Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Troubled Parents Need To Be Heard

I have never had direct dealings with the New South Wales Department of Community Services, but I have been told by those who have that it is something which should be avoided at all costs. The series of adverse reports over the past few days, beginning with the eight disadvantaged and disabled children who were farmed out to neighbours because no suitably qualified foster carers could be found, through to the revelation today that a 12 year old girl who was found to have a sexually transmitted disease has been given what was described as a party pack of twenty condoms, highlights the apparent inability of the Department to effectively function. Of course, if a young person is already sexually active, it may be appropriate to provide assistance with health and contraception, but the problem is that this has apparently been done without any consultation with the parents.

Whenever young kids go off the rails in any way, one of the first things to be asked by the public is “where are the parents?” Politicians, community groups, and even DOCS workers themselves all talk about the importance of parental responsibility, and the need for that to be an integral part of dealing with child safety issues. Society expects parents to be in charge of and responsible for their children, both in terms of their behavior and their wellbeing. But, for some reason, those same authorities are so often found to be either ignoring parents, or even working at cross purposes to them.

In the other highly publicized case this week, another 12 year old girl has been found to be pregnant to her 15 year old live in boyfriend, despite repeated attempts by her father to have DOCS intervene in her case. If parental responsibility is so important, why is it that a genuinely alarmed parent is denied help by the very authorities which are supposed to work with parents for the best interests of the child’s wellbeing. Is it because some parents are considered to be either irrelevant, or even a threat, simply because they are not the custodial parent? Is it because the DOCS workers spend so much of their time dealing with bad parents that they just assume that all parents are the problem?

It’s not just parents however who are suffering the wrath of DOCS. There is increasing evidence that one of the reasons it is so hard to find suitable, qualified people to become foster carers is because they too are so badly treated by the Department. The allegation is made by frustrated volunteers, who have dedicated themselves to caring for other people’s children in difficult circumstances, that they cannot deal with DOCS in the best interests of the children. Instead, they claim that if they report a problem to DOCS, seeking assistance, or heaven forbid actually criticize the Department or its procedures, then they are treated as being the cause of the problem and the children are removed. It appears that if any one dares to bring the Department bad news, the response of the department is to shoot the messenger.

There are many parents who are struggling to cope with behavioural problems with their children or with the consequences of other adversity, and what they want, what they need, what they are begging for is help from the Department. They want someone to work WITH them, not AGAINST them. Desperate fathers do not want to be ignored when they have genuine concerns about their daughters, especially when all of society is screaming at them that they should be “responsible parents”. Frantic mothers who have trouble coping don’t want their kids taken away, they want help in teaching them how to be better behaved, or in addressing their health or financial problems.

Sadly, there are some parents who simply are not able to care properly for their children, but even in those cases, the Department needs to have a better process for providing them with alternative care, than the current system which sees kids shifted around a series of foster homes leaving them with no better chance of a decent life than they would have had anyway. For all the other cases, DOCS workers need to be able to hear the concerns of parents who are doing the best they can to be “responsible”, but find that the system simply shoves them onto the sidelines.

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