Child protection question

Anyone familiar with child protection services? There’s a story in the Sydney Morning Herald today about DOCS taking babies from mothers: Surge in infants taken from mothers after DOCS crackdown:

THE number of newborn babies taken from their mothers by the Department of Community Services has surged in the past two years.

Each day in NSW an infant younger than four weeks old will be removed from the mother, according to government data provided to Parliament.

The crackdown was the result of DOCS following up leads from NSW Health staff about mothers having problems, especially with drug and alcohol issues, said a spokeswoman for the Minister for Community Services, Linda Burney.

”Problems affecting parents, such as mental health concerns, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence, are the primary factors behind the increase in reports.”

My question is: shouldn’t that be “leads from NSW Health staff about PARENTS having problems”? Why is it just mothers being blamed? Is this a Department thing, or a journalist thing?

Then there’s the quote from Opposition community services spokeswoman Pru Goward which rankles: “They are removing children as soon as possible, before they are too damaged. It is better to be safe than sorry seems to be the policy.”

Labelling people as damaged pisses me off so much. The idea that someone is “damaged goods”. Almost always used when referring to women, because women are something to be owned, but you only want to own one if she was a virgin before she met you.

31 responses to “Child protection question

  1. Well I have had quite a bit of experience with Community Services (DoCS) over the years and was a mandatory reporter for a long time. Anyway it may be a DoCS or it may be a journalist thing to use mother in this language context. However the reality is that most single parents that Docs deal with are mothers, yes they are a parent but they are literally a ‘mother’. Yes Docs deals with families and single fathers and saying ‘parents’ instead of ‘mother’ is probably more correct in terms of language and avoids theos e laden terms but I am not too offended by their use of the word mother in this context. It reflects the reality that majority of care givers that they deal with are mothers, so as a literal use of words and a description of a situiation I think it is acceptable. Pru Goward usually manages to offend when she speaks so I try to ignore her.

    • Ah, I suspected that might be the case. And thinking about Goward has just reminded me that John Howard was in my dream, briefly, last night. ManFriend and I were having a meeting with five former PMs – Howard, Menzies, Fraser and two others who at the time I knew but now realise were just random dream people. ManFriend and I then went on a bushwalk in the dark and ate oranges.

  2. I’m in SA so its Families SA down here…

    Really what this article suggests to me is that in the last two years DOCS (because of all the bad publicity they get) and the Health Dept of NSW have worked on their notification system… while I imagine this has been done under the rubric of ‘early intervention’ – very trendy policy but still needs adequate resourcing of both early intervention programs and crisis/ emergency child welfare services…

    The article makes no mention of whether these are permanent ie child becomes a ward of the state, or temporary removals… I can’t help but wonder what support services are being put in place, if any, to support successful reunification…

    Because you know… these babies don’t go up for adoption… no matter what the ‘nice middle class’ people reading such stories may tell themselves…they become foster kids… some might be lucky enough to have successful placements in loving homes, others will find themselves churned through an inadequately resourced and chronically stressed system which doesn’t give a shit.

    And then they wind up being called ferals…

    I’m not saying that parents automatically give a shit… some people quite frankly are incapable of parenting even if they’ve biologically reproduced themselves… but…. I do have to wonder at what role class has in this…

    And there’s where I will cease my ranting…

    • Don’t nice middle class people adopt from overseas? Because that way if the kid is funny looking, or badly behaved, it’s clear to everyone that they are adopted, so you can’t be blamed for bad genes. If you adopt a white “Australian” kid, the parents might be bogans and then you don’t know what kind of miscreant you’ll end up with. Isn’t that really why overseas adoptions are so popular?

    • Since the Wood report there has been a massive overhaul of child protection in NSW, there are new cross agencies policies and yes focused on prevention and early intervention (they are indeed new policy buzzwords). You make a good point in pointing out that it does not differentiate between permanent and temporary removals,. It should tho, cos they are very different reasons and outcomes. But restoration of families is a key aim for Docs. Many removals are just temporary, sometimes it is cos an abusive partner has returned to the house, sometimes it is that the parent is temporarily homeless (a mandatory reporting reason). We should be careful not to vilify Docs too much, it is a very very tough job and one where they are damned if you do and damned if they don’t…take the kid and it is forced removal and breaking a family up for over sensitivities, dotn take the kid is a failure and neglect.

      • Not meaning to damn the people in DOCS more the lack of resources in the child protection system generally… I know lots of very committed child protection workers who struggle constantly to get resources for their clients.

        But… there aren’t enough resources in the system… waiting times for services are long, and clients bounce from service to service telling their story a zillion times… and going nowhere, health, housing, welfare…. round and round like pinballs…

        Why aren’t there enough resources? Well.. who makes those decisions ultimately? Politicians. And who lets them? The electorate… and child protection is under resourced because people generally do not want to think about the topic… its yucky and boring and depresso… when its bought to their attention- usually in tragic and highly sensational circumstances, then there are instant demands for ‘something to be done!’ and then most people go back to not thinking about the topic… until the next example comes up…

        and I will cease ranting once again…

  3. Yeah pretty much everything Lexy said, we know that statistically, mothers are the primary care-givers (as it should be in my controversial opinion) and there is much more focus on early intervention than there used to be. There is a new online mandatory reporting tool for human services workers which simplifies the decision to report or not. If someone has had a child removed in the past then that is considered grounds to remove a newborn, if that person’s circumstances have not changed. However, if it can be shown that the person’s circumstances have changed then DoCS absolutely will drop the case.

    For workers in NGOs it can often seem like DoCS are difficult to communicate with but we do know that they have horrendous work loads and a high rate of burn out in a profession where burn out is common anyway.

    The thing to remember when we hear the DoCS workers bashed in the media is that this is a profession that is considered to be “women’s work” and is therefore under-valued under-funded etc. There is no limit to what social workers are expected to do, and it goes without saying that many of us go home to do the “second shift” as well. /end rant.

    • Linda, Lexy and Lissy (ooh, alliteration), you are all spot on. The media – of which I am a part, but I can honestly say I’ve never done a story about DoCS – loves to DoCS-bash, which is fucked. I actually don’t have anything else to add to this discussion, since it’s out of my realm of knowledge, so please, continue to rant amongst yourselves. I’m taking notes.

  4. Not to nitpick but Goward was clearly referring to children being damaged. I am not sure why they refer specifically to ‘mothers’ perhaps it’s because so many women are left swinging in the breeze by shit men. In my (indirect) experience with DOCS or more accurately its QLD equivelant, they tend to crucify good parents and let the junkie jailbird types off the hook.

  5. To elaborate my cousin had two children one of whom got sick. She took him to the hospital and they sent her home. A few hours later she took him back and it turns out he had a fracture in his skull. For twelve months my aunty had to live with her (and her husband at the time) as she was not permitted to be alone with the child (note that I said child, she was fine to be with her other son and whilst there is a special sticker on the younger boys file there isn’t on the older’s) after all this persecution and the introduction of baristers, it was conceded that there was no evidence she had done the child any harm. She never could have struck any person least of all her own children. Now her marriage has split up and because of this debacle in which she was cleared of wrongdoing, her ex-husband has full custody. Yet the drug addled parent of that little girl up in Hawks Nest were able to starve her to death despite numerous complaints and visits from DOCS. What the problem is I don’t know, but there sure is one.

    • Two illustrations of what Lissy, Linda and Lexy have been talking about: that the system has real problems. As I explained earlier, I don’t know anything about DoCS, which is why I put the question about mothers/parents out there in the first place.

  6. Kimsonof has raised the issue of another problematic system, the family court.

    Good mothers are losing the primary care-giver role due to “friendly parent” provisions in the Howard gov’s Family Law Amendment Act 2006 and increased gender mainstreaming of family law assumptions. There is a shitload of research literature around this issue now, and reviews. Caitlinate at The Dawn Chorus wrote about this last year.
    http://thedawnchorus.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/mcclelland-talks-says-mostly-good-things/

    This is a separate issue to the DoCS one. Hospital staff are mandatory reporters under child protection law and so would be in breach of those laws if they failed to report a child with a fractured skull. Similarly, DoCS would be crucified by the media if they didn’t act on the report and further harm came to the child.

    In a sexist society we, and especially the media, love to indulge in mother-bashing whether it’s through individual cases or departments like DoCS which are mostly women workers. Extreme, non-representative cases like the one at Hawks Nest make for better headlines than all the thousands of good outcomes of DoCS cases, and remember, that little girl’s mother got a much tougher sentence than her father did.

    The other major issue here is the lack of social and support services for people with mental illness and/or a range of other issues which impact on their social participation and capacity to parent. The Howard gov spent a decade cutting funding to these services so that there are too few of them and the ones that exist are so under-resourced that under policies based on economic rationalism, responses are based on risk assessment.

    So with increased economic instability, reduced job security, rising living costs and less funding for social services, we’ll see more and more families falling through the cracks. In humanitarian interests of social inclusion we should be demanding more and better-funded services, not promoting social/class prejudice about “junkie jailbird types”.

    We also have to remember that the average DoCS worker might have a case load of over forty families. As well as this they probably have families of their own in which they, based on enduring gender roles, will also be likely to be the primary child-carers/domestic labourers.

    But it’s much easier to pick on those people (the poverty-stricken, the mentally ill and the workers who are dealing with them) than on the bigger, more oppressive power of governments and social institutions.

    Apologies for the lengthy post!

    • Don’t apologise. This is exactly why I asked you guys, rather than talk about it myself.

      Mother-bashing is a popular media sport, even outside of DoCS stories, with stories about being a ‘good mother’ never balanced by stories about being a ‘good father’. Just last week there was a story in the SMH about the rising cost of childcare, and the photo was of a (married) woman with her two children (because no one is sympathetic towards a single mum with kids). Why wasn’t the father also in the photo? Why is childcare cost reported as thought it’s a mother’s issue only? Emily Maguire made a great point about the way we approach childcare costs in her Pamela Denoon lecture: The calculation seemed to be: Woman’s Salary – Childcare = Might as Well Stay Home. Shouldn’t it go: Family Income – Childcare = New Family Income if we Both Decide to Work?

    • Aughhh! Fricking Howard and the Family Law System!!!!!!! *froths at mouth*… really should finish that post I’m working on…

      But it’s much easier to pick on those people (the poverty-stricken, the mentally ill and the workers who are dealing with them) than on the bigger, more oppressive power of governments and social institutions.

      *pretend trolls* But gov’ment will keep us safe from smelly poor people who talk to themselves and those workers are either public servants (who are all lazy!) or whinging lefty pinko greenie femmo types… and you know women all lie about that domestic violence and rape stuff… I had a mate once… and stay at home mothers are lazy but working women should be home with their kids because they’re useless at work anyway… and women who commit crime well they’re worse than blokes who do that because that’s unnatural… I mean a bloke who hurts his kids that’s way less bad than a mother who does that…women should be nicer than blokes and shouldn’t yell or fart anything… but goddammit if women aren’t fussy bitches with their too high standards… frigid bitches will probably end up barren anyway… except those who are sluts who get themselves knocked up just so they can leech off men and the welfare…

      • Don’t forget those sluts who trick you into getting them pregnant, so they can trap you in a relationship and get the baby bonus… and those immigrants who come here and take our jobs and get on welfare so our taxes pay for them to have so many babies that it’ll soon be ‘spot the Aussie’…

        • And farking politicians are farking useless anyway except that Abbott fellow, if he didn’t get about in the budgie smugglers I’d think he was an alright bloke and invite him around for a barbie…

  7. I guess it’s reported that way because most couples are going to sacrifice the lower salary if any, and in the vast majority of cases that is the woman’s salary, for reasons that anyone reading here is probably already familiar with.

    And as you say, single mothers can just jump under a bus.

    • Ladies, you have silenced me (no easy feat) – all very sensible comments with a good understanding of the complexity of child protection and teh problem of under resourcing…especially its lack of popularity (like mental illness – if we dont talk about it, it might go away). The only thing I will add is that I actually know many male DoCS workers, which surprised me initially as the human services industry tends to have a lot of female employees.

    • And further to the media obsession with good/bad mothers, the tv at work near my desk is on Channel 7’s Today Show (no sound). The discussion: slummy mummy role models. Whatever the hell that is.

    • most couples are going to sacrifice the lower salary if any, and in the vast majority of cases that is the woman’s salary, for reasons that anyone reading here is probably already familiar with.

      And as you say, single mothers can just jump under a bus.

      Way too familiar!!! And they’ll have to push me under!

  8. LOL@ …I had a mate once…

    I hear that so much regarding the family court/child support system and how it’s really the poor blokes who are oppressed by it. If it’s not a mate it’s a brother or a cousin, outraged at having to still help support children who’s mother he is no longer fucking. To be fair to them, that is supposed to be the deal under the patriarchal system, but when government policy turns around and bites men on the arse too, they don’t blame the gov, they blame teh evil womyns.

    I’m trying to write an essay about the impact of social policy and political discourse on the role of women in the domestic and market spheres (unfortunately I only have 1500 words!).

    So right now I’m looking at popular culture and the way it enforces those roles so I googled slummy mummy and apparently it was a book, some kind of weird chick lit –
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Life-Slummy-Mummy/dp/184605110X

    I predict the tag will end up right up there with “bunny boiler” and “biological clock”.

    • If I made generalisations based on the people in my social circle, everyone would know that almost every single refugee who arrives by boat is genuine, that the government doesn’t control interest rates, and would take their own bags when shopping. And we clearly know that’s not the case.

      • On the subject of immigration – I read an article on the proposed housing review aimed at reducing the unaffordability crisis. Anyway all the commentators were blaming foreign properties owners and all the new migrants for pushing up property prices in Australia and and that it is Rudd’s fault (that’s right the PM that has been here less than 3 years and a 10 year old housing bubble). So the Howard tax incentives like negative gearing, capital gains tax incentives and first home owners boost have nothing to do with it then?? They have EVERYTHING to do with it, something that most economists agree on. Now admittedly I had a job interview this week where I had to talk about the affordability crisis for 40 minutes so I am in housing crisis mode but one of the things I didn’t mention, in terms of causes and possible responses at a state and Commonwealth level, was a policy to kick out the foreigners cos not only are they taking our jobs and our women and our welfare but apparently now our houses. Wait a minute I’m a migrant and I own a house ….oh no they must be right! kick me out of the country god damned sponging stealing (yes all at the same time) migrant!

        • Damn you and your foreign property-owning ways. I would have thought that foreigners buying into the Great Australian Dream of Property Ownership, or receiving Centrelink benefits was very Australian. Talk about complete assimilation.

  9. Plus foreign property ownership rules are quite tight and designed to boost the housing industry. Foreign owners can not buy pre established houses, only new builds.

  10. “progromatic specificity” should fix it.

    • @Linda “The secret life of the slummy mummy” just looking at the cover… oh yes read the review… exactly as I thought ‘successful career woman realises that mothering is hard but of course much more rewarding than working ever was….’ puh-lease!

      This is a complete derail… chicklit pisses me off… its so white, middle class and hetero-normal… most of its basically Mills and Boons with a career thrown in… though even M&B features career women these days… well it did when I was still seeing my mother who has an extensive collection in her toilet….

      Just aughh!

      @ Reb “progromatic specificity” should fix it.

      I just wet myself laughing… *wipes tears away*

      And when I hear, read ‘Howard’ my reaction is something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1oFnWHDPg0&feature=related

    • Hey reb, pogromatic specificity might also work…

  11. That’s right Lissy, all sensible women eventually come to their senses and realise that endless unpaid and unrecognised work beats the shit out of economic independence! Those crazy heartless career women – the joke’s on them!

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