While I’m on a hot streak of adding my two cents worth on topics that may upset people, I may as well mention child protection.
A recent article from The Australian describes Australia as the, ‘Child removal capital of the western world,’ with child protection workers removing children from their families at double the rate of the US and triple that of New Zealand. Even though it came from a paper that is better used for cleaning a BBQ plate than reading, I was moved to make a comment.
I really feel for child protection workers. It would be a really difficult and emotionally challenging job even if it was properly resourced- and its not. Before we jump to a simplistic answer (I hope you are listening Mr Bolt), let’s consider what other factors might impact this statistic apart from the unlikely image of child protection workers drunk on their own power. The other possibility is that a lot of these children do need to be taken from unsafe home environments. It is important that child protection workers are not scapegoated for a much broader problem. The combination of intergenerational poverty and crime, ghettoisation, substance abuse and a lack of education or opportunities for many families can form preconditions for unsafe home environments.
In my experience working in schools, I have seen no evidence of child protection being overly zealous in removing children from their families. It has literally been a very last resort. This is actually a little surprising, considering what will happen if the media finds a child deemed to be safe with their family has been badly harmed.
Speaking to people working in the legal system, I have heard anecdotal evidence of the department being quite inconsistent in its approach, with some parents having to fight very hard and overcome some pretty unfair obstacles in order to retain custody of their children. I also don’t doubt that just like any profession, there will be a minority of child protection workers out there who let their hard-working colleagues down through cutting corners or putting their prejudices ahead of facts. That is an unfortunate reality in most industries, but it would be unfair to assume this is more than a small minority.
I should add something else that was missed out by The Australian. The challenging and vital work of foster carers needs to be given some recognition and respect here. The separation of children from their families is done so because it is thought to be in the best interest of the child. It isn’t a perfect situation, but it is one that has worked out okay for many children.
It is obviously a pretty subjective decision to begin with, but I won’t argue that some children may have been taken from parents unnecessarily, or kept apart separated for considerably longer than appropriate. Perhaps the system needs better guidelines for more objective application of criteria for removal of children? Perhaps also the child protection system needs considerably more resources? And perhaps we need to do more about systemic generational poverty and ghettoization? Almost certainly this is a bigger issue than a child protection system supposedly gone rogue, as The Australian would like to paint it.