Thursday, 24 July 2014

To foster parent

or not to foster parent?
One of the staff inside the government department here which is responsible for placing children into foster care has claimed that simply changing the way the department is run will not be enough to prevent sexual abuse cases.
Unfortunately that is undoubtedly true. Equally unfortunately it came with the inevitable demand for more staff.
In the current economic climate that is unlikely. What is much more likely is that very little will change. It needs to change.
Someone I know and trust recently told me of a child who had been in foster care with the same family since her birth. She was now eight, happy and well settled and treated just like any other member of the family. Her foster parents had even made inquiries about adopting her.
Then, quite suddenly, she was removed from them - on less than twenty-four hours notice. She was returned to her mother. The foster parents are not permitted to have any further contact with her. They do not even know where she is or whether she is safe.
They do know the mother is single and that a parole officer is involved.
I wonder who those responsible were thinking about here - the child or the mother? I don't know enough to comment except to say my gut reaction is that such a move was not in the best interests of the child. It must also have required hours of time - for everyone except the foster family and the child. They would be the last to know.
I do know it is not unusual for children to be removed from foster families at very short notice. When I was teaching I had a foster mother come in to see me in tears one morning - to tell me that the child they had been caring for, a boy in my class, had been suddenly removed the day before. He was back again four months later. Another attempt was made to return him to his abusive alcoholic mother the following year. He ran away - back to his foster parents. I left after that and never found out what happened to him but I can remember him standing there in the school library asking me, "Why can't I stay with them?"  Why indeed?
Of course natural parents have rights but I am beginning to believe more and more that those rights should not over ride the rights of the child. 
It isn't just a matter of more staff. That won't solve the problems. We have spent too long massaging the egos of some social workers and the adults they are supposed to be helping. 
The first thing we need to think about is what is best for the child - or do I have that wrong?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

I don't know how we "keep children safe"

because it seems that, even if we remove them from an "unsafe environment" to a "safe" one they are still in danger.
Yes, this morning's paper has more than one page on the latest sexual abuse scandal. This time the allegations are about a man employed by Families SA - part of the government department specifically designed to assist families in difficulties.
A friend of mine, now deceased, trained as a social worker after she had brought up her own family. Her youngest child was adopted and the family's experiences in adopting the child had made her acutely aware of the many issues surrounding adoption. That child was wanted, loved and has grown into a very well adjusted adult with a stable marriage and equally loved and wanted children. My friend was aware that not all relationships work out like that and that all parent-child relationships need to be worked at - just as the relationship with your partner does.
We talked long and often about all this when she was training. I was reading her written work, commenting on the language and construction of her essays and questioning her thoughts so that she could clarify them. We both knew that, all too often, she was writing what she knew she was expected to write. She wrote it in order to pass the subject. Privately she thought much of it was nonsense.
"What they need to do," she told me more than once, "Is apply a good dose of common-sense."
She also knew that "common-sense" would often be lacking and even not allowed. Rules and regulations would come first. They are there to "protect" the children - or so they say.
It infuriated her because those very measures also made the children even more vulnerable. The secrecy surrounding their circumstances made it impossible for them to lead "normal" lives. There was no chance of them attending anything as simple as a birthday party because it meant the family and friends of the other child all had to be vetted. They could not be left in the charge of another parent to play sport unless that parent, their partner and any other adult they were likely to come into contact with was vetted. Result? No birthday parties, no sport and no normal interaction with other children. Oh yes, they were keeping them "safe".
No wonder it has been so easy for someone to abuse children in care. The children "in care" were simply being isolated.
I don't know whether the system is still the same fourteen years after the untimely death of my friend. I suspect it is. I wish she was still here to apply her robust "common-sense" to the situation in which some of these children find themselves.
We have tried to care for too many vulnerable children on the cheap. We leave some with their parents when they should, for their own safety and future well-being be removed. When we do remove them we pay those charged with caring them so little that some of those who would like to do it simply cannot afford the extra costs involved.
And yes, they will even take away a child who has been with a family since infancy, who is happy and well adjusted and extremely well cared for - because the child is becoming "too attached".
How on earth can we keep children "safe" when this sort of action is considered right and proper? Safe? I don't think so.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Once a week in Israel

a young boy who is able to do almost nothing for himself breaks out into smiles and laughter as his father passes him over to another father. The two men chat for a moment about the sort of week the boy has had and whether there is anything special that has happened or needs to be watched for.
Recently the other father showed the boy's father a problem with a door. The two of them worked together to repair it watched by the child. He was all smiles when his father left. By then he was in the arms of the other mother - the only mother he knows. His own died at birth. His own lifespan is limited because of his medical condition.  
That once a week visit gives his father and his grandmother a break. It gives them an undisturbed night's sleep. It allows the child to socialise outside the narrow limits of a life lived largely in one room with only the television set for company.  
The child is a Palestinian. His "other parents" are Jewish.  His Palestinian father counts the Jewish man as one of his closest friends. The Jewish man reciprocates.  They share many things. It began with a game of chess but now it includes meals and other things.
None of this happened easily. I don't know the whole story and, even if I did, it would not be mine to tell. I know only because the mother is someone I have worked with over a number of years. It's not easy. Both families are criticised for fraternising with the other. There are other families doing similar things. It is not easy for them either. There are differences - and tensions too - but they are persisting.
"The hardest thing I do each week is hand him back," J has told me more than once. She knows how hard it is for his father too.
Almost half of the Palestinian population is under the age of 14. Many of them die. Many of those who died on flight MH17 were children. Three of them came from the same family. An Afghan family lost their three daughters recently. An Iraqi family lost five children - the children of two brothers.
No wonder J finds it hard to hand her other son back. We should be keeping children safe.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The conspiracy theories

are flying around again. Some people even seem to believe that the MH17 disaster is the work of aliens from outer space or a God-given punishment or a deliberate attempt to start a major international conflict.
Such nonsense makes me angry. I am angry because it makes it even harder for the families of the victims to cope with the situation. I am angry because it makes the delicate international negotiations even harder.
Much of the reporting around the incident has been contradictory and, quite frankly, irresponsible. We still don't know what happened. We may never know what happened. Trying to lay blame does not help. It just further encourages a lack of cooperation on the part of those responsible.
There is something else that angers me too. Here other people are using the situation for their own political purposes. Our Prime Minister is being criticised for his "handling" of the affair. Our Foreign Minister is being criticised too. The Opposition leader was given prime air time - to criticise the way in which the government was handling the situation. Oh yes, he sympathised and said the right things but nobody edited out the uncalled for or unnecessary jibe at the government.
Whatever you happen to think of the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister now is not the time to be criticising them or making their job that much harder. The media, and the Opposition, should be offering maximum support so that a united message is sent to the families of the victims. Those families should not be led to believe that the government is not doing everything it can to help. Those responsible should not be able to use divisions to further exploit an event of unspeakable cruelty.
Yes, other heads of government are also being criticised for their reaction to and handling of the affair. Our political leaders are always seen as being "fair game" for criticism but, in these circumstances, it is incredibly irresponsible. It is also dangerous.
We don't know what happened. If we want to know then we will allow others to get on with the job without analysing every word and every move. We will support them so that we can also support those who lost someone.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Having just begun to

clear out my friend's unit and having just read the post about clearing out on another friend's blog I am more aware than ever that we need to do some clearing out here.
Yes, we need to do it. We have too many possessions. Some of them have not been used for years. We have kept them because "they might be useful one day".
No, they won't be.
I recently divested myself of large quantities of donated knitting yarn. Some of the good stuff in colours that were not suitable for garments (think worse than mustard yellow) was passed on to the elderly woman who knits the squares for the blankets our bookshop knitting group puts together for charity. The other yarn, acrylic and poor quality fibre in general, was given away or sold for charitable purposes. It had been given to me and I did not want to even try and use it. I have enough yarn. I did not need it. If I am going to make something then I want to make it from good quality yarn, yarn that will last. Am I yarn snob? Probably.
But there are other things. We seem to have an extensive collection of tea and coffee mugs. The Senior Cat drinks tea from a tea cup with a saucer. He disapproves of tea in mugs. At breakfast time he drinks coffee - in a mug. It is always the same mug. I drink from a mug too - always the same mug.
I have a small collection of cat, sheep and knitting mugs. People have given them to me. I do not wish to part from them. The Senior Cat has been given mugs too - one which says "Real men like cats" is the large one he will, on occasion, take out to the shed. If I removed that he would be most distressed. Sigh. How do I get rid of any of our "too many" mugs?
There are other things too. We have too many books. How do you part with a book?
I have, over the years, gradually managed to get rid of kitchen things I did not want and never used. I have not missed them. The same would probably be true of a great many other things - if I could find the courage.
So, I sympathised with the Senior Cat. He has been indoors because it has simply been too cold to be out. While I was doing shopping and banking and bill paying the other day he decided to clear out the drawer that still has things in it belonging to my mother.
He pulled everything out. He looked at it. He brought out one handbag thinking my sister or I might use it. And then, yes - he put the rest back in the drawer. He could not give it away.
The handbag was left on a chair. It was, finally, given to someone else yesterday. I hope she uses it. I wouldn't. My sister wouldn't. It is, I suppose, "retro" enough for a young one - and it looks new.
But, it had me thinking again. I can't ask the next generation to take the responsibility - or feel guilty about giving things away.
So, I'll try...but where do I start?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

"Are you lost?"

I asked yet again. The two women standing there with the map and the conference tags were looking in a puzzled way at the building in front of them. They did not respond for a moment and then one said something to the other in French so I asked very slowly, hoping I had it right, "Avez-vous besoin d'aide?"
Right or wrong they seemed to get the idea. There were smiles and they showed me the map, asked me where to go in much better, if heavily accented, English. (All much to my relief - my French is entirely self-taught and utterly atrocious.)
That was the third time within about twenty minutes. The first time they were German and then there were the Spaniards.  Later in the day I met some Italians, some Latvians and of course some Americans. There were other accents I guessed at but they spoke English.
They were all visiting for the OIDFA14 Conference. There is one main street on the side of the CBD which has a good many of the exhibitions related to this international lace conference. It is the street which houses the art gallery, the state library and other exhibition areas.
It should have been easy to find your way up and down and see things. It wasn't. Even I had problems. The exhibition areas are not marked. There are no signs to them.
I don't know what's going on. There has been no publicity either - and, of course, yesterday's appalling news has now pushed everything else off the first fifteen or so pages of the paper. There will be no chance of last minute publicity now.
But, why weren't there signs out - A-frames perhaps or posters?
There were small exhibitions everywhere - and a larger one in the Art Gallery.
I managed to see some of them yesterday. No, it is not because I am intensely interested in lace or lace making. I do however recognise it as "art" and very skilled art at that. There is history attached to much of it too - and to the people who have made it. The small exhibition in our Migration Museum was wonderful - but there was absolutely no signage to even suggest it was there. People are going to miss it - even if they can find the Migration Museum. (That's down the side avenue.)
Now the organisers knew that there would be people from all over the world. They have supplied the maps with the venues for the exhibitions marked out. Not all the venues are open unless you have a ticket but many of them are. I do not entirely blame the organisers. They tried to get local publicity for the event but the media has remained stubbornly silent. It is "textiles" - not sport. I suspect they probably did not employ a publicity person and perhaps they should have. Despite that I think the media should have shown some interest. Any international conference should have some coverage. People need to know these things are happening.
And the signs? Well yes, I think they should have done much better there but it might also be that the city council has restricted them as well. Why? An international conference, especially one with hundreds of delegates, brings money into the city.
So yesterday I tried to do my bit for the city I live in. I spent more time telling people where to go than going to look at things myself. That's fine. They paid to come here and see things.
And that is why I caught a later train than I had planned. I took a small group of Dutch women back to the Art Gallery and showed them where to find the display which included the work of one of their ancestors. The morning's news had shocked and upset them but they wanted to make the most of their trip. As I went to leave them each of them hugged me and thanked me.
I think I should be thanking them for coming.


Friday, 18 July 2014

I have just picked up the newspapers

from the front lawn. They always arrive late on Fridays but I am thankful that neither of them carry news of the latest air disaster - the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. That happened too late to reach the print media.
I am thankful because the Senior Cat does not need to read that sort of news over breakfast. At 92 he has reached the point where he does not watch the television news. He finds it too distressing. He remembers WWII, Korea and Vietnam all too clearly.
Nothing has changed. People are still fighting one another.
I watch the international news service. It is a part of my job. I need to know what people here are being told about what is happening elsewhere. What is actually happening and what we are told about via the media are often very different. Much of what is actually happening in a disaster would be too distressing to show.
I know that even I am shielded from the worst of it. I do not have to try and cope with conditions on the ground. I do not have to bear the smells and sights and noises and the constant possibility of death in a conflict zone. I don't know how "war correspondents" do it or how aid workers manage to work under such conditions.
I also know that, at some point, the Whirlwind will want to know, "Why did they do it?"
And I will try to answer her but I know that it will not really be an answer. How do you explain the lust for power and possessions to a child verging on adolescence - especially a lust for power and possessions given a veneer of religious and cultural differences? How do you explain that someone who was elected to lead simply used the position to amass a fortune and live a life of luxury?
All I can really tell her is that nothing has changed in thousands of years. Everyone will blame each other.
Perhaps we should start by blaming ourselves.