Readers added some very thoughtful debate about my piece and, as I understand it, the main concerns were as follows. The strict rules in criminal court mean that some guilty parties will get acquitted, because the proof may be difficult. The philosophy is that it is better that some villains should escape in order to ensure that no innocent people are convicted. This analogy was then extended to family court, by saying that the lower standards of proof in family court may be tough on some families like the Baynes, but if we did not have it this way some abusive parents would get away with it. The dilemma seems to be that if we protect the Baynes we let off the child abusers scot free. If we make sure we protect all children, then we persecute some families without good cause.
Is this an insoluble dilemma? Far from it. It is more like a hypothetical proposition and is not related to actual practice. It would be a good topic to find employment for all those policy analysts who beaver away in children’s ministry cubicles far from the madding crowd. Why do I say this? Good decision making has two main components. First one needs good information and as much relevant information as possible. Secondly, one needs to have the ability to analyze and evaluate that information and take appropriate action. The bigger the picture one can get, the easier it is to find the right course. How does this work out?
I mentioned once before that a former minister told me that 30% of child protection cases are over-investigated. At the same time 30% are under-investigated. When I first explored child protection on the web, I found this was confirmed. There were two types of horror story. There were those where cases of the most pitiful abuse and neglect were steadfastly ignored by child welfare authorities. Then there were many cases where families were relentlessly persecuted, with scant evidence and for flimsy reasons. For instance any whisper or rumour of child sexual abuse unleashed the child welfare pit-bulls, while when there was the most blatant evidence of neglect or abuse, the authorities looked the other way, or, as in British Columbia they would call in the agency for teaching penguins to fly and give them a long contract.
So the real problem is that the children's ministry keeps in step with the rest of the-English speaking world and manages to get it wrong 60% of the time. The argument was that we have to be strict with the good guys, so that the bad guys don’t get away with anything. We actually have the proof that the two are not related. Our authorities manage to persecute the good guys and let off the bad guys anyway. So where does that leave us? I suggest that what we really need to be doing is to reduce that thirty percent over-investigation and also the thirty percent under-investigation and increase the proportion where we get it right. Let us aim to get it down to 10% either way, so that we can get it right 80% of the time and double our achievements. We will never get it perfect and when we have reduced it to getting it wrong only 20% of the time, we should still strive to do better.
How can we do all this? I have written about it many times. We need to guarantee excellent training to all our social workers in child protection. We need to give them a good core training programme so that they know how to do the work on a professionally competent basis. When they go out confident in their skills they will stay longer and get constantly improve their skills. They will use individual assessment skills on cases and will not follow the silly trends we have seen in the past. They will know that you cannot do protection work like a bureaucratic functionary, as is expected today."
Ray Ferris continues to care. What a man! Ray is an occasional GPS post writer. Ray speaks from 31 years service in child welfare and protection as a social worker and district supervisor and family court coordinator. Ray is the author of 'The Art of Child Protection'. You can purchase it from him by writing to
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