I read a post from a fellow blogger, it was a list of ten things that she wishes were true for. Ann is a parent to children with Autism and her wish list was around those things, you can read it here http://annkilter.com/2014/06/13/ten-things-i-wish-were-true/. They were pretty universal wishes, if I were to sum it up I would have to say they were about empowerment and enablement. Ann made a challenge to make our own wish list, and that resonates with something that has been grinding away at me for a few weeks, so here it is.
As an ex care and protection social worker (or child protection officer) I have come face to face with many incidents of child abuse. Such exposure has left me imprinted with many things, some positive and some not so. What it has done is made me aware of what constitutes child abuse. As an ex social worker I am often approached by others in the community who have concerns about situations, I am asked for an opinion and sometimes asked for help. Here in New Zealand we have a national agency to deal with child welfare and it is here that I pass on notifications and information. I wish it were true that once I had made a notification to this agency I could be certain that it was investigated properly and that the life of that child or children would be better and they were much less likely to be harmed or abused. Sadly that is not so.
First of there seems to be some barriers in reporting child abuse. The first port of call is to a National free calling number. Your call is not answered by a qualified and experienced social worker but by a call centre employee who screens the call. The caller is likely to have to tell the story twice in a very short succession; firstly to the call taker and then if they have convinced the call taker of the seriousness of the situation they may then get to talk to a real-life social worker. This I perceive as a barrier in that some people work themselves up to a point where they can make a call. For some people this is very traumatic and hard to do, it may be about a family member or relative or friend. There can be a significant delay in answering the call, and do not ring outside of hours as the response is very limited.
That is the first hurdle, the second part is actually getting any action. There is such pressure on Social Workers that unless there is actual physical evidence of abuse like bruises or worse then the investigation if it occurs can be extremely lengthy or may not happen at all, after a few cursory inquiries the case may be closed and accorded a result of no further action. The problem with this is that I and many others know that abuse is often generational and deeply imbedded in the lives of people. The perpetrators are adept at lying and hiding the truth from Social Workers (why would they tell the truth). Many social workers are inexperienced not just in Social Work but in life with very little real world experience. That in itself is not so bad except for this they find many things acceptable that most ordinary New Zealanders find abhorrent. Drink too much, drug too much don’t worry they won’t check on you, they wont take hair samples and measure the child’s exposure to second hand (if they are lucky) or first hand cannabis or other drugs. Under nourished, under dressed, under educated, they will leave that to the schools.
Don’t get me wrong if they come across the signs of physical abuse they will mmost likely do something about it, but unfortunately it is often too late.
Now I above all understand the child abuse is a community problem that demands a community response, however I have very little trust in the system, and I used to work in it. The system is cost driven, underfunded and under staffed. A recipe for more dead kids, yes social workers do not kill children, but a good one can save a child and enable them to participate fully in life. No I don’t trust CYF and I always follow up notifications, I wish it were not true that they often close cases without a full and proper investigation being done.
Signing off for now, to be continued….