A gut full of nonsense

Like the bloated aftermath of a big meal, I have had a gut full of politicians and some commentators, childish behaviour in parliament, inhumanity and cruelty, and nothing butTV ‘broken record’ and ‘blame the other guy’ tactics from our government. Quality media is bending over backwards to ensure their reporting is ‘balanced’ to the point where some shows are becoming unwatchable. The problem is independent, intelligent media is being hunted mercilessly by extreme right political assassins. These assassins are quite happy for Australians to live on the diet of reality TV and reruns made between 1940 and 1985 currently served up on commercial TV – under no circumstances allow the masses to think. In self-defense too much air time is being given to some commentators who without apology express so much personal bias and quite frankly utter nonsense in some cases that once intelligent television is becoming very difficult to watch.

Balanced yes, but we also need to evaluate opinions and name them as such. Let’s say, to make sure a scientific panel discussing planet earth is balanced we include a commentator who says the earth is flat. Are both views of equal value? Do we invite a commentator who claims the super rich are alien lizards onto a show about globalisation? Do we balance views on multiculturalism with racist commentary? No we don’t but across the board the equally uninformed are getting airtime while at the same time parliament is giving the circus a bad name. I don’t believe, members of the public are uncritical but we know from research that people tend to accept more easily the stuff that supports their own pre-existing beliefs. Faulty logic can make the wild and whacky appear credible and beliefs stated often enough can become accepted as fact over time – our politicians rely on this. Some things are beliefs. Some things are facts and other things should legitimately be understood from a range of perspectives and experiences. There is also a hierarchy of credibility and reliability.

Just for one moment imagine a world where politicians and commentators talk about research. Every time they make a claim or suggest a policy change, they are required to discuss the evidence and back up their claim with some sort of analysis – and the independence of the methodology and analysis scrutinised. Imagine every statement not supported bleeped out like foul language. That is the television and parliament I would like to see. I would also like to win the lottery and see pigs fly. At least we will always have satirists, people like academics who can and do back up their positions and those threatened by allegations of ‘unbalanced’ to point out the obvious unless of course they are nobbled too.

What is an adoption-driven system?

I was recently in the UK and had a disturbing conversation with a colleague. His story described a child protection system out of control, a system driven by the wrong reasons – a system driven by adoption. I will call this family the Smiths. Mr and Mrs Smith have been parenting two siblings from birth, one child with a disability. After some years, Mr and Mrs Smith were delivered an ultimatum – adopt the children or we will remove them from your care. There were many reasons why this was not a good option for these children and this family. One of them was that after an adoption, all health and education costs would be transferred to the adoptive parents, diminishing their ability to provide the best health and educational opportunities for both children into adulthood. Professional assessment, bonded and attached relationships, considering a range of alternatives including the best way to meet these children’s interests did not seem to be part of this story. Instead, there was one over-riding goal – adoption.

Adoption itself is not a problem but adoption-driven systems are. The Smith’s story led me to reflect on whether a shared understanding of “adoption-driven” exists and what adoption-driven systems actually look like, particularly in Australia, the UK and North America where market-driven, neoliberal and neoconservative governments with particular views on welfare, charity and “the poor” are radically changing approaches to child welfare. So what constitutes an adoption-driven system and why is it a problem? The following characteristics of de-professionalised, adoption-driven systems provide clues and send strong warnings about how child welfare can be practised and driven by politics.

The measurement of success

1. Success is measured by the numbers of adoptions achieved

2. Managerial operations outweigh guiding philosophies and best practice, measuring success in short-term, fiscal terms

3. Where adoption is privatised and business models drive a service

Political and legal systems

4. Adoption is forced or “mandated” by law or other coercive practices are used

5. Adoption is broadly perceived as a “welfare solution”. Adoption is believed to be the best solution for social problems and the protection of children. Therefore adoption is promoted as the first and desired course of action

6. Foster care is bypassed in law or unrealistic time frames e.g. a six month period prior to non-consenting adoption

7. Parents and families in child welfare systems are seen as ‘bad’ particularly when limited resources exist or professional interventions are not focused on addressing the problems faced by the child’s family. Services that help families or focus on prevention are cut and sole responsibility rests on the individual in the absence of adequate external support

8. One size-fits-all approaches are promoted

9. Disproportionate influence of lobbyists that represent one perspective on political decisions and welfare policy

10. Disregard for professional expertise by politicians developing policy and legislation

11. When a system seeks to meet the demand for children as a priority

12. Where political ideology is paternalistic and acts as society’s moral compass guiding what is, in effect, social re-engineering

Professional practice

13. Foster care including permanent care is perceived as a lesser option rather than part of a range of possible options for individual children and professional interventions for families. Limited support for long and short-term foster parents.

14. No resources are allocated to changing problems in systems.

15. Overseas parents and families are invisible

16. A lack of cultural sensitivity and understanding

17. Limited attention or importance is given to maintaining all relationships in a child’s life

18. The de-professionalisation of services or an absence of professional development opportunities and professional supervision.

19. Research-poor environments. Comments like “we have no choice because the system is broken” or “research tells us children do better in adoptive families”. Research tells us that the children studied do well in stable environments but says very little about adoption as the best solution. Skilled and supported parenting provides emotional and physical stability – not the legal act of adoption. We must always be careful to not overstate or generalise

20. Where the avoidance of risk and adverse publicity over-rides ethical practice

21. Where confusion exists about who the ‘client” is

22. Where rhetoric does not match practices.

23. Where conflicts of interest exist and where decisions are made about children and families by those with stakeholder interests

24. Broader political perspectives are adopted uncritically and professional practice becomes mechanistic

 This post raises a number of serious issues that are not criticisms of adoption, child welfare practitioners, adoptive parents or foster parents although cases like the Smiths are not one-offs. It is critical of systems that are taking or have taken an alarming turn in countries like Australia and governments that harbour a ‘deep distrust” of welfare and the work of social workers and ignore the complexities of child welfare. These alarm bells raise points for serious reflection, potential research areas, transparency and discussion about these issues. The safety and best interests of children are always paramount and legislation already exists to manage them but services are poorly resourced (and it is not a question of working smarter). There are problems with “adoption-driven” systems not adoption. Child welfare has always been resource poor and professional autonomy, hiring appropriately-educated professionals, ridiculous caseloads, an emphasis on policing, and bureaucratic and political agendas have over a long period of time eroded the capacity of child welfare agencies to do their jobs. Comedian, Jo Brand, has noticed we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Adoption-driven systems are not the answer for world poverty or child protection. There is only the best course of action (usually multi-faceted) for each individual child and family and their unique circumstances. We only have to look at past practices to know that adoption-driven systems have never been the answer and never should be.

Found this today (1/07/2014) – could be in any country but sense coming from Ireland.

Higher education policy – written with the blood of students

Just prior to the 2014 Federal budget, my policy and legislation lecturer lamented the yawning absence of student activism in higher education – pretty standard in the 1960’s and 70’s. Back then no one could predict the uprising that was about to happen.  Several weeks later, the Federal government outlined their new policies for the deregulation of university fees and the increased interest on HEC’s-help loans. These policies may as well have been written in the blood of students.

The response has been nothing short of incredible. On the 13th of May 2014, a dramatic shift in policy driven by neoliberal ideology changed the face of higher education. It’s yet to be seen if the Government’s attack on the education system will get through the senate but the reaction is tense, loud and sharp. The Government plans to remove the ladders that gave all people access to the ivory towers of education. Ladders that allowed people of all socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds to reach up, reach out and reach their potential. One moment, higher education is a way to change life courses and expand minds – the next, it is a commodity, something only available to people who can afford to pay.

Sure, there are suggestions of scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. For every $5 that universities collect from additional fees, the Government will put $1 towards assistance packages but with increased fees, university will begraduation-2 unaffordable for so many people. For many it already is. Juggling university and assignments with paid work and running households is difficult enough already. I predict that the only people who will benefit from these scholarships are the people who don’t need it anyway. Frances Abbott, I’m looking at you!

These policies are ripping the guts from higher education. Education can change systemic and intergenerational poverty regardless of the social status or wealth into which they were born. I have spent the last four years studying subjects that have given me insight into the treachery that results from extreme conservative ideology, and outdated attitudes and policies. These policies really make me cranky and frightened because I’ve learned how social circumstances can be turned around through education and how a lack of education and poverty are intrinsically linked. I’ve paid nearly $20,000 for a degree that has helped me understand how a Government should run its country if it wants peace, harmony, productivity and happy citizens. Now I am watching social policy do the exact opposite of what it should. To add to my frustration, the Government is axing public service jobs and defunding programs. This makes me worry about getting a job so I can pay off the debt that I have.

I am proud of myself and my fellow students. Since the 13th of May students around Australia have shown leadership and courage, and an unbridled passion for the equality that can be achieved through higher education. My generation of students can see the flaws in the ‘earn or learn’ slogan. We are stuck between a very big rock and a very hard place. We know it’s never been ‘earn or learn’ – it’s ‘earn AND learn’. There’s no way you can put yourself though university without working unless of course daddy can pay.

So it’s a “choice”? – either pay what you can’t afford for an education, or get a job – any job. The Government doesn’t seem to give a toss about whether you enjoy your job, pursue your dreams or live a fulfilling life – as long as you’re not claiming welfare support. ‘Small government’ means limited intervention and getting away with doing very little for citizens. Instead individuals look after themselves. Sure, we are told there is still a safety net – but it sadis woven from very weak thread. If you fall through the cracks, it just might not hold. I feel that everything I have learned over the past four years has prepared me for this political mess. It is now up to us – students and professionals.  We have to make sense of the policies that will come through the senate. Worry and unrest will be channeled into precise, passionate actions. We have the energy and knowhow to create a better ideal and recapture what education is all about. We will grow and expand our hearts and minds – not simply as a means to employment but to think.

The message to students from the Government in the 2014 budget is simple – higher education is now a user-pays system. It’s up to the current generation of students and fledgling professionals to demand what we are entitled to (as citizens and tax-payers!). Australia can’t continue down the road of becoming a two-tiered society. It will be pretty gloomy under the glass ceiling being created by this Government’s education policies.

 By Polly Chester, Guest Blogger on socialworksocialwork

Polly is social work student at Griffith University. Check out Polly’s Blog.