven have warned that the past ‘scaffolding’ of the system must be removed incrementally and with care.

In anticipation that this inquiry will make recommendations intended to reduce the over-reliance on tertiary interventions, it may also be expected that there will be challenges posed in not prematurely shifting resources away from the tertiary end towards prevention and early intervention without giving sufficient time for the demand for tertiary services to be effectively and genuinely reduced, thereby exposing some children and families to even higher levels  of risk than those that currently exist.

The Commissioner has been assigned the responsibility of charting a ‘road map’ for the next decade.  This is viewed as a realistic time frame for re-shaping the child protection system and it may be expected that every year of those ten years will be required to implement the extent of changes that are needed.

A key question that the Commissioner will need to wrestle with concerns what the new paradigm that we are seeking looks like.  Will the new paradigm constitute a re-vamping of the child protection system as we currently understand it or is it better to seek the establishment of a system focused much more broadly on ‘child and family well-being’ – a system that integrates the full range of programs and services required to support and respond to the needs of children and families that relegates the overall approaches to child protection as they are undertaken today to the pages of history?

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director – PeakCare Queensland

If you have a view about the matters raised in this post, make sure that you read all of PeakCare’s Child Protection Inquiry Issues Papers that can be accessed in the Members Only section of our website and enter your feedback into the accompanying questionnaires.

You may also wish to enter some comments below.  What do you think are the drivers that immobilise child protection systems and make them resistant to change?  If we are seeking a re-shaped child protection system, what should the system look like?  If a new paradigm was to be created, how would you describe it?

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Don’t Miss the Missing People’s Conference

Every week, children and young people in care go missing – sometimes for only a few minutes or hours, sometimes for weeks, months or years.

Children, young people and families with whom you are working may also be experiencing the turmoil created when a member of their family is missing.

Make sure that you have registered to attend the Missing People: Issues and Implications Conference to be held at the Logan Campus of Griffith University on Thursday 5th and Friday 6th July 2012.

Two sessions incorporated within the Conference Program that have special importance and may be of great interest to you include:

  • A key note address by Dr Susan Robinson from Charles Sturt University about missing children, assumptions, investigative issues and outcomes, and
  • A Panel Discussion about children who go missing from care.

The Panel discussion will be facilitated by Professor Clare Tilbury (Griffith University) and the Panel Members will include Dr Julie Clarke (Griffith University), Lindsay Wegener (PeakCare Queensland), Detective Senior Sergeant Damien Powell (Missing Persons Unit, Queensland Police Service) and Belinda Mayfield (Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services).

Other themes for the conference include definitional and ethical issues, specific groups at risk, research and policy and service delivery frameworks.

The Conference will be held:

WHERE – Logan Campus, Griffith University

WHEN – Thursday 5th and Friday 6th July

COST –  One day $290, 2 days $450

Click here for further information

May Day… All May long

“To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years.  To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.”  Winston Churchill

Here we are again in May – Domestic Violence Month – 2012.  Here we are again with a whole month dedicated to domestic violence.  Why a whole month?  Do we really need to focus attention on this issue for that long?  I’d love to say that it is not necessary given that many other significant issues only require a day or a week to highlight the concerns.  However, given the realities of domestic abuse, we need this issue on our radar the whole year through.

Why?

Domestic violence is still one of the most pervasive issues in our society.  Abuse against women is rampant.  The impacts on women and children in our society cost us sociologically.  It also costs us to the tune of billions annually economically in paying individually and collectively for the short and long term impacts of such abuse against women and children.

Most significantly domestic violence kills. It is our silent epidemic.   Each year at least a quarter of murders in Queensland result from domestic violence.  This is a fairly consistent statistic throughout recent years.

Whilst we have all the research about patriarchy, complacency, victim blame and the like, it is still hard to make sense of why any human being would be either accepting of or complacent with regard to those who exert power over their partners. Particularly when the statistics so clearly demonstrate the likelihood of horrific outcomes such as long term trauma impacts for the victim, children and other family members or death.

Last May I wrote the blog post Permission to Perpetrate, which outlined the need for our society to pay attention to the acts of perpetrators and address biases by recognising that women do not invite abuse, but rather that perpetrators plan it, defend themselves against any backlash and gather pawns in their game to support their perpetration.  This year not much has changed.  Thus we again highlight that domestic violence is the choice and responsibility of the perpetrator.  Their actions not only hurt women who are their current or former intimate partners, wives and mothers of their children, it also harms their children and their families as a whole.

So why are we still so focused on the women who are abused?  Why are there so many myths about women who experience domestic violence such as: they don’t tell the truth, they nag and invite it?  We know through on-going research that women are more likely to stay silent about domestic violence than to speak out against their perpetrator so such myths act only as excuses for perpetrators.  Click here for some of the common myths and fact responses to these myths.

Some advances however have been made in Australia since PeakCare’s 2011 May blog post:

In Queensland the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 1989 was reviewed and federally the Family Violence (and Other Measures) Bill 2011 was passed in December 2011.  This bill contains a number of amendments designed to strengthen the Act in relation to the protection of children in environments where family violence has been present.

PeakCare responded to the call for submissions for these legislative changes. When I placed these proposed legislative changes on my ‘google alerts’ to keep myself abreast of the issues, I was dumbfounded by the on-going commentaries that spoke of such proposed legislative amendments as sexist, feminist and an affront to men.  Most significantly the feedback suggested such legislation designed to address domestic violence and child abuse was undermining fathers in Australian society.

So, I started to read more closely in an endeavour to make sense of such relentless diatribes espousing this legislation as the work of ‘man haters’.  Men or fathers aren’t the target of the legislation, perpetrators of abuse are.   Little recognition was given to the fact this legislation was designed to protect children and adult victims of domestic violence regardless of gender.

Even if we were to see this legislation as protection for women and children, which it largely is due to the fact that they are the most common victims of domestic violence, why is protecting women and children from violence and abuse a process of undermining fatherhood or maleness in any way? In what way were the rights of loving fathers being undermined as major contributors to their children’s lives?

Why is there a sense that by affording equal rights and mutual respect to women and children, most notably the right to safety and well-being, men are somehow being vilified?  Their rights are somehow being trampled.  How?  As the White Ribbon Campaign, a campaign led by men internationally against violence towards women states:  The majority of men are not abusers but all men need to speak up and be united against violence perpetrated on women.

In closing, a quote from an icon of our time, a man who has a real grasp of horror:

“There’s a phrase, “the elephant in the living room”, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with … an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, “How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?” And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth: “I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.” There comes an aha-moment for some folks – the lucky ones – when they suddenly recognize the difference.”  Stephen King

The elephant is not just in living rooms.  These elephants are part of our society and indicative of our silence in accepting and remaining silent about domestic violence.

A society intent on equality and mutual respect is not an affront to men or masculinity.  It is a society that respects all citizens regardless of gender, creed or any other difference.  It is one that endorses respectful behaviour and freedom from abuse for all.

Click here to visit the Queensland Government’s Act as 1 campaign webpage

Lorraine Dupree

Policy and Research Manager PeakCare Qld

Support for Frontline Child Protection Workers

The LNP has announced that, if elected, they will “revitalise Queensland’s child protection system by supporting its frontline workers and engaging with the community sector in the delivery of services”.

LNP publications acknowledge that “Child Safety Officers work in a very difficult and highly sensitive environment and deserve support and recognition”.

A commitment is made by the LNP to “support front line child safety staff through improved career development options and working to reduce case loads”.

If you have a view or opinion about the LNP’s stated commitment to supporting frontline child protection workers, please enter a comment below or email us at election2012@peakcare.org.au.

Lindsay Wegener, Executive Director, PeakCare Queensland

Education Programs to Assist Children to Learn How to Protect Themselves and Report Abuse

The LNP has announced that, if elected, they would allocate $1 million to the development and delivery of school education programs to “arm children with the knowledge to protect themselves and to report suspected abuse and sexual assault”.

If you have a view or opinion about the LNP’s planned education programs, please enter a comment below or email us at election2012@peakcare.org.au.

Lindsay Wegener, Executive Director, PeakCare Queensland

Counselling Services for Children who have Experienced Abuse and Sexual Assault

The LNP has announced that, if elected, they will boost counselling services available for children who have experienced abuse and sexual assault.

In keeping with this policy, $1 million would be allocated over four years to non-government counsellors to deliver these additional services.

If you have a view or opinion about the LNP’s commitment to boost counselling services for children who have experienced abuse and sexual assualt, please enter a comment below or email us at election2012@peakcare.org.au.

Lindsay Wegener, Executive Director, PeakCare Queensland

Queensland Election 2012 Update:

Since PeakCare asked member agencies and other interested parties to send their commentaries on the Queensland child protection system, the areas of domestic violence and child sexual abuse have received significant attention.  The need to remain mindful of confidentiality in circumstances of domestic violence and child abuse reporting has also received comment.

The issues of domestic violence and child sexual abuse are amongst the most complex when navigating the child protection arena.  They are also the issues most likely to hit the ‘hot buttons’ across our communities.  For some members of our society accepting that people they love and trust can harm their partners and/or their children and then to stand up to such perpetrators who may be family members, close friends, colleagues or respected community members proves to be immensely difficult time and time again. As such, denial and victim blaming are common experiences for women and children facing these issues.

To holistically address the issues of violence and sexual abuse in Queensland, governments, organisations, communities and family members need to be cognisant of the prevalence of abuse and stand united against the silence perpetrators aim for.  All groups then need to come together to look at the most effective means of addressing these harmful issues in our society.

In calling on our members and key stakeholders to make comment on child protection in preparation for Queensland’s 2012 election, some key points raised and solutions offered are as follows:

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE:

It has been suggested that the silos regarding information sharing need to be broken down and more integrated communication systems such as evidenced by the Singapore model where each stakeholder has access to information be adopted.

School based programs on early intervention as prevention need to be adopted as core curricula and resourced adequately.  The earlier the intervention, the better the short and long term outcomes.  However, some evidence suggests that school aged teaching on abuse in intimate relationships needs to be followed up with workplace education as it can be difficult for school aged children to integrate the learning around intimate partners and children prior to having such lived experiences.  Therefore some prevention and early intervention models that denote success talk of engaging employers in their educative processes.

Queensland needs improved justice responses to men who use violence.  International literature and models trialled around the world point significantly to the need to hold perpetrators accountable both for their abuse and then for taking their rehabilitation seriously.  The criminalisation of domestic violence is also considered a significant step forward in having perpetrators understand the seriousness of their abusive conduct.  Queensland needs to consider this option.  Furthermore, integrated courts that respond to domestic violence and other coexisting factors such as child protection matters are an important step in a holistic systemic response.

An adequate number of accommodation responses for women and children escaping domestic violence are needed.  Various models of service need to be identified including refuges.

The confidentiality of these safe places needs to be upheld at all times by all parties involved in supporting women and children to live in safety.  Feedback thus far has commented on breaches of confidentiality by departmental officers that have led perpetrators to know the location of refuges and therefore victims.  Such breaches have led to women and children being relocated yet again and further upheaval for children in attending yet another new school.   Extreme caution needs to be exercised.  The capacity of perpetrators to ‘charm’ and ‘con’ is well documented.  Staff members in Department of Communities, Department of Housing and other government and Non-Government Organisations need to be given clear instruction to ensure women and children escaping domestic violence are able to relocate without fear of the workers supporting them being ‘tricked into’ disclosing their whereabouts by perpetrators endeavouring to locate them.

Similar feedback has been received about family violence and processes of disclosure.  Children who inform trusted adults about their abuse need to know the consequences of their disclosures and the likelihood that if the perpetrator is a parent they will be informed of the notification.  Even though notifications are confidential, concerns have been raised as to how easily some parents can track the disclosures back to a child.  Even in cases where the child withdraws the statement upon interview by the Queensland Police Service (QPS) they still remain vulnerable as, regardless of the child’s stated intent to proceed no further with the matter, parents are still notified by the QPS that a complaint has been received.  This has led to concerns that child abuse will go further ‘underground’ whilst children and their advocates elect to remain silent instead of speaking out due to fears for the short term safety ramifications for children when doing so.

Making notifications and managing a child’s risk post disclosures is an on-going minefield for professionals across education, health and human services settings.  This is an area that requires further attention and wide reaching discussion to establish safe protocols for children and young people as well as parties acting on their behalf.

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE:

The Queensland government must remain committed to the implementation of the National Child Protection Framework signed by COAG in 2009.

Organisations with a specific role in advocating for the interests of children who have been sexually abused are keen to ensure that the Queensland government implements strategies to achieve Outcome 6:

Child sexual abuse and exploitation is prevented and survivors receive adequate support.  Children are protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse through targeted prevention strategies, and survivors are supported by the community and through specific therapeutic and legal responses.

In upholding the principles of Outcome 6, the Queensland government in partnership with Non-Government Organisations needs to also ensure the requirements of the supporting outcomes pertaining to child sexual abuse in the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children are met:

  1. Raise awareness of child sexual exploitation and abuse, including online exploitation
  2. Enhance prevention strategies for child sexual assault
  3. Strengthen law enforcement and judicial processes in response to child sexual assault and exploitation
  4. Ensure survivors of child sexual assault have access to effective treatment and appropriate support

Again, the solutions offered include raising awareness of child sexual abuse and investing in wide reaching community education campaigns for all children and families.  Preventative strategies that have a strong evidence base of success need to be adequately funded to ensure sound outcomes.

The importance of hearing children and paying attention to their disclosures was also highlighted.  In order to be a State that operates with the best interests of children at the core of our system and processes, children need to be considered in all decisions that affect them.  This isn’t always easy to achieve and as such significant resources need to be available to ensure children are heard and then supported through their healing.

Concern about the current forensic nature of our child safety system has been raised as a significant factor impeding the capacity to protect Queensland children from sexual abuse. Given the widely documented difficulty in holding perpetrators to account for child sexual abuse, the current leaning of the child safety system to the burden of proof as opposed to professional assessments ascertaining the likelihood of sexual abuse having occurred and on-going risk has been highlighted as a major concern in protecting Queensland children. Qualified and well trained professionals are required to employ their skills in identifying and assessing risk factors and key indicators whilst also identifying the ‘nuances’ associated with perpetration that are more difficult to detect and prove forensically.

The importance of skilful assessment is an area about which PeakCare receives on-going feedback.  Concerns are expressed that staff undertaking assessments are often the most inexperienced and under-skilled members of the Department, when what is required is the expertise of the most skilled and experienced staff to make such complex calls.   Assessment processes require significant attention and on-going evaluation.

The need for improved communication and understanding of procedures between family support and child protection agencies, Department of Communities (Child Safety Services) and the family law courts also been highlighted.   Organisations working in child protection and domestic violence note that these systems often work in isolation of each other and employ processes that are complex to understand. Hence, protecting children from on-going sexual abuse, particularly when the offender is a parent, is difficult given the cost of the family law system and the complexity of navigating it when clients are often self-represented.  Workers from the Non-Government sector at times find the advocacy required when supporting clients through such systemic demands is beyond their scope of expertise.

A substantial increase in resourcing for law enforcement agencies to investigate child sexual offences, including online and historical offences has also been called for.  So too has been the need to ensure children and young people receive specialist therapeutic intervention at the earliest point possible.

Funding and resourcing for services that offer therapeutic intervention for children who have been sexually abused as well as support services for their family members is of vital importance.  It is widely understood that child sexual abuse is the silent epidemic of all societies globally and yet in Queensland, it remains an underfunded and largely un-resourced area.  Whilst adding funding and resources to this area of child protection, it is also essential that we ensure that therapists receive appropriate training in childhood sexual abuse and effective interventions.

Lorraine Dupree

Policy and Research Manager – PeakCare Qld

Swearing to aspire to…

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi

What do Jimmy Barnes, Keith Urban, Hamish and Andy, Will Anderson and Hazem el Masri have in common? 

They’re all swearing and they are encouraging other men to do so too:

  •   Jimmy Barnes says all working men should swear
  •   Keith Urban says all country boys should swear
  •   Hamish and Andy say all teams should swear
  •   Will Anderson says all comedians should swear
  •   Hazem el Masri says all real mean should swear

Whilst it is no great surprise to hear of Jimmy Barnes swearing, why are so many of our noted celebrities also swearing and encouraging the same of their peers?  Why is it that in Parliament on November 16th our Community Services’ Minister Karen Struthers also called on Queensland men to swear?

Perhaps because they are not swearing to ‘explete’ – they are swearing to ‘delete’.  Delete male violence against women.  They, alongside almost sixteen and a half thousand Australians have made a pledge for White Ribbon Day never to tolerate violence against women.  They have sworn to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.

The White Ribbon campaigners aptly name male violence against women as a human rights abuse.  They hold the perpetrators to account, offer support and insight and invite other men to step up and end this violence by challenging their family members and peers not to abuse and to stand tall against those who do.  They also work to dispel many myths such as:  she ‘deserves it, likes it, invites it or accepts it’ to state that no abuse of women is acceptable or condonable.

In 1999, the U.N. General Assembly declared 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, with a white ribbon as its iconic symbol.

Someone once told me upon my selection of red and white as thematic colours for a significant occasion that I should rethink my choice as red represented blood and white represented tears.  Whilst I feel sure that white represents so much more than tears on this occasion it is perhaps fitting.  Men’s violence against women leads to blood and way too many tears, not just for their victims but for their children, family members and many others associated with them.

Standing up to perpetrators requires a multi systemic response.  Having men on side to assist in this process goes a long way in alleviating the barriers to safety for women and children.  Let these men who have signed the White Ribbon oath for this campaign be family members, friends, police officers, teachers, principals, counsellors, housing workers, work colleagues, judges, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and all the associated professions required to assist women and children in attaining safety from violent and abusive men.  Let them also understand the complexities of perpetration and violence or ‘power over’ and/or have read the entire White Ribbon campaign and the associated resource sheets before they are so inclined to make any common presuppositions about male violence that are potentially based on bias.

It is befitting of this campaign that it originated in Canada given that PeakCare’s International keynote speaker at our ‘Challenging Silence Conference 2010’ was domestic violence intervention expert, Canadian academic Dr Allan Wade.  Dr Wade has much to offer with regard to Domestic Violence, the language and processes he denounces that we so often use to inadvertently support perpetrators whilst also incidentally an accidentally re-traumatising victims.  His mode of therapy offers many alternatives as to how to more appropriately support women and children who have experienced abuse whilst insisting perpetrators be held to account and take responsibility for their behaviours.  He asserts that perpetrators will continue to perpetrate if they are not held to account, just because they have the power and they can.  He also argues that perpetrators pre-empt their victim’s resistance and in doing so are streets ahead of the police, child protection workers and therapists who often see the victim as ‘passive’ and the perpetrator as ‘just angry’.

Changing perpetrating men’s violent behaviour against women requires that men get on board and be a key part of the change.  The White Ribbon campaign quotes and upholds Gandhi’s famous quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

The White Ribbon Campaign calls on men globally to support their fellow men to not perpetrate or to cease to perpetrate violence against women in order to ensure a world free from violence against women.  White Ribbon day is a global campaign to end the horror of women and children being beaten, violated and abused at the hands of men:

The campaigners clearly articulate that whilst both men and women experience violence, men are most commonly assaulted by strangers whilst the abuse women and children endure is most commonly perpetrated by family members including spouses, parents and loved ones.  They also state that violence against women is relevant to men:

“Violence against women is a deeply personal issue for women, but it is also very much a men’s issue because it is their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends whose lives are being harmed by violence and abuse.   It is a men’s issue because, as community leaders and decision-makers, men can play a key role in helping to stop violence against women.   It is a men’s issue because men can speak out and step in when male friends and relatives insult or attack women.   And it is a men’s issue because a minority of men treat women and girls with contempt and violence, and it is up to the majority of men to create a culture in which this is unacceptable.”

Men’s violence against women is most definitely a ‘men’s issue’.  It is heartening that this well researched and widely recognised male led campaign acknowledges this and is prepared to act.  It is long over due for men’s violence against women to cease being a ‘women’s issue’.

Lorraine Dupree

Policy and Research Manager, PeakCare Queensland

To take the White Ribbon oath click here: http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/myoath

For further resources on the White Ribbon Campaign click here: http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/resources

The Week that Was.

As Child Protection Week has now ended for 2011, it’s timely to consider the question, “Are the systems and services designed to protect our children improving?”

The answer is a mixed one – many things have improved, whilst others have a long way to go before, as a community, we can feel confident that our children are being adequately protected.

If we look back in time, some major milestones can be seen to have been achieved.  Due to an absence of any laws designed to protect children, the first action ever taken through a court to protect a child took place in Britain in the early nineteenth century under laws governing the protection of animals.  It seems that the rights and need of animals to be protected was understood before anyone realised that children also needed protection.

Looking back to the early parts of the 20th century, Queensland children who were viewed as “neglected and destitute” were often housed in hulks moored at wharfs at Lytton in Brisbane or sent to properties to work as unpaid farm hands.  This was followed by the period of large orphanages and farm homes where, as vividly recalled during last week’s “Remembrance Ceremony for Forgotten Australians”, many children suffered severe physical, sexual and emotional abuse.   A “stolen generation” of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families and communities and child migrants and other vulnerable children endured similar atrocities at the hands of those who were charged with the responsibilities for their care.

If we compare the child protection system today with those earlier times, we can see that great gains have been made.  This is largely attributable to people such as those who were the recipients of this year’s Child Protection Awards – Bruce and Denise Morcombe who, despite enduring the most horrendous experiences imaginable for a parent, continue to promote ways in which children can be kept safe from those who threaten their lives and innocence, Hetty Johnson and Bravehearts who have campaigned tirelessly for many years in raising public awareness about the vulnerability of children to sexual abuse by family members and others who should be those who are the most close and protective of them, Corelle Davies from Queensland Health who has exemplified the collaborative effort needed across government departments in ensuring the protection of children, Legal Aid Queensland Child Protection Unit and Advocate in promoting the legal rights and protections that should be afforded to all young people, the Mount Isa Substance Misuse Action Group that has provided a model for partnerships between a Police and Citizens Youth Club and local community organisations in arriving at innovative solutions to local community needs and Jill Wesche who represents the often unsung efforts of volunteers who selflessly contribute their time and efforts to protecting children.

Whilst we celebrate the achievements of these people and the improvements that they and many others have brought to the child protection system, it is important to note that we still have a long way to go.  The increasing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children within the child protection system says that not enough is being done to adequately address the impact of social and economic disadvantage that continues to be experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and the longstanding impact and trauma of the Stolen Generations.  The increasing rates of notifications of children being abused or neglected and numbers of children entering care that has occurred over recent years says that families are struggling.

The tragic murder of Brisbane school girl, Sidonie Thompson and the apparent suicide by her mother says that the protection of children holds no bounds in relation to the culture or socioeconomic background of children.

More than ever, the child protection system is in need of highly experienced, suitably qualified and professionally supervised practitioners able to properly assess and make well-informed decisions about the needs of families and their children.  It is in this area however that the child protection system is struggling.   At a time when they are most needed, well-trained, experienced and professionally qualified Social Workers are not there in the numbers required to ensure high quality services.

Government expenditure on child protection services has dramatically increased in the past decade, spurred on by findings of the 1998-1999 Forde Inquiry into the Abuse of Children in Institutional Care and the 2004 Crime and Misconduct Commission’s Inquiry into the Abuse of Children in Foster Care.  An increase in the funding provided to the right programs and services is only a part of the answer however.

Child protection is a “people-driven” system.  It now needs to more actively recruit, support and sustain the involvement of properly qualified Social Workers along with valuing the contributions to be made by other professional and para-professional groups, foster carers and volunteers.  These are the people in whom the public needs to have confidence that they are well-equipped and able to deal with the complexities of child protection.  In turn, these are the people who will be seeking, and are deserving of, the support of the public in exercising the onerous responsibilities of their jobs.

Lindsay Wegener – Executive Director, PeakCare

When the tragedy of youth suicide strikes, will you know what to do?

During recent weeks, a series of articles by The Australian has shone a spotlight on the deaths by suicide of two teenage girls from Maryborough – both aged 16 – in 2009.  Their deaths in such sad circumstances and at such a young age are, of course, a tragedy and our sincere sympathy is extended to their families and friends.

The articles published by The Australian serve as vivid reminders of the complexity of child protection work, the high and often life-threatening stakes involved in delivering child protection services and the onerous responsibilities held by both Government and non-Government organisations and their staff in exercising their roles to the best of their abilities.

A clear message that can be obtained from the reporting of their deaths is to always remain vigilant in looking beyond what may be perceived as difficult behaviours of young people and hearing their underlying pain and cries for help.  This underlines the need for a properly qualified, knowledgable and skilled workforce who are professionally supervised, challenged and supported in their decision-making and work with young people.

The contentious questions

Beyond this essential message arising from the tragedy of these girls’ deaths, an area of contention highlighted by The Australian articles concerns the ways in which:

·     the deaths of children and young people are to be properly investigated

·     organisations and individuals can be held accountable for their decisions and the actions they take in affording children and young people the protection they need, and

·     the transparency with which the findings of such investigations can or should be made known to the families of these children as well as the general public.

As reported within The Australian, the Minister for Child Safety, Phil Reeves has been resistant to making any public comment and was reluctant to release findings of the three inquiries conducted in relation to the deaths of the two girls. In response to calls by Tracy Davis, the Opposition’s Shadow Minister for Child Safety, to make public the investigation findings including any disciplinary proceedings or procedural changes instituted as a result of these findings, Minister Reeves has argued that legislated privacy provisions have prevented him from doing so.  It is noted that in response to the ensuing impasse, Premier Anna Bligh has recently requested that Minister Reeves re-visit his refusal to release the investigation findings and the Department’s Director-General has been instructed to arrange a meeting with the mothers of these girls to inform them about the investigation findings.

PeakCare’s views

PeakCare’s view is that Minister Reeves was correct in giving importance to the privacy and dignity of the two girls – even in their death.   However, it is also PeakCare’s view that Tracy Davis, the Shadow Spokesperson was also behaving appropriately in asking what lessons can be learned from this tragedy.  The contention surrounding this issue appears to be one of degree – to what extent can or should the findings of investigations of this type be made known publicly in the interests of accountability and transparency and to what extent can or should levels of information be withheld from public scrutiny for reasons of respecting the privacy of children who have died, their families and/ or other parties.

What Munro would say

In considering the ways in which these issues may be best balanced and managed, it is beneficial to consider recommendations made by Professor Eileen Munro in her recent review of the United Kingdom’s child protection system.

Professor Munro highlighted the shortcomings of reactive responses to a number of investigations of child deaths within the United Kingdom that focussed on identifying and blaming “professional error”.  The Munro recommendations set out a challenge to look beyond “professional error” and ask the more and difficult and challenging questions about the characteristics and features of the system that allowed for the “professional error” to occur.

These are not questions for the Government only – they also concern you!

It should not be regarded that the ethical and moral dilemmas likely to be encountered in answering the questions about the best ways to conduct investigations and manage their findings are ones to be wrestled with by Governments only.  Similar dilemmas may also be encountered at any time by a non-Government organisation.

For example, in the sad event that a child who has been a client or residing in the care of your service, dies:

·     What responsibilities may be held by your organisation to commission its own investigation?

·     How will the interface between your organisation’s own investigation and those which may potentially be undertaken by the Police Service, the Department of Communities, the coroner and/ or the Child Death Review Committee be managed and by whom?

·     To whom will your organisation disclose the findings of its own investigation, how will this be managed and what will be the extent of information that should be provided to certain parties (such as members of the child’s family or the general public)?

·     Does your organisation have articulated policies in respect of the above and to what extent are they driven by a fear of litigation or by other ethical considerations?

·     To what extent are your policies focussed in identifying and blaming “professional error” or conversely, focussed on addressing the systemic issues that may have enabled or contributed to “professional error”?

Subject to your interest in further exploring these questions and arriving at the best answers, PeakCare would be pleased to organise a forum where relevant issues can be discussed and “expert advice” from guest presenters provided.

If you have an interest in participating in such a forum, please indicate your interest by emailing groberts@peakcare.org.au.

It is by honestly and openly dealing with the challenges posed by questions raised in The Australian articles that we can honour the two Maryborough girls whose lives tragically ended in 2009.

Lindsay Wegener – Executive Director, PeakCare