by AVI VINCE
I was taking the bus to work the other day and a couple got on. They both seemed to have suffered a big one the night before, and were most likely still a little hammered or high as neither could speak properly.
From what I could understand, the mum was really upset that another one of her children had to be removed from her care. She blamed the dad for always upsetting her and I gathered there may have been some domestic violence being the reason the child, or children, were removed. It almost looked like they were on their way to meet the Child Protection worker to plead their case.
I have to admit, as I sat opposite them, I started to hate them. Not because of their story, but because of the way she spoke. “Do you know how I feel, having another one taken from me? That was the worst mother’s day for me. I can’t believe you did that to me. I can’t have him away from me, he is my little boy.”
For the entire 20 minute bus ride, she didn’t show any worry about how he felt…her little boy. Not only did he have to witness whatever he did for however long, but he had to be taken away from his bedroom, from his toys, from his friends and put into a stranger’s house.
He was sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, in an unfamiliar house, in an unfamiliar suburb with complete strangers. And all she could think about was how she felt. I couldn’t help but hope that she didn’t get him back.
But then instantly I knew what it would mean for the little boy. He would grow up wondering why his mum didn’t love him the same way other mums loved their sons. He would hate the workers that put and kept him in care. They stood in the way of him being with his mum.
Regardless of whatever happened to him and regardless of how drunk or high she would be, he would have this inexplicable love for her. Regardless of how he would sometimes hate her in moments of anger, he wouldn’t be able to shake it.
I never believed that loving your parents is instinctual until I entered the Child Protection sector. The problem is parenting is not instinctual. It is taught and learned. Your mum teaches you what to do when your baby doesn’t stop crying. But what if your mum, or the nurse, wasn’t there to teach you.
Then what happens when the child doesn’t stop crying for the 18thhour? What happens if there isn’t anyone there to call on for help? “Mum, I just need you to come over and do something because I am about to crack it?” What happens when you crack it?
I have worked in the community services sector for almost 5 years. I’ve seen a lot of behind the scenes stuff that you don’t think could happen in a place like Australia. People with no right to work and no right to Centrelink.
But nothing shocks me more that the state of Australia’s kids. Mainly those in the Child Protection system.
Did you know that one in thirty one kids in Australia gets reported on? That means that someone out there thinks that child is at risk of harm. That is one kid in every classroom! That statistics comes from the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report on Child Protection.
Of those reports, one in 165 is substantiated abuse or neglect. In other words, they are so at risk, that the family needs intervention. That doesn’t mean that the rest were nothing. Just that the Child Protection workers couldn’t find enough to charge the parents. It isn’t a simple task.
In Australia in 2011, there were 37,500 kids in out of home care. That is a huge number, too huge for a country offering services and support to families in need. Even worse, that is up from 2007 when it was 28,500.
Besides being better informed, and more mechanisms to report child abuse, this increase is still horrifying. These kids are innocent victims of a society that still practices “What happens behind closed doors is none of my business.”
Governments are starting to put more funds into early family intervention. But in most cases the funds come from the care system, so the little boy above gets less support – he is almost given up on. Should we implement mandatory parenting courses the way some churches implement mandatory marriage counselling? Or is that overkill?
Not if you are the little boy living in a stranger’s home.
Is it enough to intervene when a family is showing cracks? Or is that already too late?