This was the third session at the Advocacy sector Conversations forum held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre on 18 May 2017.

Other sessions at this forum included:

 

Overview

Barbara Carter and Kate Fitt discussed issues around child protection and provided some practical tips on how to support parents with disability in their dealings with child protection agencies.

 

 

References mentioned in  this session:

 

Transcript

 

 

 

MELISSA HALE:
I hope you enjoyed your lunch.  We now are going to move onto a session about child protection.  Similar to family violence there were a number of initiatives in the Victorian budget on child protection as well.  Some of these are

I would like to welcome Barbara Carter and Kate Fitt to talk about these issues in relation to people with disability.  Barbara Carter was at the Office of the Public Advocate and was the author of a two reports titled Whatever Happened to the Village, The Removal of Children from Parents with Disabilities.  And Kate Fitt from VALID was the author of Our Forgotten Families, Issues and Challenges Faced by Parents with Disabilities in Victoria.  Both those reports will be available on our website today.  Welcome.

BARBARA CARTER:
Hello everybody, thank you very much for inviting Kate and I to speak today.  We are very grateful to DARU and we have both been working in this area for quite some time although Kate has outlasted me by a very long time I suspect.

This is an area about which we both feel both passionate and committed.  It’s interesting that this particular issue came up for DARU, because parents with disabilities have for as long as anybody can remember been unable, been told they’re unable to raise their children.  But it’s only in more recent years that people have started to say something about this.

I’d like to start off by asking how many of you have been working in this area and providing advocacy in your work or personally for parents with disabilities.  That’s very interesting, because I think that possibly had we asked that question 10 years ago there wouldn’t have been as many.

It’s difficult to know where to start and how far to go in this area because it is a huge and wide area and the issues around child protection that affect people with disabilities also affect all families who find themselves in the child protection area.  I think that probably the difference is that the problems for parents with disabilities are manifold and greater than those for other disadvantaged people who find themselves in the child protection area.

I thought probably to start it would be a good idea to just do a very brief overview of how the system works.  You have an Act of Parliament, the Children Youth and Families Act is the current act of Government that governs child protection.  What that act does is to set up both a court to decide upon child protection cases and a system, the Government system under which children are protected if their parents are found to be unable to protect them.

We have both a Government function and it hasn’t always been us, at one stage children were looked after by private organisations then it was taken back by Government.  Kate will be able to tell you exactly when.  But it was seen that the private organisation was unable to properly fulfil that very serious responsibility of protecting children.

We basically have two arms, and a third arm which is the service system that surrounds it and the agencies that provide that are contracted by Government to provide care, agencies like Anglicare, Mackillop, and so forth.  We have the Act, which is a tremendously important thing if you’re working in the area to get your head around.  It’s a very long act but the sort of key points are you can be guided to by in particular looking at the principles, which is Section 10 of the Act.

The other source of information is the Child Protection Practice Manual and that’s put out by the Department of Health and Human Services.  It’s available online and learning how to search that child protection manual is a skill that anybody working in the area needs to acquire.

All countries have a child protection system.  Largely they fall into two sorts of orientations.  There are ones that concentrate on the protection of children from their parents or other harm and there are other systems, which concentrate on a family focus of supporting families.  Now we have and the other states of Australia have a child protection orientation and then this is similar to most English speaking Western countries the UK, the USA, and so forth.

Western Europe and the non-English speaking countries of Western Europe have a system that looks more like a family support focus.  Some of those countries don’t actually have a separate child protection department.  They concentrate far more on supporting the family rather than on protecting the individual child outside of the family.

Our system is best interest based and throughout the act, you will see that the best interests are the paramount consideration of the child.  The question that follows of course is how do you work out what the best interests of this child are?  A child can be removed from home if they’ve suffered harm, notice the word is harm it’s not abuse or neglect.  It’s harm.  They’ve suffered harm or if they are likely to suffer harm.  The harm can be described as physical, emotional or sexual harm.

There’s quite a high focus within our system and it’s consistent with a lot of other human service systems across our social service set up, is the concentration on risk factors.  I’m just going to go and refer to the Cummins Enquiry.  The Cummins Enquiry is an enquiry on which a lot of the changes to the Child Protection Act, which came into being in 2016, were based.  There was a lot of talk about risk factors.

In the Cummins Enquiry, in the Cummins Report the protection of children was framed in terms of vulnerability and risk factors for child abuse and neglect.  It identified six risk factors for neglect and abuse by parents, it also had some risk factors from organisations but these were the ones by parents – a history of family violence, alcohol and other substance misuse, mental health problems, intellectual disability, the parents having had a history of abuse and neglect themselves and situational stress, which is of course the catch all one at the end of something terrible happening in your life.

The thing that jumps out to me in that report is that there is only one of those risk factors that arguably the parent can be held responsible for that is of course alcohol and other substance abuse and neglect.  The others are something over which the parents have no control.  One of our concerns was that in announcing the changes in relation to permanent care the Minister at the time said our first priority is to keep a child with a parent but where a parent can not address the areas of concern such as dealing with a drug addiction or providing a safe environment, removing the children is the only option.

The changes are described as giving the parents 12 months to resolve the issues concerned with an extension of a further 12 months if possible if the parents are demonstrating good progress.  I think the essence of this report and its basic approach and the Minister’s words are to be found in the actual language that’s used.  So it puts the majority or it puts the responsibility on to the parents to address the situation.

Just to give you an idea of the dimensions of what happens in child protection which is an enormous area, you will see up there I have put over 1,000 reports are made to Child Protection each year.  These reports would either be for mandatory reporters who are required because of their professional office to report any suspicion around harm to children.  25% of those reports are investigated beyond an initial phone call perhaps by Child Protection.  60% of the ones that they investigate are substantiated and 7% overall go to court.  That’s saying in round terms 7,000 a year will go before a court.  The latest figures I was able to get are 7,710 children were in out of home care in 2013/14.

That’s says a few things obviously.  One is that most of the situations don’t get to court.  An awful lot of child protection issues are around working within the child protection system.  But I suspect that a lot of the work that you do is with the cases that have got to court.  There’s obviously a need there for us to be in at the beginning and Kate will talk more about that.

Indigenous children are nine to twelve times more likely to be in out of home care.  Our best estimate is that parents with disabilities and this does not include mental illness, because that’s another additional section, parents with disabilities, intellectual or cognitive disabilities are 10 times more likely to have their children removed from them than parents without those disabilities.  When we bring those sorts of issues up to people, they will often say but it’s a very small number overall, which isn’t a very good answer.

Getting into some of the problems or issues that arise with children protection or parents with disabilities or families where disabilities are present, is this assumption of having a diagnosis of disability equates to a lack of capacity to raise your children.  It’s a very deeply embedded presumption in the community.  Well what do you expect?  You couldn’t expect Joe to be looking after a child; they need help to look after themselves.  So there’s this really, really strong prejudice assumption against parents with disabilities in an area where in everything else to do with disability we’ve moved from diagnosis to talking about capacity and how capacity relates to a particular area of your ability to do something not to your disability.

There is an incredible amount of research that parents with disability are capable of raising their children if provided with the proper supports.  But one of the major problems is that’s not getting heard.  Another issue is there is an enormous amount of pressure applied to parents to show they are capable of navigating the child protection system independently.  There is a lot of discouragement against parents involving an advocate.  Whilst there is no capacity to have an advocate within the act it doesn’t say you can’t but it doesn’t say you can.  If it’s not in there or in the child protection manual then you often, have to fight to get a seat at the table.

A person is able to have a support person but the idea of a support person is they will shut up and stop the person getting too distressed during the various meetings and so forth.  That emotional support is tremendously important but we are arguing and have argued in our reports that the need for funded advocacy is a crucial need for parents who find themselves in the child protection system.

Now we would argue that that’s a need for all parents because of the level of disadvantage amongst the child protection population.  We would argue that it’s even more important for parents with disabilities and that it’s unreasonable to make assumptions about your ability to navigate the system independently being an indicator of whether or not you can raise your children.  We are very concerned about that.

The other issue that I want to highlight is that a lot of the child protection action when they’re investigating or placing children under orders is directed towards assessments.  Parents are sent off for a lot of assessments but there’s not a lot of supports either available or that they refer people to.  That integrated notion of supporting and educating and assessing in a coherent circular way if you like, the old action research, doesn’t happen.  So one of our major criticisms is the lack of supports for parents generally and parents with disabilities in particular.

We are also concerned about the lack of attention that’s extended to the consequences of separating families and draw attention to the fact that children who are placed in foster care beyond their extended family, they lose contact very often with their siblings who may or may not also be in foster care and may or may not, usually be placed with all their siblings, with their extended family, with their communities as well with their parents.   We are deeply concerned about the deficiencies in the out of home care system and the extent to which children move around in the out of home care system.

Another major area is the lack of meaningful contact, the lack of opportunity given to parents to actually parent their children when their children are out of their care.  The access, which might be two hours a week during the period when they’re talking about reunification, is often highly unconducive to parenting.  You might get to give your child their meal but you don’t have the normal things of playing around home, putting them down for a nap and all that sort of thing.  It’s often it’s almost always supervised and it’s rarely in the family home and it’s rarely at the weekends and there are all sorts of barriers to parents being involved in their children’s school life, their sporting events all the other things that make up the day to day life of parenting.

We have as you know the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and we have the convention of the rights of the child.  Both of those have things to say about not separating children from their parents unless it’s necessary, in the interest of the child but that the disability of the parents and the child is never a reason to separate the children.  That’s not in our laws it’s not in our legislation so it’s too easy to ignore that and it does get ignored.  The Victorian Charter doesn’t often get used within the courts for reasons that are a bit vague.

Just to finish off with this slide, the courts powers are very, very limited after a child’s been out of their parents care for usually 12 months or you can sometimes argue for 24 months in exceptional circumstances.  That prevents the court from making orders that are in the individual interest of that child in that community in that situation with that family.  It removes the power of the court to determine contact arrangements when a child’s been out of the parents care for two years or more.  It means that children can spend most of their childhood on long-term care orders without the court having any regular oversight on what’s happening.  Many people have argued that takes us back to the old days of wards of the state.  You were made a ward of the state and remained there until you were 18 or 16, whatever it was at the time.

We are very concerned about the number of babies that we’re seeing taken from their parents immediately after birth and being placed in arrangements that either are permanent or are intended to become permanent.

The changes to the legislation put top priority, a very major priority on the permanency of the legal arrangements.  They talk about placing children in permanent care but there’s no guarantees of course that that care will be permanently with one nurturing loving family.  The average number of placements that a child has between the time that they’re removed from their parents and turning 18 or going back to their families, is eight to ten roughly, which is a huge number of placements.

Finally, it removes guardianship.  The right to make decisions about your child’s health, their schooling and all the other things that a parent does.  It removes that power from the parents as soon as the child is removed from them, as soon as the child goes into out of home care even if the plan that DHS has is to reunify those children.  It has the effect of taking away the normal things that a parent takes responsibility for and it also takes away from the parents the opportunity to show yes I can make these decisions and I can make good decisions.  Ultimately, no not ultimately, in reality those decisions are now made by DHHS and that’s in our opinion a very, very significant problem because it has the effect of cutting parents out of the lives of their children.

I’m now going to hand over to Kate and Kate’s going to move to the what do we do about it, how do we work with parents constructively to enable them to navigate their way through the system.

KATE FITT:
Okay, I’m Kate.  I work for VALID two days a week and I work to support parents with intellectual disability caught up in the child protection system.  As a volunteer myself and a colleague are setting up family inclusion network, which provides support by volunteers to any person caught up in child protection.  I’m also doing my PhD in the area as well.

With the new legislation as of the 1st of March 2016 once the child is out of home for 12 months, in permanent care, the judge unless there is special circumstances, the judge he or herself cannot order more than four times a year visit between parent and child.

With this new legislation we’re talking about speed and permanency what we need to do as advocates is get in there very very quickly.  We need to be supporting families very much earlier to ensure we can get a system in place and get the system moving to actually provide a better chance for the child and for the parent.  What we have to remember when talking about that is it’s actually a child’s rite to be brought up and know their family.  We can talk lots about families and children, but we also need to talk about the child’s rites and place our work from that perspective.

What we do know and what I’ve found is that once children have entered the out of home care system it’s harder, it’s harder to find supports that help that family.  If a family already has a story being cast around that family by whichever system that system and remember we limit everything, we share all our resources out, so the system says no I’m sorry I’m not spending money on that family, okay I’m not going to provide them with the supports they need at that point.  They don’t get the supports unless they’ve got an advocate to actually speak.

What we need to do is to be asking those questions earlier.  I want you to say this back to me now Section 10 of the Child Youth and Families Act.  I want you to quote that regularly.  That’s the principles of the legislation and the very first part says and repeat it back to me, what’s the least level of intervention required to keep this child safe?

You’re going to repeat that regularly whenever you can which is great because that’s what’s going to get us working with the system, to get them thinking about what supports does this child need to have access to be supported within its own family unit.

Once the child is out of home it’s difficult to find supports.  It’s difficult to find the supports that will adjust to the needs of this specific parent with a disability.  We have lots of systems out there in place but we have the disability system and then we have the child and family service system and we have the police system and we have the school system.  What we don’t have is a child system.  We don’t have a system that actually just works on what the heck does this child need.  That’s what we need to be pushing for.  We will argue, you will find in every meeting sorry that’s a parenting issue, not disability, sorry we don’t do that one.  Take the other side, sorry that’s a disability issue, no sorry we can’t do that.  How about we get back to what’s a child and family issue and how can we work on this together, how can we bring that together.

Once a child is out of home what we get is a thing called Groupthink.  Somebody has created a story around this parent – this parent is so vulnerable, she can’t look after herself how the heck is she going to look after this child.  One worker says it, one person says it somewhere and someone thinks that that was an important person, I will think like that too.  We send these families off to assessment and the organisation send the referral in.  But they’re sending it with their eyes, their perspective.  Then the next professional.  Then it gets to the courts.  I talk to families about what’s good evidence and what’s bad evidence.  It’s not the workers who make the decision it’s the judge.  But all these opinions are based on the very first one called Groupthink get to the judge.  Where is the other side of the story, that’s what we need to know.

What we know is parents with intellectual disability and mental health they are referred more often and with the new tick-a-box and I’m very, very worried about the family violence tick-a-box approach to it because what’s happening is this parent has an intellectual disability, this parent has a mental health issue, they are at risk.  So the person just for existing is actually a risk.  They are automatically reported, automatically come to the attention of child protection system.  We have 57,000 babies born in Victoria every year which families are mandatorily reported to Child Protection?  What we know from research is that once they’re reported they go into the system quicker.  The cases are open quicker, they’re open longer.

They move to the next level very much quicker.  Barb showed you the statistics I think it’s 100,000 reports in Victoria, 360,000 Australia wide.  Which are the families who have their case investigated, which aren’t?  Who then goes to the next stage for having orders made, who goes to the next stage of having children removed?  If you live in Australia you have an intellectual disability, you have a 50/50 chance of that child growing up with you.  If you have a mental health condition it’s worse.

Once the child has been removed proving your case, undoing that groupthink, having your voice out there this is where we come in advocates.  Get the voice there.  It’s so difficult for families who are traumatised by the system to gather evidence for their side of the case.  What I do with some people is I get them to go through an actual court report and I get them to put their name, put your name on this report, how does it feel to have this whole world saying these things about you without an option to really speak up.

It’s also ensuring that you have the skills and ability to actually access the systems that are there for justice.  Can you give your lawyer instructions, do you know how to tell them I want you to fight for me?  Do you know how to get respectfully your voice heard by a judge?  It’s not child protection workers, it’s not the schoolteachers it’s not the advocates that make the final decision it’s the judge.  Most are unbiased, most of them are but only if they get an unbiased story.

So what are we dealing with?  I’m also doing my PhD.  What I did here is I did an analysis of power relationships.  We talk about family violence, I talk about power over.  I do a thing called Don’t Take It, Don’t Do It that I create with families.  I work through the model of family violence and I talk about what’s happening to you, what sort of violence and power of things are happening to you, where is it coming from, how do you not take it.  What I find it’s not just the partners, it’s the parents, it’s the schoolteachers, it’s the child protection workers.  For the families I work with violence is not a gendered issue.  For the families I work with violence is modelled in every part of our system.  The system of abuse.

I want you to remember there is some fantastic workers out there.  What I did in understanding it’s all about power relationships, I did an analysis of power within the submissions of protection Victoria’s vulnerable children enquiry.  What I found is power is not something you own or hold it’s a relationship.  What I found in this messy, messy diagram here is that these are the people that are acting on others but if you actually have a quick look you will find where somebody is acting on somebody down the bottom, you’ll find that somewhere else they’re up the top acting on somebody else.

What we as advocates, what our families are dealing with and what the workers are dealing with is this mess of power over relationships.  It’s up to us as advocates to get in there and actually help work through those relationships by bringing a little bit of equality along wherever we can.  Remember when we leave we need to leave positive functional relationships if we can behind us.

Let’s have a look at how we do that.  Some of the ways I’ve developed and by no means do I say I know it all, I don’t.  We’re all learning as we go and as soon as you think you got it right for one generation another generation of parents comes along so you keep learning.

What advocacy needs to be is we actually start, need to bring back holistic approach.  We actually need to look at the whole life of parents and remember it’s a whole family, it’s a whole parent, it’s a whole child we’re dealing with and they’re set in a middle of a society that we need to work with.

Some of those key relationships that if you’re going to advocate with families, we need to look at who are they interacting with.  I’ve broken down some of these so the who are the people that we and the families encounter.  First of all there is hospital and health staff, including maternal and child health and PASDA parenting and something development, skills development.  The nurses we call them.  What we find and I want to say I sound like I’m coming across as negative, we as workers and advocates need to have that critical reflection happening where we can recognise there’s good and bad and nobody goes to work to do a bad job that day.  Nobody goes to work to be horrible to somebody that day, everybody is doing what they think is best but sometimes we need to help them along that path.

Parents have a baby – two weeks ago I had to listen to a mother on the phone and the hell as her baby is being removed.  The baby was two hours old.  Two hours.  No orders in place, nothing.  The nursing staff under instruction from Child Protection removed that baby from that mother and locked it down in the nursery.  So what was happening there in that case there’s a thing called confirmation bias.  The mother had an intellectual disability.  We’re taught so much now with tick boxes and assessments and frameworks, all these things that this is a risk factor.  Once your taught and aware that this is a risk as the research from Germany says if you’re trained to see a problem you’re going to see it and that’s what they do.  So sometimes that confirmation bias comes in.

We need to be working early with families where they’re making the pre-birth notification to start helping create a positive narrative to overcome the confirmation bias.  Getting families to tell their positive stories.  I do a chart with families – tell me the good stuff about you.  A lot of families can’t, a lot of mums can’t tell you her good points because she had a life of disability where she’s been controlled, where she’s been judged, where she has been whatever.  So quite often nobody has experience to say hey these are my great skills.

We need to start helping them.  We need to understand communication.  Some of the most important tools that we can be actually asking when parents are talking in meetings is stopping and helping to clarify what did this mum mean by that, please don’t write it down that she meant blah, blah what did the mother mean.  Stop the meeting and let’s talk about what that means.

Understanding the end cast norms and adaptions.  Parents are assessed with the end cast system by PASDAs and nursing staff to look to see around risks.  It might be an effective tick a box way of doing it and sometimes it works very well.  However the norms are set up and based on white middle class educated Americans.  I don’t know but I would find that – I’ve had four children and I have two grandchildren and I don’t think I would do so well with the end cast assessment on me.

We need to be asking the question of how are you teaching this parent, how are you actually adapting what’s going on here, can you do that?  You need to be able to get onto the internet and say hey have you tried looking at this system.  Do not sell pseudo-science though.  Be careful that you’re not recommending rubbish because it doesn’t help anybody.  But going on there getting onto some of the parenting with disability sites and asking workers have you seen these systems, have you done something visually with this family, how does this mum learn.  Sometimes questioning with respect gets the workers thinking and then they take the lead.  Most workers go to work wanting to do a great job, we need to bring that great job together with our clients.

Often it’s the way of thinking and in regards to hospital generally there is a medical model happening there.  That’s the staff training, that’s where that worker is going to be coming from.  You need to help that barrier that bridge between the ways of thinking of the mother and the staff.  Just stopping to think how is this person seeing the world, how is my client seeing the world, how can we bring them together.

Then dealing with the child protection system.  Often, some of the problems is that they’re very cautionary.  They don’t know whether the client that’s in front of you is going to land them in front of the newspaper because of a child death.  They’re terrified by it I would be to so they’re very cautionary quite often.

Often there is once again the confirmation bias or the unconscious bias.  Because there is a disability, because there is issues, there is an automatic bias that we need to gently unravel.  Often the system is underfunded.  These workers really want to do a great job but if they’ve got no resources, if the local family integrated service doesn’t have the facilities to provide visual supports for families, doesn’t have the intensive workers required for the stronger families program there is nothing they can do.  The system is underfunded.  They then have to write that report for court though.  Remembering in Australia we have to show likelihood of harm.  They have to write it in negative so automatically you’re moving into this negative circle.  If you can be a help to that worker to say let’s look to see what tools there are, if you can work with the family to bring together those tools you’re going to create that positive story with that.

Understand the rhetoric.  The best interest of the child.  We see that regularly.  In fact I’ve started to hear workers start meetings with me – I’d like you to remember that we work for the best interest of the child not the parent.  Well this is child protection not parent protection.  I do gently remind them of Section 10 when they make those comments because the family unit is to be recognised as the base unit of society and it’s a child’s right to family.  When we hear that with respect we don’t cause trouble where we don’t need to.

We need to understand the inexperience that these workers have.  50% of case carrying child protection workers have less than 12 months experience out of University.  They’ve got the hardest job and the least amount of experience.  We need to work with workers.

We need to understand the case noting systems and families need to understand it.  Let families know there’s good evidence, there’s bad evidence.  Everything is written down and everything can go to the judge.  Don’t give them that and I actually do breathing strategies with families, how do we do the breathing so we can slow down in that meeting.  I talk about the tunnel of trauma with families and let them know beforehand.

When you’re traumatised in the system,  abuse, these families are traumatised I talk about the tunnel of trauma you get sucked in.  When that happens you’re hearing narrows, your vision narrows, your tummy tightens, your breathing, you can’t think and out comes everything and there’s all that bad evidence because you’re traumatised. Help you family slow down and breath.

What I do is often I help the family create a chart so that their voice can be equal.  I write in the first column using word because then we can develop it and build it, we write down every concern that child protection have.  In the next column we write down the view that family have.  It might be to agree with child protection and then show this is what we’re doing about it.  It might be to say no I have been misunderstood here this is the alternative view.  The final column, one of the most important things you can do is help a family understand what is evidence.  What is your evidence, if you’re going to say this you need to back it up.  Do you have certificates from parenting courses you went to, have you got photos showing your house, showing you have stuff ready?  What have you got to show and to support?  Have you got a letter from a local support service or somebody else to verify what you’re saying?  Then when you give that to your lawyer that empowers your lawyer to speak up.

When we’re dealing with child protection we’re dealing with workers whose ways of thinking are very varied.  They come from multiple areas of life.  Often it’s a risk management approach.  The Department certainly holds a risk management approach.  At the end of the day the Department will prefer to see a child removed than a child death report, of course they would.  The Department would prefer to see a child removed than media articles.  This is the system that we’re working in, how do we put forward the family’s voice to account for that.  That’s about creating that positive narrative.

Often there is the medical model, the legal framework, is one that drives me insane but it’s what we have to deal with.  It comes from a very different way of thinking that I do and it’s one but it’s very clear, very linear and very patriarchal.  It’s a way we need to deal with it and help our clients through that.  There is also the social model.  Some of the strategies as I said before, the least level of intervention required to keep the child safe, asking that question.

The next question and write down the answers with the family, asking the child protection staff or whoever what do you expect to see to allow the child to come home.  Being very clear because what happens is the goal posts change regularly.  The standards, we will do this assessment that assessment next assessment.  We need to actually stop and say what is it that you need to see because then you can all brainstorm about how do we achieve that.

You need to know about the internal review process.  If you are not happy with the decision made by a Government person you can request a review.  You have 28 days to get that in.  I find that’s better, we actually find greater results from that than we do with the legal system quite often because it’s a person going through everything and it’s helping the family then get their information to the reviewer, where’s your evidence.

Actually having a chat, we help families make up a book. It’s amazing, I teach the families you need to be the case manager of your own life.  Let’s start with your book, let’s start with your folder, let’s start with you working out what you need to be doing and let us empower you to do that.  Stand behind them.

The chart is the key thing.  It’s very helpful.  We can email that off to lawyers, which means the families are giving lawyers instruction.  There are a number of fantastic lawyers out there, absolutely brilliant.  There is a selection who also maintain that bias who don’t take instruction from the family or who don’t really fight for this family.  I go into courts across the state and I see child protection bias stereo type happen.  I’ll see a lawyer but sir intellectual disability, I see the judge a knowing nod-thinking hang on let’s get some justice happening here.  We need to do that respectfully.  Helping the family instruct their lawyers.  Help the families put their voices equal.

These slides will be available later.  The different people the families are dealing with.  The specialist assessment.  Once again be aware of Groupthink.  If you can wherever you can if the families are being sent off to get another $5,000.00 assessment and there is no money put into home, if you can ask about the referral process.  Ask about the information going, can the family send information.  Are there other positive professional reports that we can be sending to this work, those sort of strategies.  Understand the lawyer’s perception of the client.  Understand police.  We’re having police bought in much much quicker.

A family last year the most bizarre allegations were made against a father.  He had schizophrenia, mum had ID.  11 months later before the criminal matter was thrown out of court by the judge.  11 months he was out of home.  How many thousands did that cost them in rent, what did it do to the daughters?  The daughter was removed for six months, came home with massive burns on her arms.  $53,000.00 in legal costs.  A lot of families are not entitled to Legal Aid.  $53,000.00 it cost them over a false allegation.

We as advocates need to be pushing to get that critical reflection and helping families be a part of that process of speaking up much earlier.  We need to be thinking of their whole life.  And we need to be assertive but remember that’s not aggressive.  If we as advocates we suffer what we call curtesy stigma.  So if they don’t like your client they don’t like you.  If you help the bad people you must be a bad person too.  But we don’t want our families to also suffer the same stigma.

We need to go in there assertively, not aggressive and not passive.  Keeping that gentle, respectful balance, modelling respect but keep asking those questions.  What is the least level of intervention required to keep this child safe, what do you want to see, to see this child returned home, what supports can we as a team get into place?

Thank you, any questions, you’ve got about two minutes.

MELISSA HALE:
Thank you so much what an amazing overview and practical things you can do.  As you said before, this information will be available later on our website.  I will open up the floor for questions for five minutes.  If you can raise your hand if you have a question.

CHRISTIAN ASTOURIAN:
I have got a question, the right subject to bring up because I will be interested to know if the NDIS will support people with disability in their role of parent?

KATE FITT:
Well Christian that’s the $64,000.00 question that one.  That will depend on from what we can gather some of our parents are starting to get great supports and others are getting absolutely nothing.

The difference seems to be who writes the application, how it’s tied back to the person’s disability.  If you go into mentioning parenting that’s around that social role, breaking it back to the disability.  For example, the parent might need some in home support because of difficulties with memory and organisation.  It depends on – at the moment there doesn’t seem to be an effective response.

There were from what I can gather they were saying NDIS is not about supporting parenting.  It’s the same issues we get at the state level.  Some people will say no disability is not parenting, others will let things go.  It just comes back to how well we’re advocating, how well we’re looking at the parent need and how well we’re filling in those forms.

CHRISTIAN ASTOURIAN:
Because it would be part of their plan and goals,  I want to be a parent.

KATE FITT:
It does need to be part of the plan very clearly.  I have worked with some families that have fantastic support and it is part of their plan.  But others there seems to be difficulty getting it through.  I’m conscious not to say too much about the NDIS because I’m not an expert in that area.  But I’m seeing varied results.

SUSAN:
I’m Susan I’m from Reinforce and PSAC.  On a personal note I worry what support is out there for the children especially those children that are being taken away from parents that just have a disability.  If they’re very, very lucky they’re with family and the family might if they’re very lucky again explain to the child that mum or dad or both, have somewhat disability therefore can’t do everything for them but still love them.

But in some cases we’ve heard families don’t do this, they’ve even gone to the extent of lying to the child and saying that the person was mother and it’s only an aunty and we are ultimately concerned too of what’s happening to these children if they’re ending in the foster care system which I bet my bottom dollar a lot of children from parents with a disability are landing in a foster care system.  So who is supporting and explaining to these children and where could these children get support because my child would probably need support to learn how to deal with both her parents, me and her father’s disabilities and she just doesn’t seem to be getting it from anywhere?

KATE FITT:
That also is very common. There is an organisation called Create that’s starting to work with children.  What we do know is that any child that’s gone to the permanent care system or adopted has a four times higher rate of suicide.  That’s not stuff we want to hear but it’s a serious outcome of what we’re talking about.  These kids that are removed have a great tendency to lifelong mental health problems, which may be because they had problems before being removed or because of the removal process.  The outcome I’m sorry isn’t good for some kids.

There is a Create system.  Generally speaking as a whole there is not a universe response to these kids.  It does come back to who is overseeing their care.  I had a case a month or so ago where the mum who has a disability that was basically the reason the child was removed wanted to ask the carer if she could see the child more than one hour at a time supervised four times a year, four hour a year.  The carer said to the mother or to me, no she has to get over it it’s my son now, she needs to get over that.  We get that response all the way through to some brilliant stuff I see.

What we need to be doing, there’s people such as Philip Mendez and a few other people working really hard, doing research in those areas around care leavers.  We do know kids in resi-care are bought to the child protection system as parents quite earlier.  So as a system and as a group of advocates we need to keep working.  That’s what I’m doing and what you’re doing too Sue.  We actually need to keep coming together.  There isn’t a holistic across the board response.

MELISSA HALE:
We have time for one more question, if anyone has a question.  No.  Okay thank you very much Kate and Barbara it was a fantastic presentation.  We would like to break for afternoon tea now if you could be seated by 2.45 pm that would be great.  Thank you.