Image for Underfunded CPS traumatises families

Families caught in the Child Protection web would agree that staff shortages are hurting children.  It is a terrible thing that children may remain off the radar or un-assessed due to staff shortages.  I have to admit though, when reading about the staff shortages I can’t help thinking about all those families which may be better off without Child Protection Services (CPS) intervention.

Take the case of Bob (not his real name) for example.  CPS staff told him that his wife was abusive of the children, that he should make preparations to become a single parent, that they would be removing the children from her care within the week.  Within two days she knocked Bob unconscious as he tried to protect their three year old son.  A witness begged Police not to leave the children with her, explaining the CPS plans.  Police served the woman with a violence order mandating her to leave the family home, and sent the children away with her. 

CPS stepped back and told Bob that he should fight for his children, and that it was now between he and his wife, in Family Court.  Six years later nothing has been resolved and Bob’s financial resources have been depleted.  This strategy of leading a family to the court system is a common one.  The author assumes it is a budget saving strategy.  It is certainly not a child saving strategy.

Or take my case.  Police chose not to believe that my children and I had been raped by my partner over a period of time.  A doctor chose not to believe what I told him.  Neither the police nor the doctor viewed the colonoscopy report detailing scarring, the explicit drawings by the children, the threatening drawing by the perpetrator, the detailed and spontaneous disclosures.  The doctor decided without viewing evidence that I imagined the assault, and told CPS to remove my children and place them with family members who chose not to believe the abuse.  Cognitive dissonance permeates the world of a survivor.  Survivors need to be believed, and children are particularly vulnerable to further trauma when disbelieved by family and by the system. 

If you asked me what was the one thing CPS did wrong, I would tell you that they did not give my husband and I a chance to put our case to them.  And this is so very often the case.  Not until I stated very clearly to our child health nurse in front of our CPS caseworker “you do realise that CPS is involved because my children were abused but police did not believe me” did CPS step back.  By then the damage was done.  The children are now with a father who refuses to believe them, and so they cannot yet begin to heal.  And yes, CPS told us that it is between my ex-husband and I, to go through the Family Courts.

In short the problem is not simply that there are not enough staff at CPS to assess and intervene.  There seems to be not enough money or time available for staff to be trained in current best practice.  It seems there is no commitment to a change in culture so that when new staff who have learned best practice join the ranks of the CPS they are not drawn into the pre-existing culture of demonising parents and re-traumatising children by intervening in detrimental rather than helpful ways.

What really concerns me in all this though, is this propensity by CPS staff to jump to divide families, instead of employing best practice.  Best practice is: to include the family itself in the design of a solution, as the family is the expert on itself (as in the Family Partnership model); to keep a child with its mother wherever possible, not least because there is a unique right brain to right brain interaction between them that is required for healthy brain development;  honouring and working with the meanings of abuse that women and children give to their experience; ensuring that issues of safety for women and children are paramount; this includes ensuring that therapeutic and other interventions do not re-traumatise victims of violence and abuse; placing responsibility for violence and abuse wholly with the perpetrator of that abuse, and shaping all aspects of interventions accordingly; seeking to work in ways that are transparent and accountable to women and children; seeking to minimise the power differentials between service providers and the women and children who receive their services; this includes putting decision-making and control of therapeutic and support processes, as much as possible, into the hands of those who have been subject to the manipulation of power and control against them.

Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Fellow of The Child Trauma Academy, world leader in childhood trauma, and author of “The boy who was raised as a dog” will be speaking in Australia this month.  Perhaps our good Minister for Women Jacqui Petrusma could prioritise funds to send 90% of our CPS employees and all the state’s child psychiatrists to attend the presentation?  To ensure our state benefits from such an investment it seems obvious to this survivor that the interventions by CPS over the past four decades be audited for their success or otherwise, and survivors be involved in the design and implementation of a new way of delivery going forward.

Until such steps are taken Tasmania’s CPS will continue to visit trauma on families.  By failing to deliver based on best practice CPS leaves themselves open to law suit.

*Becky Morgan is a pseudonym. Becky is known to the Editor ...

(Edited post-publication ...)