Federal Election 2019: Meet the Child Protection Party

Summary

Website: https://www.childprotectionparty.com.au/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/childprotectionparty/
Slogans:
Let’s raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhoods.
Ensuring a more equitable, fairer and transparent Child Protection System.
Producing better outcomes for all children and their families.
Themes: Single issue party.  Ending child abuse – centering children in decision-making, but keeping families together where possible.
Electorate:
Lower House: Sturt
Preferences: None provided, but since their candidate has previously run as an AJP and a Greens candidate, we can probably guess where their preferences lie.

Policies & Commentary

The Child Protection Party is a single issue party founded in 2015 by Tony Tonkin, an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker who has worked extensively with men who have been violent and abusive.

Their front page tells us that:

The Child Protection Party is the only political party who represents the voices of children. Children who are in care, disabled, intellectually challenged, suicidal, use drugs or have mental well-being issues require adults to listen to them and provide appropriate services which will meet their needs and make their lives happier and productive.

They need a powerful voice in Parliament.

Your vote will ensure a better future for all children.

It also tells us to join their Facebook page, to volunteer, to donate, and to make a submission to the National Children’s Commissioner – these bits cycle through pretty fast, which I think is a mistake in terms of accessibility – but the emphasis is definitely on boosting participation in one way or another.

There are three static sections below this. ‘Equitable Fairer Transparent’  explains that the CPP is established to develop a more equitable, fairer and transparent child protection system, including parenting programs, more funding for domestic violence services, changes to the legal system, and redress for those abused in case; ‘Abuse Violence Neglect’ tells us that these three things are what all children have the right to be protected from; and Best Interest of the Child’ acknowledges the importance of child protection services and that ‘often there are times when children need to be removed from damaging parents as well as times when children need be reunited with their parents.’

In addition to the usual ‘About’, ‘Get Involved’, ‘Policies’ etc pages, the CPP has a few other things going on.  Their ‘Resources’ page has links to parenting courses and free online courses, as well as resource pages for NSW and QLD on finding lawyers, social workers and community legal centres with expertise in child abuse.  They have a ‘Petitions’ page, which includes a petition to sack Archbishop Philip Wilson for his coverup of child abuse; a petition supporting young people in care; a petition against custody being awarded to abusers; and a petition demanding a national database of convicted child abusers which would be available to law enforcement and child protection workers.

They also have a response to the Nyland Royal Commission into the South Australian Child Protection System, from which they have little optimism about change:

One of the stated aims for the new model of child protection is that referral pathways become more efficient. Some of the broad implications of poor recording and lack of action were not adequately considered in the Nyland report or government response. The failure to act on or even report notifications has in some cases of custody disputes led to children being forced to endure situations of harmful entrapment where they are ordered to spend time with their abusers. There are many cases in this state where child protection services failed to provide courts with evidence to uphold the rights of children resulting in severe psychological and physical harm.

The examples are predictably harrowing.

One thing that I find notable about the statements and policies of the CPP is that they centre the child.  As we have seen already, there are a number of parties that are worried about the Family Court in one way or another, but they tend to privilege the family unit as something sacred, or else they speak very much of the rights of parents.  The rights of children, when these are in conflict with those of parents, are often occluded.

The CPP is affiliated with the child protection organisation, Bravehearts, and supports their four step plan for a safer Family Law system for children.  This starts with a Royal Commission into the Family Law System (is this the first Royal Commission for the 2019 election season?), and then continues by applying the results of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to the family court and child protection departments.  They would establish a National Child Advocacy Centre.

The establishment and trial of a National Child Advocacy Centre approach would focus on professionally establishing, on the balance of probabilities, the veracity of notifications of child harm.  This centre would capture the voice of the child using a professional multi-disciplinary team.  It would assign a Child Advocate to the child, compile a forensic family report, conduct a forensic interview of the child and provide a report to the Court for its consideration.

The Advocacy Centre would also review all family court cases in which ‘serious flaws are discovered involving family violence, sexual abuse or neglect that had been alleged and where the child is now subject to orders enforcing their contact with the alleged abuser.’  They would ‘hear the voice of the child’, assess the evidence, and give a ‘balance of probabilities’ risk assessment.  (A balance of probabilities is presumably preferred to a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ assessment because it’s really, really hard to establish cases of child sexual abuse beyond reasonable doubt, since there are rarely witnesses.)

On to the policies!

Their first policy is on Child Welfare Hearings, which they want to completely reconfigure.  They feel that the Court is not an appropriate setting for cases that are not of a criminal nature, and would prefer to replace this with a panel of five, including a judge, a social worker, a child welfare professional, a child protection worker and a community leader.  Parents should be represented by a lawyer with a child protection background, and the hearing should take place in an informal setting, which is less intimidating to witnesses, with decisions based on the balance of probabilities.

My only experience with child welfare is second-hand, through the experience of friends, so I don’t know that I can comment usefully on this.  I do think there is a lot to be said for decreasing the formality of the setting, particularly if there are young children involved, who might be shy about talking to strangers.  Certainly from an uninformed perspective, this seems like a reasonable attempt to represent both child and parents, but it also seems like an awful lot of people in the room all at once. I’m not sure how well this would work.

Their policy on Adoption is an interesting one.  I can’t tell if they are trying to make it easier or harder (it looks like both at once).  On the one hand, they want it to be an option in the child protection system, but on the other, it can only be considered when all other options have been proven fruitless.  A child would need to be in care for two years before an application for adoption could be made, and would have to live with carers for five years before adoption is formalised, because they want the child to be old enough to be involved in the decision-making process (which… their maths doesn’t quite work, because they say the child must be at least five, and it sounds like they would have to be seven).  A panel would discuss and decide upon contact between birth parents and children, but all parties must agree to these arrangements.

I like the fact that they want the child to have an opportunity to say whether they want to be adopted, though I’m not sure how you determine consent here – if the child is only 5, or only 7, and only remembers living with these parents, even if the situation is abusive they might fear being taken away to an unknown situation that they don’t have coping skills for?  Again, there is a palpable attempt to balance everyone’s rights, and again, I don’t know how well it would work.  Maybe because this is an intrinsically messy situation?

The CPP is against residential care facilities, because they view them as unsafe – carers are too few, insufficiently trained, and have high turnover, and when you have a lot of troubled children together and inadequate support, the children learn new maladaptive behaviours from each other.

The CPP would abolish residential care facilities and put the money into supporting kinship and foster care, or better supported independent living arrangements.

This sounds like a good idea – I didn’t know we even still had large residential care facilities for children, in fact. I thought they went out of fashion long ago…

The CPP supports children remaining with their biological family where possible – if parents are not suitable, grandparents, cousins, etc might be suitable. They are fine with same-sex couples caring for children, as they should be, and they also note that family history needs to be considered, especially if there is intergenerational abuse.  Kinship carers should receive the same training and support as foster parents, and they should also undergo a police check and child safety clearance.

Where kinship placements are not possible, foster care is appropriate, and the CPP would like to professionalise this, which is an interesting approach, though they don’t really say how that works.

The CPP also wants to do better at identifying and helping families who are under stress before the situation becomes a child protection one.

We know that there are many families who struggle with the rigors of life and that are impacted by the pressures of raising and supporting children. Often people don’t attend to the needs of children because they are so consumed with their own struggles and needs. These “at risk” families can be helped if services were provided that met their needs.

We wish to identify these families before they enter into the child protection system. We want to be able to provide a non-threatening environment where families can reach out for assistance and know that, if they accept the help offered they will, generally, not have their children removed.

They also want more funding for domestic violence programs, parenting programs, drug and alcohol programs and mental health programs.

I think it’s a really good idea to try to distinguish between child abuse situations that occur because everything is falling apart and this is just one more symptom, and child abuse situations that are the result of someone who just likes to hurt people.  The question is how to identify the former, because I’d imagine that if one is struggling to that extent, trying to figure out where to find the help one needs would become another thing that is too hard.  Perhaps this is something where we need to be approaching all new parents with information about where they can go if things start breaking down?  (Perhaps maternal child health services?)

The CPP wants a registration system for social workers.  I hadn’t realised that we didn’t have one, but evidently we don’t.  If you have a social work degree you are a social worker.  Good grief.

Professional Organisations provide a Code of Ethics, have developed Practice Principles and offer a complaints process for clients. Professional Organisations have the capacity to oversee, discipline, or remove from practice anyone who fails to conform to their professional standards. Professional organisations protect their members by providing Professional Development, changes in practice methodology, insurances, ensuring that a code of ethics is adhered too and supporting members in every facet of their practice.

I 100% support this idea.

On a similar note, the CPP wants a national and uniform approach to child protection, rather than having each state doing its own thing.  This seems entirely reasonable.

We now have a series of very short policies.  The CPP wants funding for specialist legal representation for children that have been abused, which seems fair.  They want education programs in school on all types of child abuse and domestic violence.  I’ve actually heard that such programs can be very helpful, as it gives children a name for what they are observing – and more importantly, it helps children in abusive situations realise that this is not normal, which is often the first step in seeking help.

The CPP supports ensuring that the culture, community and extended family of Aboriginal children be a core component of decision making regarding their welfare, and they want Regional Consultative bodies consisting of local community members to deal with issues relating to children.  And ‘where appropriate, children should be able to speak about their wishes.’

Er… where would it not be appropriate?  I’m giving that statement just a little bit of side-eye, because everywhere else, we have been clear that the welfare of the child is paramount, but there is just a hint here that maybe there are cultural issues that might override this, and I really hope that I am reading too much into this.

The CPP is, predictably, against bullying.  They support the ‘Bullying, No Way!’ Program.  I’ve just had a look at their website, and it isn’t bad, but I’m a bit concerned that they have a long list of resources for students being bullied and not one of them is aimed at LGBTQIA+ students.  Given that LGBTQIA+ students are known to experience bullying and exclusion at a higher rate than their cis-het peers, that’s a big oversight on the part of the program, and it’s hard to imagine that it is accidental.  I’m also a bit uncomfortable with this:

Appropriate to age program should be part of the education system to enhance the wellbeing of all children regardless of gender, religion, sexual orientation (heterosexual and LGBTQ), race etc

It’s a little bit ‘what about the heterosexual kids, though?’.  I think the CPP mean well, but I also think that they may have some implicit biases here that they haven’t quite thought through.

The CPP is also concerned about the rights of children with a disability.

At the core of inclusive school culture should be the avoidance of using language that constructs identity such as “he is ADHD” or “she is autistic”. We suggest that teachers and students be fully aware that such language informs perceptions and serves to marginalise individuals.

This is interesting, because it’s approximately what I was taught when I was studying genetic counselling many years ago, but it doesn’t actually mesh with what many of the disabled people I know say.  Person-first language seems to be controversial, and whether people prefer it or not seems to vary depending on a number of factors including geographic location, the nature of the disability, and their own personal philosophy.  I’d be wary of laying down the law of how to refer to people with disabilities (even though, yes, I instinctively use person-first language), because you aren’t always going to land on a person’s preferred option that way.  Better to ask, if possible, and go with what that person tells you.

Speaking of disability, the CPP is big on social inclusion, including participation in policies for disability services, access to public transport, appropriate mobility aids, equal opportunity to education and employment, and protection against discrimination.

Last of all, the CPP feels that ‘in the interests of our children’s future, we support innovative strategies renewables such as solar energy and battery storage’.

This is evidently not a policy they have spent a lot of time on, but you know roughly which way they will vote.

And that’s it!

This is, quite clearly, a single issue party, but they’ve put a fair bit of thought into that issue.  As for other issues… well, we can assume that they will vote for action on climate change and would be open to helping fix the NDIS.  There is a general feeling of kindness and inclusiveness emanating from this party, so I can’t see them going madly anti-Muslim or anti-refugee, though they might be more interested in focusing on resources for Australians who are already here.

I think the CPP will end up in the upper third or so of my ballot.  I like them far more than a lot of other parties but their policy platform is too narrow to get my vote.

Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively

Ooh, for once I get to pick a song that is possibly actually about the issue the political party in question cares about!  Well, probably.  I mean, it sounds like someone talking about recovery from abuse, don’t you think?

So tonight I’m making friends
With all the creatures that are hiding there under my bed
I ain’t gonna hold on to these monsters anymore
Now I’m gonna let in all the light, tear down the walls
At my worst I found my army strong
All the demons are gone
You can try and scare me now, but I ain’t scared no more
(I ain’t, I ain’t, I ain’t scared no more)

Anyway, it’s a fantastic song, and since, as you might have figured out by now, a large part of the purpose of these Eurovision codas is to somehow find excuses to put all my favourite Eurovision songs up on my politics blog, that’s good enough for me.

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