CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

5 July 2005

Margaret Wenham
Courier Mail

How much have we learnt?

I should like (belatedly) to offer a comment on your article that discussed the development of Queensland's new Child Safety Department, and asked how much has been learnt from past experience.

My interpretation of your article: Problems in crisis ridden Families Department had its root cause in a culture which focused on containment - ensuring that bad news did not get out - rather than confronting the issues facing a long under-funded and under-valued bureaucracy. Culture of new Child Safety Department is seen as much better - vibrant, accountable and collaborative. Few staff now in senior positions came from Families Department. In old days there was a siege mentality between two groups of front line workers - family service officers and management. Reports of problems were simply not acted on - because no one wanted to talk about child abuse. There are now new systems for assessing carers, and a desire to increase the numbers of carers - especially for indigenous children. New Department is now closely monitored. New indigenous child safety agencies will improve position of indigenous children. A new child safety practices manual has been developed. Systems are being set up to streamline workloads of front-line workers who are still carrying heavy loads . Given large increases in notifications, staffing level projections are already out of date. Toowoomba and Ipswich regions have had massive increase in caseloads - and urgent cases are not receiving required attention. Minister realizes this, but believes that developing better systems will improve the situation. In the past department was so crisis ridden that all extra resources went to more frontline staff, rather than to building better / more efficient systems. (Wenham M., 'How much have we learnt?', Courier Mail, 14-15/5/05).

As you will be aware, public allegations were subsequently made that reforms have not been adequate to solve the problem. For example:

PeakCare's reported view: Child abuse is increasing in Queensland according to PeakCare - despite overhaul of child protection system and establishment of Department of Child Safety. Suspected cases rose 12% pa, and substantiated cases 40%. Nothing is being done to intervene before abuse, so it is increasing. Not-for-profit agencies struggle to keep up with increasing demand for foster care and support services, while Queensland continues to rely on a "narrow and outmoded" child protection model of care ('Child abuse 'on the rise', Courier Mail, 30/5/05)

However your article's discussion of the new Department contained ominous indications that reform is likely to fail. It suggested that:

In supporting the Create foundation's view that there was a need to consider the adequacy of the CMC's reform proposals, I suggested in January 2004 (see Review of CMC's Child Protection Proposals) that a cosmetic cover-up was all that could be expected, because reform would be contaminated by the weaknesses that pervade Queensland's overall system of public administration and that had led to the failure of the Families Department. In particular I suggested that:

As PeakCare reportedly pointed out, it is of serious concern that, in emphasising the creation of a new child protection service, nothing much seems to be being done to eliminate the need for that service.

The minister is probably at risk of 'conning' himself through listening to those who are telling him what he expects to hear - a characteristic which the Queensland Public Sector Union has reportedly suggested to be very widespread.

QPSU View: A widespread culture of fear amongst public servants stops them telling ministers about real and potential problems according to Queensland Public Sector Union. Government has forced public service to be so compliant that it now receives only the information that it wants to hear, rather than what it should hear. Staff who draw attention to problems are branded as troublemakers. This suggestion followed premier's demands on public service to lift its game after concerns about Bundaberg Hospital and controversial road surfacing on Bruce Highway. Premier said that he would make personal assessment of the situation in both departments, but backed away from hard line by suggesting that Queensland has a "very, very good public service" (Cole M., 'Fear feeds yes people culture', Courier Mail, 28/6/05).

Efforts to 'reform' Queensland's Public Service have been a disaster for years because they have been based on implementing idealised solutions (ie those that are derived from theory, and sound good politically) rather than those that are realistic (ie derived from practical experience that are actually likely to work). Queensland's Worst Government refers to an analysis of the 'reform' process put in place by the Goss Government which (like that now apparently being applied to the new Child Safety Department) involved:

The fact that a somewhat similar approach to 'reform' seems to be intended for Queensland Health (Watt A. and Green G., 'Morris proposes massive shake-up', Courier Mail, 2-3/7/05) is something of a worry.

Clearly very little has yet been learned.


John Craig