Advertising children is step too far

Is Australia breaching the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by condoning theAdvertising children advertising of children? Barnardos Australia is advertising children for adoption on their webpage. Photographs, glossy and attractive are on a public website along with names and stories (models and pseudonyms are used) however some personal information is provided. Is it really ethical to advertise children as if they were stray puppies appealing to sentiment or to justify advertising as long as an adoption is achieved?

Some representations in the media about adoption are presenting ideologically and politically biased information and ill-formed attitudes about children in care while being intent on homogenizing the diverse and individual circumstances of families in need and their children. Terms like ‘forever families’ and “freeing children for adoption” need to be used with caution. Children know very well they have another family. Words are important. People in the adoption community have contacted me distressed about advertising, media stories and terminology used.

Research has shown that many adoption agencies particularly in the US are in breach of The Convention of the Rights of the Child – Articles 2 (protection from discrimination), 8 (protecting identity) and 16 (privacy) by advertising children, using photolistings, fantasy terminology and allowing prospective parents to select a child . The difference is Australia is party to the CRC and the US is not. There are many disastrous adoption practices in the US and in the UK. Australia should be smarter than this and venture into these areas with extreme caution.

No justification can alter the fact that advertising children as needing adoption is problematic at a time in their lives when they are not fully aware of the long term consequences and cannot give informed consent to publicity – even with models and pseudonyms. There are particular responsibilities to protect children when they are in the care of the state.  Blurring the public and private on the internet are significant problems for children and can cause harm. It is documented how adults often fail to pick up on the distress of children and assume they are fine. Outward compliance can be very misleading.

Children should not be ashamed of being adopted but neither should their lives be defined by their adoptive status or their pre-adoptive circumstances. Nothing disappears on the internet and geography offers no protection to privacy.  Regardless of how positive their adoptive family experiences are, many adoptees struggle with identity, belonging and difference. They do not need their private struggles to be played out in the public arena and to suffer the indignity of being labelled. By making the circumstances of vulnerable children public, children are placed at risk of being forever labelled, stigmatised and bullied alongside the negative implications for their sense of self-worth particularly if no one puts their hands up to adopt them as is often the case. Article 39 makes it very clear that children who have been subjected to neglect or abuse should receive special help to restore their self-esteem not to heighten their vulnerability and draw the world’s attention to their circumstances. Defining them by their backgrounds and adoptive status is more than potentially damaging in the long term.

It seems some Australian governments are running out of ideas. Instead we seem intent on importing the worst of policies from overseas when it comes to children. In the UK enforcing adoption as a child protection measure has meant permanent removal happens too quickly and without consent. Children wait in care indefinitely for a ‘forever family’ to adopt them. In many cases this happens in preference to working with parents and families to improve circumstances and to find appropriate care with other family members because adoption is considered ‘gold star’ at the expense of other options that may be more suitable. Rest assured professional work with families does create change and the circumstances of many families are temporary. They are not all in need of permanent removal . Any adoption-driven agenda (not to be confused with opposition to adoption) is not what we want in Australia.

Adoption and a child’s identity, history and psychosocial needs are a private concern and advertising is ethically dubious and could be viewed as a breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child even with de-identification. Some people would argue the end justifies the means but perhaps like all else in adoption we also should ask adult adoptees and the families directly affected and whom we are failing.

What disturbs me most about this government

Out of all the turmoil, ridicule and criticism one thing stands out for me about this government. These are the proud comments by Mr Abbot that he never looks at himself or engages in any form of self-examination.  Perhaps I don’t understand what he is trying to say, but it disturbs me every time I hear it and proves, to me at least, that we are being hammered by ideologues, somewhat scarier than mere self-interest. I have no doubt many of them really believe what they are doing is right and equally know there are a disturbing number who seem to be very in love with themselves and the thrill power brings. However both approaches bring the same result – a hardness towards the impact their actions have on people who live outside their own experience. Without examination of self, we just perpetuate what we are comfortable believing or go unquestioningly with our desires.

Jan Fook who writes on critical reflection in social work is right – some people just can’t reflect on self. Why is it important? Self-examination means exploring the consequences of our actions on all stakeholders, questioning our assumptions, evaluating and using evidence, and including the structural influences on problems and the biases in our own thinking about issues and their solutions. If critical thinking and the ability to reflect were skills taught to children from a very early age, the world would be a different place, politics would be different (and more effective) and there would be less chance hurting others in pursuit of ideals. Reflecting on self requires flexibility and openness. It allows us to evaluate and incorporate new knowledge and most importantly learn from our mistakes. Granted done properly it is not an easy thing to do and nobody always does it well – the trick is doing it. It is truly brave to self-examine. Boasting about avoiding it is flawed and weak.

I am sick of politics, sick of writing and tweeting about it but as a social worker it can’t be avoided when injustice and breaches of human rights occur.  And these have been shocking in Australia of late and I can’t give tacit approval through silence. So please start reflecting on self politicians and bring humanity back to Australia. Australians are proving they won’t put up with it. And truly I want to write about something, anything else!

Living to a 150

Some politicians are making big claims about longevity to justify their health and social policies. Are our politicians on the far right simply fantasizing about living longer? Is this why they tell us good health investment should be directed towards curative research alone while everything else to do with health is lying under a precariously balanced metaphorical bread knife. How would you like that sliced – thin or sandwich?  From a cynic’s point of view this claim might simply be about appealing to the core of individualism and what’s in it for me? An old tactic repackaged.

Sure many scientists are making claims about future generations reaching incredible ages but I am sure they will agree at this point in time these are theories not proven fact, possible, even likely, but still theoretical.  Certainly our average life expectancy has risen as health care and living conditions have improved. Hans Rosling is very entertaining on this issue.

It is a fact that better access to health services and better living and working conditions improve the overall health of a population. One day some people might live to 150 but these results depend on future discoveries and advancements in biological interventions such as gene therapy. Such projections are speculative and assume scientific progress will continue uninterrupted and treatments will be equally affordable and available to everyone. Living longer, if indeed we do, might be the privilege of some people and not others depending on the social policies we choose to adopt.

My argument goes like this. In my opinion, human beings have always been a pretty arrogant lot. We really do believe we are superior – to other animals, climate etc etc.  We particularly hang on to the belief that we can tame nature and we do – to a point. How many examples of nature doing what it does, do we need to show us that although we might be on top for a while it won’t necessarily last – at least not without some counter reaction. A prime example is antibiotic use and the development of antibiotic resistance . When we triumph over one disease, a new one seems to emerge to take its place – smallpox, AIDS, Ebola, take your pick.  According to one recent study, although average life expectancy is higher, this generation has a different set of health issues – more metabolic disease.   The effect of this shift in disease on our future life expectancy is unknown but can be hypothesised. We already know the long term impact of these diseases on our health but on the other hand we don’t know the influence of future medical treatments yet to be discovered and made available.

There are other factors to consider when contemplating our longevity. We have known for some time health is more than biological and that social factors and social policies impact on our health.  We only need to look at work on inequality and studies on the health of particular, improverished populations such as the people who live in the Gorbals, south of the river Clyde in Glasgow.

Alarmingly social policies and where governments choose to invest does influence longevity and health. We only need to look at health outcomes for Indigenous peoples in places like Australia and Canada and recent findings that life expectancy has reduced in some areas of the UK. This backward shift is being linked to the reduction of services that maintain health and well-being. Even if some people manage to live to 150 it may not happen for everyone equally. Assuming good genes and discoveries in curative and genetic medicine, all people will still need access to good healthcare. The seeming dominance of far right ideologies that promote policies of user pays, a sole focus on individual responsibilities, privatisation and purely biological approaches to health combined with a failure to address inequalities will continue to negatively impact on the health of many people. It will mean only those who can afford access to services will reap health benefits.

Sure average life expectancy has improved but has the end point actually changed? We have always had centenarians and a very few sparky souls that live to extraordinary ages, a rare few reported to be a 120 or slightly more.

This is not new and I doubt if modern medicine has had too much to do with it. Perhaps someone can answer this for me – have we actually extended our lives beyond the upper limit of our bodies’ use-by date? To put this simply, has the oldest age anybody has ever lived actually changed? Is there an upward trend at that upper limit? Difficult question as many long lives are unverifiable. I don’t think so – it may come but it will depend on more than biology and must include the social. Perhaps also there is a certain truth in that when we cure one thing, something else emerges – whether this is disease, the impact of climate change or even the stuff people are pumping into their bodies to at least appear younger. For the moment, future generations living to a 150 remains predictive and speculative. We all need a better approach to health than one based on profit or policies that make it harder for people to access healthcare or improve their lives. And so if it does come true and we manage one-day to live past our current use-by date, I hope it comes true for everyone not just a few.

Message to politicians- try living on disability support

Cutting welfare for people with disabilities is a vile and savage act.  Any crediting of intent would put our politicians on par with terrible people, so I shall stick with ignorance as the cause. I have worked with people with physical and other disabilities for much of my career and I know pensions and entitlements are more than just subsistence living – it is about survival. People with disabilities have to pay rent, eat and support dependents like anyone else but they also have to pay for much, much more than the rest of us.

Like everyone else, people with disabilities work if they can – but it takes more than personal will to get a job and maintain employment. Putting qualifications and education aside, employers need to provide flexibility, support and accessible environments. Tried getting around in a wheelchair lately? – even an electric one?  An electric chair (if you can afford one) can be worse – try turning around in a small office or corridor or even getting through a doorway. Some people need personal assistance in the workplace.  For example, a person might need help to empty a catheter bag, or be able to pay for a device that lets them empty a catheter bag onto a grassed area, or even to be repositioned in a wheelchair to avoid pressure sores that can kill you (remember superman?), or just eat lunch. Who is going to pay for assistive technology in the workplace? People when they do work often lose access to government subsidies for equipment and other items as a result of being employed.

People with disabilities already pay significant co-payments for equipment which can include wheelchairs, shower chairs, hoists, pressure cushions, home modifications, disposable needs such as bladder management disposables – then there’s medication and personal carers. There are subsidies but they are limited. Often people need more care because they can’t afford the modifications or equipment that would increase their independence.  There are even costs associated with an assistant animal if they can get one. People in rural and regional areas face higher expenses with the delivery of essential needs. Some people face costs associated with ventilators and need airconditioning because they don’t have temperature control – without it death is a real possibility.  Dare I state the obvious, power costs.  I have worked with people with all these needs and many of them are working and most would work if they could find a job. Too many people are still living inappropriately in nursing homes (some on the streets) because they can’t afford independence. People with all types of disabilities of all ages have hidden expenses that people without physical or mental disabilities don’t see.  It is more than just paying rent and eating. We should be going forward not backward.

Message to politicians: Try living for a year on a disability support pension with the same expenses and environmental limitations as a person with a disability and let’s see how well you fare.

The fairytale continues… Part 2 Under the Christmas Tree

It was three days before Christmas and the mice were busy. Having slipped through the encounter with the Ghost of Things Past, Ebenezer Morrison was feeling rather smug. Presents were tossed aside as Ebenezer crawled about under the party xmasxmas tree tree. He picked up one after the other, shook it, read the card and threw it over his shoulder. He searched and searched – nothing from Tony.  Peta, Jo, Julie – the pile of presents behind him grew and grew. Finally he found it and It was huge!  Wrapping paper shredded as pulled the package apart. He oohed and aahed – the SS, oops I mean social services!  Now he could dream some more – slashing, burning, inflicting misery – the possibilities were endless. “Thanks Tone my mate – wonderful pressie! I won’t let you down”

*Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental. No mice were harmed in the writing of this fairy tale.

Online live panel on the sustainability of adoption

Live panel this Sunday 21st December – watch live or later

youtube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSKgUrUWHGk&feature=youtu.be

Other details https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/cn54b3l8d15bp7h20jh6s419ad0

Campaigning against Australia’s institutional abuse of abuse of children – We’re better than this

Yesterday I saw the We’re better than this campaign.

 

It is wonderful to see celebrities come out in protest of what counts amongst the worst travesties in Australian history. Australian celebrities are protesting against Australia’s treatment of refugee children. Hundreds of children are locked up in Australia, Naru and Christmas Island. Australia is committing the institutional abuse of children and breaching their responsibilities in terms of the United Nations Conventions we are party to – those on refugees and the rights of children. Children should not be held in such conditions…but neither should their families.

Australian actor, Bryan Brown, should be commended for leading such a charge but I do have a word of caution.  In one interview, Bryan mentioned placing children in the care of Australian families as one possible option. To be fair, he didn’t necessarily present this as the solution and in other interviews he places the responsibility squarely on the Australian government to find a solution.

We need to keep this campaign going and support it – but I have a couple of words of caution.

Our government must respond to the advice of experts in finding a solution, an area where, unfortunately, it doesn’t have a good track record. The danger is the government will respond in ways that are not so good. For example, women in detention are so desperate about their current situations, futures and their children’s well-being, losing custody of their children appears a good option. Many parents are reported to be so traumatised, they will need adequate psychosocial support, mental health and healthcare. All people will. Some Australian politicians and adoption campaigners would be all too willing to pursue adoption as the solution especially in some states. Authorities and politicians will no doubt have been inundated by inquiries from prospective adopters. Such as solution would be a further abuse of children, not to mention their families.  Note – this is not a criticism of adoption rather adoption is not the answer for children with families co-erced by circumstances and the abuse by government.

In my view, it is important that we do not conceptualise children as separate from their families because they are not. Even unaccompanied minors have families and they should be removed from detention centres but the focus should then be on healing and reunification strategies. For children with families, perhaps temporary removal is the lesser of two evils under current government policy but there is a word of warning here too. We know from studies on trauma and disasters that maintaining the care of families or carers is one of the most important things to a child’s recovery – something we shouldn’t forget. If removed, how will the government ensure ongoing contact with their families and the maintenance of relationships if families are separated. Will they arrange regular and frequent visits to or from Naru or Christmas Island for this to occur? To say the least, children will be anxious about parents and other family members who remain in detention and be traumatised by separation. For parents, it would simply be another breach of their rights, re-traumatisation and significant loss.

It seems to me that this campaign is about raising awareness and demanding action from the government and I say go for it – but perhaps there should also be a view on the solutions and not simply leave it to the government to decide what is best. Their track record is not good. The lesser solution is to address living conditions, provide education and health care and respond to the needs of refugees in detention. The humane and appropriate solution is to release refugees into the Australian community with the appropriate supports to assist them to rebuild their lives after the trauma Australia has imposed. Unaccompanied minors should be placed in homes preferably with members of their community or with Australian families who are properly prepared. Reunification strategies must proceed while the children heal.

So my message is keep up the good work celebrities but perhaps keeping an eye on the solutions is also important – at least make sure the government takes the advice of experts so we can avoid unintended consequences.  Keep the pressure up!