Part two of Nine
Resolving Systemic Problems in Child Protection Services
By Ray Ferris
Ferris retired after a career that included significant years with the MCFD. He has written a book entitled 'The Art of Child Protection.' This is the first in a series of pieces Ray will write here. You can order Mr. Ferris' book entitled 'the Art of Child Protection' by contacting the author directly at email@example.com.
How to define the problems.
Some simple tests can be made to define systemic and non-systemic problems. Consider this: - There have been a number of systemic changes over the years, but whichever system has been used, there have always been staff who could make the system work reasonably well and those who could not. This has been a reliable constant. We can infer from this that the most important factor has been the skills and commitment of the various staff. No system will work without a definable and teachable body of skills. These skills will take time to learn. They will be learned by a combination of theoretical instruction and supervised field practice with only manageable responsibilities. This training programme will take two or three years. It is most important that there is a high quality mentoring during that time. It should be noted that this training will not be provided by the various schools of social work. They do not teach the skills of child protection and they do not pretend to do so. This has been noted in both the Gove and Hughes reports.
The systemic change to be made would be to fund and plan an in-service training programme, which will define and teach the necessary skills. An important component of this would be an ethical training programme and a clearly defined code of ethics. I will return to this topic in a later context.
I think perhaps that the best way to illustrate some of the problems in the protection services is to look at some specific cases in which the practice inside and outside the courts has wandered far away from what was intended by the members of the legislative assembly when they enacted the CF&CSA.
Our current system is based on the clauses of the CF&CSA. This act, for all its flaws, does have some good principles. Some are set out as guidelines and others as statutory requirements. We are reminded that the parents are the ones who bear primary responsibility and if they can make their children safe at home, then every help must be given to do so. Kinship contact must be maintained and, when care becomes necessary, that priority must be given to placement with relatives.
Throughout the act it is implicit that it is bad for young children to suffer lengthy separations from primary caregivers and so there are admonitions to dispense with cases as quickly as possible where young children are concerned. This speedy resolution is not only in the guidelines, but also in the statutory timelines of the act. It is well established in child welfare literature that separation from a parent or other primary care giver can quickly cause a number of anxiety disorders and they are called attachment deficit disorders, or sometimes they are grouped under the post traumatic stress categories. So the intention of those who framed the act is that cases must within seven days be made accountable to the court and that the presentation is swift and summary so that parents can start getting their day in court within 45 days. No temporary order can be made on children under five years of age for more than three months and temporary care may not exceed one year.
In cases where there is compelling evidence that a continuing care order must be made, it is especially important to proceed through court with dispatch so that planning can go ahead without harmful delays. In such cases there should be little parental contact and it should be supervised. In cases where a return home is the likely outcome, frequent parental contact should be maintained and for the most part there needs to be no supervision of visiting. It must always be born in mind that the parents are primarily responsible for the protection of their children and they retain guardianship except when continuing care orders are made. In order to meet their responsibilities they must have full information and access to their children and they are entitled to all confidential information about their children. For instance if visits lead them to believe that the children are being abused in care, they have a right to take action to protect them and cannot be shut out.