Thursday, February 7, 2008

DOCs Does It Again…

It appears that in many respects the Department of Community Services is rather like the Department of Health. Both have suffered very public failures to provide adequate care to the people depending upon them. Both are populated by frontline professionals working in stressful conditions, the bulk of whom are doing the best they can despite the circumstances. Both are governed by a bureaucracy which has been criticized for being top heavy and misdirecting resources. Both have been plagued by procedural errors that should not happen. Both are now subject to Special Commissions of Inquiry.

It’s all too easy to sit on the sidelines and cast criticisms, but it’s important to recognize that we don’t always have all the facts available to us in the public arena. The latest debacle to engulf DOCS is the suggestion that four young children have been removed from the care of their Grandparents, who are registered as foster carers, because of a smack on the bottom. If it’s true it’s outrageous, especially after the deaths of Dean Shillingsworth and Shellay Ward, who were not removed from the dangerous situations that ultimately resulted in their deaths. But is it true?

All we know is what’s reported in the papers. Surely, in any rational assessment of the story, it would take far more than a smack on the bottom before children are removed from an otherwise satisfactory environment. It just doesn’t make any sense. That’s why I suspect there may be more to that story, and it is unwise to jump to conclusions.

However, I do believe that the Department is struggling with how it makes such decisions. Why else would so many children have died despite being known to the department? Clearly there is a problem with procedures when mistakes such as the misdirection of confidential information keep on occurring. Clearly, there is an urgent need to review the processes that continually fail to deliver on the expectations of the community.

In that respect, the Department has a great deal in common with almost every other aspect of the New South Wales government.

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