Children are the future prospects of society. The traits, culture, uniqueness of communities is carried through generations by them. Therefore, they should be protected and nurtured by the society. It is the responsibility of parents, families, communities and the nation to serve for the cause. This article is an earnest effort in understanding the historical, cultural and social contexts of child protection work.
NEED FOR CHILD PROTECTION
In Australia, remarkable child welfare problems started with the white settlement way back in early 18th century. Neglected children lived in very harsh situations. Deaths during the 1860s in Melbourne reported to be of neglect and maltreatment of children. Maltreatment included various forms of physical, emotional and sexual abuse in children. It was during the 1960 – 1970s that the State witnessed a remarkable change in the child welfare system for children-at-risk by shouldering responsibility to respond to maltreatment concerns. A national policy for child protection has been developed in National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children including children and young people as stakeholders.
DEVELOPMENTS IN CHILD PROTECTION
In mid 1990s many policy makers argued for fostering family care for children resulting in enacting legislations to render protection to them. Various States in Australia brought in major reforms by amendments in legislations and enhancing provision of services through referrals to ‘Child and Family Information, Referral and Support Teams’. Child maltreatment issues are taken care of by these service providers. Over many years there had been over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children removed from their families and taken care by child protection services. This is always a matter of concern for the Nation. The Government continuously adopts strategies to minimise the vulnerability to the trauma caused during protection processes (Fernandez. E. 2014). An empathetic and transformative form of approach is essential to engage the service providers with Indigenous Australians and representative organizations thus highlighting the erosion of the rights of Indigenous children (Briskman 2016). In a recent UN Committee report on the Rights of the Child, the views of vulnerable children was found to be shocking as there exists a gap in quality of life for Australian children (Coade 2019).
POSITIVE PRACTICE OPPORTUNITIES WITH FAMILY
As a social worker, I should use a social justice lens while working with children and families. For the effort of writing this paper, children-at-risk due to parental substance use has been taken as a case scenario. This becomes essential when there arises a need for me to visit homes providing early intervention program functioning to support substance using parents in collaboration with Drug and Alcohol Services, Department of Child Protection and other support agencies in the community.
Working in such programs will give an understanding that parental substance use is not a standalone issue. It is more likely associated with complex mental issues, hopelessness and at risk of homelessness, poverty, deprivation, social isolation, unemployment. These result in disrupted functioning of the family that impacts the child’s physical and psychological safety and development. These circumstances lead to serious concerns on child protection. It is vital to identify the stigma and pressure experiences by substance using parents in context to their own history, life events and conditions that may impact their capacity to care, build secure attachments with their children and cater to their physical and emotional needs (Bromfield et al., 2012).
Substance misuse of parents certainly has long-term impacts on children, disturbing their physical, emotional and social development as a child and as they grow as an adult (Waddell et al., 2014). Conversely, it is important to recognise that not all substance using parents abuse or neglect their child. Some evidence in literature specifies how individuals who use drug and alcohol have shown to be capable of parenting on a continuum that has been accepted as satisfactory and reasonable (Suchman, 2001).
POTENTIAL BARRIERS TO POSITIVE PRACTICE
It appears that more the parents encounter stigma and bias in the society, the more they experienced shame, guilt and fear of having the children removed from their care (Russell, 2006). It becomes harder for people who use drugs or have a history, to reach out services for support (Cousins, 2005). It becomes mandatory to identify the needs of such families and help them get relieved of the suffering pain.
WAYS OF MANAGING CHALLENGES
By closely working with parents and families, I would be able to understand that fostering relationships with respect and collaboration with the families is crucial to apply interventions in order to minimise the harms of parental substance use on their children (Bromfield et al., 2012). I am confident that strength-based and empowerment models would prove as most constructive engagement strategies for such families-at-risk. As the primary focus is on child protection, strength-based approach in this context can act as a solution-focused intervention. The capacities, values and hopes of parents are recognised and used in positively engaging them to work towards a safe environment for their children (Saleebey, 1996).
It would also be appropriate to practice empowerment approach with families by involving them in the process of goal setting to empower them to take ownership of the set goals and work towards accomplishing them (Bromfield et al., 2012). Such an empowerment would provide families with motivation for change (Miller & Clunies, 2000). Besides, a change process incorporating community-based strategies and poverty aware practices would provide positive outcomes for children and families (Harris 2017). We as human beings should treat others as fully human (Young 2014).
The following principles of practice would help social workers use harm-minimisation approach as a philosophy of social justice and human rights:
- Enabling the voice of substance-using-parents to be heard and have their say in the services designed for them to use.
- Seeing substance using parents beyond their issues of drug and alcohol use.
- Acknowledging that social disadvantages such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment increases the vulnerability of families-at-risk.
- Empowering substance-using-parents to be primary agents of change towards minimising the harm of substance use on their children and promoting their safety and well-being.
- Articulating substance use as a social issue rather than a health issue.
- Promoting a non-judgemental, non-coercive service delivery (Coalition, 2001).
My ethical decision-making is guided by the ETHIC framework by Congress (1999) which I believe best suits the circumstances of my practice. The framework would help me to identify who will benefit and who will be harmed in view of social work’s commitment to the vulnerable (Disadvantaged parent with substance use issues or the children in their care). It offers me the constant reassurance of making ethical decisions by directing me to consult my supervisors, AASW Code of Ethics (2010) and the laws of Child Protection.
In the effort of writing this paper to articulate my philosophy of social work, I have been able to critically reflect on what social work means to me, and how I put my knowledge and skills to use and how I conduct my practice (Mackie, 2007). Continuous statutory policies and interventions are taking place to address problems in child protection and family support practices. As social workers we should advocate for the early childhood services and support families for a happy and peaceful life.