One of my lifelong Sunday rituals is taking the time to read the Sunday newspapers. I don’t actually buy the paper any other day of the week, as I never find the time to read it. But Sunday mornings have always come with the guarantee of finding the time. Plus there are all those inserts.
But I was deeply affected this morning by an article on page three. It described the death of a two and a half year old boy who died in suspicious circumstances, and whose death is currently being investigated as a homicide. The worst part, and the part I can’t get out of my head, is that this child was reported to child protective services (known as DOCS in NSW) NINE times in his short life.
His carers at the pre school he attended reported bruises, human bite marks, and negligence. Doctors reports detailed anaemia, significant bruising, and swelling.
Unfortunately it’s not the first, or last, time we will hear these kinds of stories. And so many times these children are well known to the agencies which are there solely to prevent this exact thing from happening. Naturally, whenever a child dies after his or her welfare has been called into question, these agencies face the full brunt of the media’s harsh spotlight, and the public demand for answers.
Quite a number of years ago I had the opportunity to speak about this exact topic with a family friend who is a social worker, and at the time worked for this exact government agency. She was in her early twenties, unmarried, and with no children of her own. At the time there was a big story in the news of a school age child who died from horrific physical abuse, who was well known to the local social workers. I asked this woman how this can happen. She explained to me (without in any way making excuses, just trying to give a fuller picture), that at that time there were nine social workers in her agency. This agency was responsible for a geographical area which encompassed about one quarter of the Sydney metropolitan area. In other words, a huge area. Nine case workers.
I asked her how they decided which cases were a higher priority. The drug addicted parents, the toddlers, extreme physical abuse? She shocked me when she explained that the worse the case, the quicker they closed the file and moved on to another. She told me of a twelve year old boy, living on the street, using and dealing heroin. She said that as there was so little chance of a successful outcome, his case had gone to the bottom of the pile. He was a lost cause. He was twelve.
She said that the size of the pile of cases on her desk meant that she would realistically never even get half way through it, at best. So many babies, toddlers, and older children living in situations where their lives were seriously at risk. Nine case workers.
I asked her how she could do this work, how she coped. She laughed it off with an explanation that she was trained to cope with this, and had long since accepted the situation for what it was. This conversation happened close to fifteen years ago. She has since had two children of her own, and I heard that when she went back to her job after the birth of her first child, she just couldn’t do it anymore. She resigned.
What is even sadder is that so much of our collective attention as a society is drawn to so many other things which we are told are far more important. We fight for the rights for gay people to be legally married, we fight against discrimintion on so many fronts. Seriously, isn’t it just a little bit f**ked up that we fight harder for our pets, and the environment, than our children? How is it that we fight harder for the rights of an unborn child than one who is living in an abusive hell?
We choose to bring them into this world, and it shouldn’t matter whether they are our own flesh and blood or not, this is our duty to humanity. To protect those too small and unable to fend for themselves. I heard somewhere once something along the lines, show me how you treat the least among you and I will tell you who you are. And this is an awful reflection on the world we share.
So what are the answers? I would say it has to begin with governments paying more notice to those that might not live to cast their vote. I also think that we need to see protests and rallies demanding more funding be allocated to these agencies so that more staff can be employed. I want to see more outrage at the abuses happening behind closed doors in our neighbourhood’s. I want all children to be safe, cared for, and loved. It shatters my heart and mind that any adult can commit such atrocities to a child in their care.
Women, homosexuals, religious groups, and the disabled all have a voice. They are well equipped to fight for their rights. We all fight for equal rights for every person. We fight for the right to life for a fetus, so it’s well past time that we fight harder for the children we have already brought into the world.
Aren’t they humans too?
They have been entrusted to us, and it’s time to stop letting them down.
Let’s take this out of the too-hard basket.
Let’s put this on the world agenda.
How can we not?