Tuesday, 29 July 2014

What is more important

the safety of children or a bicycle race which brings in money?
It's a serious question.
The Premier of this state flew off to France last Friday. His stated aim was to try and secure the Tour Down Under for the state beyond 2016. Apparently the contract runs out then. Right.
He left behind an absolutely appalling child sexual abuse scandal. It is of major proportions - even bigger than the media has led people to believe. What is even more appalling is that it took some digging on the part of the media to uncover most of it.
I will not go into the sordid details here. It is simply too distressing. I have no doubt the story will run for a while. The media will make the most of it.
But, behind it all, there are children. There are children who were too young to articulate what was happening to them. They had already been taken from an unsafe environment. They were supposed to be "safe". They weren't.
There are the usual arguments about what those in authority did and did not know and who told who what and when. I have known MPs to say "Don't tell me." I suspect that this has been the case here. If you "haven't been told" it might save your own job.
Well, I'm sorry. I know it is a nice job to have. The pay packet is quite exceptional, the additional perks - such as the chauffeur driven car - are great. The superannuation package is excellent.
But, you are expected to work for all that. You are expected to take the responsibility.
And, it is even more important for you to take the responsibility if you lost the election - which you did - but formed government because of the way the electoral system works. Yes, that's democracy, even if you won a minority of the votes you have to take the responsibility if you form government.
You don't go off on holiday to France saying that you are working to secure a bicycle race. You might meet a couple of people there and mention it but the real negotiations will be done by others. The bicycle race, like the car race and the horse race we have a silly public holiday for, is not important. It is not of long term benefit to the state. It does not provide the young unemployed with year round jobs and a career path. Nobody who cared about children would, in the current circumstances, expect you to be where you are or stay there. If they did care so little about children then do we really want to do business with them anyway?
So, I am sorry about the holiday Mr Premier but you have a job to do. Come home and do it.

Monday, 28 July 2014

I have been clearing out

again. Those of you who bother to read this will know that I have been helping a friend enter a nursing home. One of the things we have had to do is clear out her "unit" (small flat or apartment at street level).
She has relatively few possessions. One reason for this is that she has lived and worked in other countries. She could never take much with her, would leave only a few things stored with friends and then leave more behind when she left the place she had been living in.
Her pursuits are entirely academic but even her books are few. When we have culled a few cookbooks then her books will fit into one small bookshelf.
Most of her unwanted items are going to charity. Charity shops won't take electrical goods so we are passing those on to a family we know who needs them.
It has still been a surprising amount of work.
"There's a box of old stuff there - can you go through it and find...?" she asked.
I wonder if she realised what she was asking me to do? It made me feel very uncomfortable - and sad.  I found things I did not expect - notes from me and cards I had sent her. The birthday cards her sister had sent her were in a little heap with a rubber band. There was a photograph of her with two children - the children of her friend in Noumea. She had been there on holiday.
And there was very little else of a personal nature - an old passport, two address books, and a few medical documents.
As the address books show, she has friends - although they do not live in this state - but she has not kept anything from them. She has made no contact with them in over eighteen months. It would not be that she does not care but that she has not had the energy to be bothered.
But, there were the notes I had sent her - a name and address she needed (of a person long deceased), a telephone number for a doctor friend, how to wash a mohair cardigan that she wore threadbare - and so it went on.
And then I wondered - if a country had to move house what would it take? What would its address book look like? What possessions would it take? Why would it choose to keep what it kept? It is just a fanciful thought. 
But I can't ask my friend why she has kept those things either. I wish I didn't know she had.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

"I can't do it! I can't do anything!"

the woman next to me told us yesterday. She pushed her chair back, started to push her knitting roughly into her bag and stood up abruptly. She was so close to tears that there was a startled silence from the rest of the otherwise lively library knitting group.
     "You're not going?" someone asked.
     "Yes! What's the bloody point of being here? I tell you I used to be able to knit anything! Now, I can't even follow a bloody simple pattern!"
I took a deep breath and said, "Well, before you go would you like me to have a look and see if I can sort the problem out?"
She hesitated and, taking an invisible deep breath, I said, "If you don't want to do it now then we can get together later."
I was thinking to myself, "I want you to sit down now and try again because you are too upset to go driving anywhere."
       "Yes, come on - Cat will help," someone else encouraged. She looked at me and I knew she was thinking the same thing.
       "Yes, give me the pattern," I told our upset companion, "You know the instructions aren't always clear."
I knew full well that the instructions were, on this occasion, perfectly clear but anything to stop her leaving in anger, frustration and tears.
She hesitated and then took the pattern out and pointed to the row.
There was an asterisk in it - an indication that you need to repeat the action from that point across the row. The instructions told her to do that but she was not reading them that way. I explained gently and said,
        "Now, why don't you knit the row? I'll talk you through it."
At the end of it there were three rows of plain knitting. Yes, she could do that. We went on to the next instruction.
An hour later she had done eight more rows. It was time for all of us to leave.
        "Don't do any more now," I told her, "If you are free on Tuesday afternoon come to the group at the bookshop. We'll do the next bit together then."
She claimed not to know about the group I teach at the bookshop but she actually came to it last time. She had no memory of doing that at all. I did not persist with the issue.
She took out her diary and put the time in. Still sounding a bit tearful she thanked me and left. One of the others, someone with some medical knowledge, and I looked at one another. This is not the first time this person has had problems with her knitting. What she is making is simple and the pattern is something a confident beginner could follow.
What bothers me - and the other person - is that this woman told us she "got lost" the other day and, on a couple of occasions, she has hesitated over simple words. When she left us yesterday she was going to drive for more than an hour to the far side of the city to visit her son. She would be coming home in the dark. She lives alone. I hope she didn't "get lost" again.
Tomorrow I will talk to someone else who knows her much better than I do and say we are concerned. It might be stress - we think her son lost his licence recently - or it might be early Alzheimer's or there may be something else wrong but yes, there is something wrong. The rest of us need to watch out for her. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Every year a "sea of hands"

is planted by ANTAR - Australians for Native Title and Recognition. The first "sea" was planted in 1997 and each year another "sea" has been planted. The idea is also used in schools and by community groups.
It was the inspiration for one of our neighbours when she made her quilt of hands. She drew around the hand of each member of her extended family and appliqued them on to a quilt cover. It is a unique quilt.
Last week we were talking about the quilt. Her grandparents are now deceased and she said, "But I will always have a part of them on the quilt."
It's a lovely idea.
I have made mittens and gloves for other people. Someone has made mittens for me.
I made a tiny mitten for a "mitten tree" a friend made as a gesture for peace after the appalling 9/11 incident,
Albrecht Durer's "Praying Hands" is one of the most widely reproduced pieces of artwork.
And there was a blog post about hands yesterday. I never knew artist Sally Collins but Linda Strachan talked about her and they held hands over the wonderful "Hamish McHaggis" books. When Sally was too ill to have visitors Nicola Morgan suggested people draw their hands for her and send a message inside them. Sally died before she saw the hands but apparently she knew they were there.
I wonder what she thought.
It would surely have been some comfort to know that your friends were all, in their own way, holding your hand.
It would surely be a way of knowing you were not alone. I hope so anyway.

Friday, 25 July 2014

"He's only doing it to

divert attention from domestic issues," someone told me yesterday "And she was just playing politics. They couldn't care less about the victims or their families. They're just using the situation for their own ends."
I was doing the weekly prowl through the supermarket and he bailed me up next to the milk.
I know this man has an intense dislike of our present Prime Minister. I don't usually get involved in conversation with him although I know and like his partner. I did not want to get into conversation with him even after he had said that and I opened my mouth to say, "Oh, do you think so?"
I had no chance to say it when someone else who had obviously been listening butted in and told him his statement was nonsense. I escaped. (Yes I know, I lack courage.)
The statement was nonsense though. Our Prime Minister is very unpopular. People don't like him. They are very cynical about things like his volunteer work and his support for remote indigenous communities. He's a Catholic and suggestions have been made he takes his orders from the Vatican - or, at very least, a cardinal and a priest. He is accused of being a bigot, a misogynist and homophobic. He does not speak fluently in public. Oh and he has been criticised for being a Rhodes Scholar. (Another of our Prime Ministers was also a Rhodes Scholar but PM Hawke was never criticised for that.)
And our current Foreign Minister is a woman. Shocking! Her clothing gets commented on and her ability to do the job is constantly questioned.
I guess it is all "politics" and that until we vote in the Opposition again we will have to put up with this - and worse.
But, more seriously, are they really doing such a bad job of handling the appalling air disaster? I actually believe they have done well. They have handled an extremely difficult and delicate situation well. They got a resolution through the UN Security Council - no easy task. They have taken action by sending people to the Netherlands and to the Ukraine. All this may seem simple enough to people who have no knowledge of how international relations and diplomacy work. The reality is that it is all extremely difficult to do - and even more difficult to do well.
And the Prime Minister has also taken it on himself to talk directly with the families of those involved. They do not, of course, have to accept his phone calls. Cynics will say it is nothing more than a public relations exercise but each one of those calls will be very difficult to make - difficult for the families and difficult for him. I would not want to do it and I do not know anyone who would.
Perhaps our PM is setting an example to follow with respect to grief and that makes us feel uncomfortable?

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.