Human rights

Child protection myth: Bigger budgets 'save' families

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Instead of bigger budgets, which result in unecessary child removals, let's radically reduce child protection funding so the focus is only on genuinely at-risk children, writes Gerry Georgatos

THE "CHILD PROTECTION" monoliths right across the nation are vastly overfunded.

It is not true that they are underfunded and overstretched. Child protection budgets should be radically reduced to one-sixth in order to end the humanitarian crises they are generating.

The child protection and "family services" monoliths are responsible for the record levels of child removals and directly responsible for the wilderness of grief, the multitudes of broken and ruined lives.

In 2014-15, 151,980 children, a rate of 28.6 per 1,000 children, received child protection services. Child protection authorities and family services across the nation are increasing the numbers of their personnel each year and, in turn, churning out more "services". These workers may score the quid but families are the victims. Child protection authorities need families to investigate, monitor and in my view, harass.

These child protection monoliths have conjured up monolithic investigation units and never-ending "care protection services". A significant layer within these services is Kafkaesque. It is the poor who seem to be a target, albeit maybe inadvertently. The 2015-16 Department of Child Protection budget for Western Australia was $643 million. Each year, there is a "cry poor" by child protection authorities that more funds are needed to monitor "vulnerable" families. Each year, in every jurisdiction in the nation, the child protection budgets increase and subsequently, the number of children removed increases.

In NSW, the child protection budget is $1.7 billion. These monies could be better spent in providing various assistances to struggling families instead of ripping apart families — instead of child protection authorities and "family services" deploying minimalist and reductionist policies that lead to children being removed.

When children are removed from their families because of alleged emotional abuse or various other reasons, they are seldom provided with adequate healing or restorative therapies. The removal of a child from his or her family is a significant psychosocial hit. It goes straight to the validity of the psychosocial identity, it hurts — and for many this pain is unbearable. For many, the trauma of removal is unresolvable, inescapable and relentless. For some, this trauma is also compounded with multiple, composite traumas, which may degenerate to disordered thinking and aggressive complex behaviours.

For the most part, child protection and family services should reconsider how they allocate their budgets, and instead focus on assisting vulnerable families, as opposed to the reductionist and minimalist approach of removing children. But the majority of child protection and family service workers are not skilled in any number of ways that should be requisite, and are ill-qualified and inexperienced. In my interfaces on behalf of families with child protection workers, I have been appalled by the low level of skills and understandings of the workers.

Governments have created a nightmare with these insatiable monolithic child protection authorities, with the consequence that families are degenerated by these workers to broken and, for many, ruined lives. Individuals removed as children from their biological families are the most elevated risk group to aberrant behaviour and suicidal ideation. Last year, one in 35 Australian children "received" child protection services. This statistic beggars belief.

An outrageous "dob-in" system has been set up which knocks-up work for thousands of child protection workers across the nation. Last year, nearly 400,000 calls were taken by child protection authorities where complaints about other people’s families were lodged. The majority of the grounds for monitoring and child removals relate to "emotional abuse" of the children.

The majority of families investigated by child protection authorities can navigate acute socioeconomic pressures – and even various asserted negative behaviours within their homes – including exposure to alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and various psychological and psychiatric illnesses. The involvement and over-involvement of under-skilled but overly judgmental child protection workers in general does not only fail to assist but compounds vulnerabilities and is trauma-inducing — there is generated constancy of trauma. People make mistakes, they can wound each other but empathy and redemptive forgiveness are likely if families, for the most part, are left to themselves to work through their lot. Child protection workers majorly invalidate people, diminish them and most certainly traumatise every family member.

It is grim reality that more than ten per cent of the Australian population lives below the Henderson Poverty Line, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders it’s around 40 per cent. Poverty should never be an excuse for the removal of children. It is grim reality that about ten per cent of children live in families where there is substance misuse but for the majority of these families, there is still no genuine reason to remove the children. We are accumulating more stressors on individuals and families, dumping upon them sanctimonious and unreasonable expectations.

More than 46,000 children live in out-of-home-care; in other words, they have been removed from their biological families. A small percentage, yes, needed to be removed, but not nearly 50,000 children. Each year, the rate of children removed increases, but that is because the child protection budgets increase! Nearly 60,000 children are under care or protection orders.

Reduce the child protection budgets and the child removals reduce. This is the solution to the child removal catastrophe. Nearly half the children removed were under five years of age, when their form and content is in most need of their biological parents.

The child protection monolith is washing into society stereotypes of the majority of parents of children removed as “drugged up”, as “drunk”, as “violent” and as “incompetent”. The majority of the parents are none of these.

Some children will need foster care, but the majority of children should remain with their parents. The reductionist aspiration that relative or kinship care is the way to go for children removed is not a solution. Relative/kinship care is the best option for some children for a period of time, or permanently but for the majority of children, it is a damaging experience because they should never have been removed from their biological families. The majority of children in out-of-home-care are in relative or kinship or foster care but the fact remains they are not with their parents, not with their sisters and brothers.

The removal of a child from his or her family is dangerous. It can invalidate the individual — and not just disrupt them. The gaols are filling with individuals who, as children, were removed from their parents. They are the most elevated risk group to suicide. Unless we radically change policies to authentically work with families instead of tearing them to pieces, the number of children removed and the suicides of these children as adults will increase.

For now, the only way forward is to reduce the child protection budgets and, so, limit the scope of child protection workers to those genuinely "at-risk".

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention researcher at the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights and a member of several national suicide prevention projects.

Independent Australia subscribers can listen to Gerry speak to managing editor David Donovan on one of IA's exclusive podcasts here

You can also follow Gerry on Twitter @GerryGeorgatos.

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