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Original detailed comments have been modified below as more information has become available.
14 January 2004
Ms Dianna Dawson,
Queensland Centre Coordinator,
Review of CMC's Child Protection Proposals
I should like to congratulate you and to comment on your suggestion (see below) that there is a need to consider whether the proposals for reform of the child protection system are adequate. This referred to proposals by the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) in their report Protecting Children: An Inquiry into the Abuse of Children in Foster Care.
Reactions to the Reform Proposal: Community groups welcomed CMC report but questioned whether government would pay the cost of recommendations. Create Foundation, Abused Child Trust, Queensland Public Sector Union, and PeakCare called for costing of reforms. Abused Child Trust (Jane Anderson) favoured the new department concept (suggesting that culture would change) and also the whole of government approach. Implementation must not be piecemeal, and the cost could be substantial. Create Foundation (Dianna Dawson) supported the main recommendations - youth participation in case planning; better foster carer training and more residential care options. Also she suggested that there are unanswered questions about implementation, and a lack of concrete examples of what new system as a whole would look like. And new system needs adequate resources - or it will simply replicate existing departmental failings. Moreover the report needs strategic planning and analysis to see if it can work. Bravehearts (Hetty Johnson) suggested that many other reports were just gathering dust. Commissioner for Youth and Young People (Robin Sullivan) said the report starts with focus on needs of children - and builds a system for increased support of children and young people in all agencies dealing with children. QPSU (Alex Scott) argued that case for proper funding of child protection needs to be considered - even if it involves raising taxes (Wenham M., 'Agencies fear cost of change', Courier Mail, 7/1/03)
Margaret Wenham (from The Courier Mail) also highlighted the cynicism of the child protection sector - and the risk of changes which are mere cosmetic cover-ups.
The Risk of a Cosmetic Cover-up: Cynicism of the child protection sector is one of biggest hurdles the Beattie Government faces in responding to the foster care report. The sector has been starved of funds and has come close to imploding. Many people want to know why it has taken so long to get meaningful change and a full inquiry. Evidence of the problem has appeared frequently in the media for years. The state government has hedged in implementing the Forde Committee inquiry (and others). All stakeholders welcomed the report - but were concerned about the detail and cost. When lots of money is involved governments tend to make promises - but then fudge the numbers and cut corners, while making it difficult to distinguish between real progress and cosmetic cover-ups. The government must resist this temptation (Wenham M. 'Beattie must resist the urge to play politics, CM, 7/1/03)
Unfortunately your concerns are very likely to be well founded. A cosmetic cover-up is all that can be expected, because:
These comments are detailed below.
Reforming Child Protection Services will Achieve Nothing in Isolation
The CMC's diagnosis of systemic failures which have given rise to the Families Departments' inability handle foster care is only an extreme case of problems which appear endemic in Queensland's Public Service. Specific indications are outlined in The Growing Case for a Professional Public Service. Whilst this refers to many indicators, particularly significant systemic failures apply to:
More significantly in relation to the cost of improving child protection, the state administration appears to be in mounting financial difficulty (and to be 'balancing' the books by creative accounting) - see Growing Pressure for Tax Increases.
Queensland unfortunately seems to be becoming a monument to the fake, the self-serving and the bogus in many of its state functions.
Some preliminary suggestions about the types of changes which might be needed to overcome the deep-seated 'constipation' of Queensland's system of public administration are speculated in Growth Management in SE Queensland. Without attention to such issues, any new child protection services that are created will inevitably be corrupted by their environment.
The Limitations of Creating a New Department
There is no reason to believe that the creation of a 'new' department for child protection is a guaranteed way to provide adequate services.
The lesson of history: The fact that creating a 'new' department is not a panacea is well demonstrated by the Public Service 'reform' process in Queensland in the early 1990s which involved across-the-board restructuring and restaffing (ie it involved creating brand 'new' departments in every state function). Far from solving problems, this process compounded them (because of the resulting loss of relevant knowledge and skills) - see Towards Good Government in Queensland.
In particular the systemic failure in the Families Department's approach to child protection in 2003 was the ultimate product of compounding pre-existing problems with an amateurish approach to Public Service 'reform'.
In June 2003, an ex-insider to the Families Department (Mr Wayne Faulkner) argued that it suffered a 'them and us' conflict between staff and management - and a tendency to blame staff for what are systemic problems ('Trouble with families', Courier Mail, 30 June 2003).
This is consistent with Towards Good Government in Queensland - as the latter argues that public-service-wide 'reform' ran off the rails in part because the people who could have made widely-supported reform work were persecuted as if they were the problem (see Section 5 of full paper). This is discussed further in Outline of the History of the Westminster Tradition's Breakdown in Queensland and of the Growth of Public Service Bullying. In fact autocratically blaming staff for systemic problems has characterised almost the whole process of 'reform' of the Queensland Public Service for most of the past 15 years.
The problems with attempting reform merely by creating a new department have also been suggested by Mr Faulkner.
My interpretation: Corporate culture - and the extent to which core business providers are nurtured and supported in all they do plays a significant part in organisational effectiveness. This has not applied in the Department of Families. Kids in care are at greater risk when those responsible for them are insufficient in number, inadequately trained, over-managed and under-led and denigrated for the condition of the families and society they seek to serve. The CMC had to report on how to fix this - and produced 110 recommendations (some good, some lacking in specificity). And the report is silent on many areas needing attention. Child protection is a complex task. The department provides a 9-5, Monday to Friday service - but requires more. Executive leadership across the department has been one where too many in management have had no direct experience in, qualifications for or exposure to realities of child protection. There has long been a need for well trained foster carers. The CMC proposed imposing more organizational change on staff utterly exhausted by frequent and futile changes. Five CEOs and six ministers in 11 years each determined to over-write the territory has bred sustained cynicism. The CMC proposed establishing yet another entity - which is the wrong way to go. A pervasive problem is chronic failure of child and mental health system to respond to troubled child in care. The CMC has been myopic in expecting that just one department can deliver holistic care. There is also a need for more links between schools and child protection. Corporate leadership in the agency responsible for child protection would have been better through a board of qualified people - rather than a DG's coordinating committee. It is of concern that stakeholders have accepted the CMC recommendations without question (Faulkner W. 'More thought needed on happy Families', Courier Mail, 9/1/04).
His diagnosis suggested that a major cause of the problem lay in a Department of Families' management that has been divorced in terms of experience and knowledge from its practical functions. As noted above, this problem is not confined to the Families Department and is the product of ill-informed politically-driven attempts at 'reform'.
Avoiding Myopia and Cover-ups
However redeveloping child protection services (which has been the limit of the CMC's inquiry) is not all that needs to be considered in reform of Queensland's approach to child protection
Firstly there is a danger that a reform 'blue-print' can become the basis of a myopic inability to see anything that is not in the blue-print.
Myopia was a serious problem with the Public Service 'reform' process carried out in Queensland in the early 1990s - where an obsession with promoting an 'accountability' blue-print suppressed (by persecution and paper-warfare) the initiative required to develop modern and practical solutions to the real-world challenges government was responsible for (eg see Defects in Economic Tactics, Strategy and Outcomes). The reform process in Victoria under the Cain Government (which was like that later undertaken in Queensland) also failed - and was also seen to be myopic because it pursued a 'blue-print (Labor Policy) which was seen to be unquestionable even at the expense of common sense (see The Fall of the House of Cain).
The danger of myopia is one reason that organisational change can not safely be separated from ongoing and continuing attention to operational and strategic concerns by persons with relevant knowledge and experience.
Secondly, there seem to be significant strategic questions that have not been addressed in considering how child protection services should be redeveloped, and thus a danger of covering-up or neglecting important issues. For example:
This is not a trivial issue as the (allegedly) massive problem of child sexual abuse in the general community was effectively covered-up in 2003 by inquires concerned only with the mis-management of particular cases of sexual abuse which failed to consider (a) the causes of child sex abuse (b) the > 95% of cases said to arise in families rather than in institutions and (c) what might be done to prevent abuse (see About Child Sex Abuse).
Likewise in July 2003 a Uniting Care workshop (Is the Smart State a Just State?) received reports about rapidly growing demands for various types of social support services and of a generally unmanageable situation. However at that event there was no attempt (even though the workshop was sponsored by a church organisation) to consider the possibility of reducing the need for social support services by strengthening the ethical basis of interpersonal relationships (and thus people's ability to support one another, and the health of individual's social environment). That moral problems might have significant implications is considered in The moral basis of individual liberty.
The Queensland's Families Department had apparently recognized that the escalating number of cases of child abuse it faced meant that it could not directly manage these - so it shifted to a new approach which emphasized strengthening families. But this was inadequate  - further suggesting that spiritual renewal to create an ingrained ethical basis for interpersonal relationships may be needed rather than social programs delivered by governments.