Friday, March 31, 2006

wannabe a foster carer?

Here's a possible beginning for my book, The Big Lie.

On July 28 2004, only two months before the boy then in my care made his first allegation against me, an article appeared in the local Messenger press. Under the headline ‘Foster Care farce’, the article by Kara Phillips and Alison Mitchell began thus:

Foster parent numbers in
Adelaide have plunged by two thirds in the past seven years, in a crisis for the state guardianship system.

There were about 900 carers of wards of the state in 1997 and now there are between 300 and 400, says Nina Weston, a former president of the Foster Carers Association, who is still a carer.

“Years of neglect, lack of resources, and mismanagement have all led to this disgraceful situation,” Ms Weston said.

Even Families Minister Jay Weatherill conceded the system had deteriorated although he blamed under-funding by the former Liberal government…’

The thrust of the article was that Foster Carers felt unsupported by the responsible government department, that they were expected to care for high-needs, often abused kids, without adequate training and protection, and without adequate information about the child’s background. It quoted one expert, Freda Briggs, a professor of child development, as pointing out that the government’s policy of reuniting kids with their parents had been disastrous. Some kids were being re-abused on home visits, according to Briggs, and the government, though aware of the situation, wasn’t following these matters up. There were also claims by social workers that children were being removed from abusive parents ‘far too late’.

Departmental social workers had too large a case load to be able to provide adequate support and guidance to Foster Carers, and overall the relationship between FAYS (Family and Youth Services) and Foster Carers had deteriorated markedly. The situation could only be described as ‘a mess’.

I read this article with great interest of course, but though I was alerted, I didn’t feel alarmed. Paul Rossiter, the boy in my care, was due to be fully reunited with his mother by Christmas, and he stayed with her on weekends, but though my Anglicare placement worker, Rachel Mann, had serious qualms about the reunion and whether it would ultimately benefit the boy, there was no question of him being abused on home visits, and though I saw little of Paul's social worker, Andrea, who was based in faraway Gawler, Rachel was always on hand and willing to listen to any of my complaints or anxieties. I did feel that Foster Carers were kept too much in the dark about their charges, but I could sense the rationale for this, that it was preferable for the carer not to prejudge the kid, not to be intimidated by the kid’s history. To preserve an open mind. Almost to see the kid as a blank slate. If I’d read Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate before taking on the role of Foster Carer, maybe I would’ve been more insistent on examining not only Paul’s own troubled background but every leaf in his family tree, but I hadn’t and didn’t.

Even so, Paul’s mother, Rae Meredith, had provided me with a large volume of case notes, and there were also Paul’s own unreliable and repetitive memoirs. Though I quickly realized that everything Paul told me had to be taken with salt, I wasn’t particularly alarmed or disturbed, either by his doubtful versions or by the case notes I flicked through only briefly, always promising myself that I would make a proper study of them sometime. Basically, I felt pretty well invulnerable, encased in an affable, easy-going demeanour, proof against an access of viciousness. Of course I didn’t realize that it wasn’t viciousness I should watch out for, but callous, solipsistic disregard.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

pavlov's cat