Even with the best people, challenges remain

There are many causes for the abuse of children in the care of the State,  writes Christopher Horan.

While I agree with most of what Prof Mark Henaghan wrote on the abuse of children in State care (ODT, 22.7.17), I do not agree that ''the system allowed it to happen'' or that it was ever ''the norm''.

Here are some of many causes:

Ignorance. Many people employed to manage the care of children were, certainly in the 1970s, as ignorant, as most people were, about the sexual abuse of children.

Scarcity of foster parents and other placements, led to desperate social workers cutting corners. The new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, which I sincerely hope is half as effective as it intends to be, has not faced the truth of the multiple placement problem.

Good foster parents are an increasingly scarce resource and even the best of them move on, get sick, get divorced, die, leaving social workers to find a new placement for the children left behind.

There is insufficiently rigorous recruitment of staff and carers. Although police checks are now the norm, successful predators do not have police records.

There is a tendency, certainly at [the former] Child, Youth and Family and probably other organisations, to reward managers more than direct supervisors of staff, who are one step up and most familiar with their teams. It is this direct oversight that is critically important. That is where the quality of the individual is paramount and more important than the quality of managers and head office staff.

But even with the best people, the degree of cunning and manipulation exhibited by sexual predators is a major challenge. As churches have discovered, these people gravitate to employment that provides them with opportunities to groom vulnerable children.

I think Prof Henaghan would agree with me that it is almost impossible to exaggerate the prevalence of sexual abuse. Incest for instance is far more common than most people are ever likely to be aware of.

Would a State inquiry help the victims? Possibly but not necessarily. I would put my money on prevention. Ultimately, State care is a substitute for parental care. And while there are many situations where for reasons beyond their control parents must rely on State care, there are far, far too many rotten parents too selfish, neglectful and abusive to care about their children. That is where the media has been too timid to tread.

Finally, it is time accredited media representatives had free access to the staff and (willing) clients of all State institutions.

-Christopher Horan is a Lake Hawea writer and retired social worker.


Access? Do you mean the media should interview them? Where there has been crime, certainly, but it is not generally accepted that staff have an obligation to talk to the press. Investigation should be by public enquiry.

Historically, wards of the State were incarcerated by the Courts, sometimes for 'antisocial' behaviour. Parents had little say, faced with court orders and Social Workers carrying out the orders of the State. Parents are not always feckless no hopers. The legacy of State Care was systemic, structural failure. It is indefensible.

Well, it's not systemic failure, it's institutional incompetence.

The World is not impressed, according to surveys.



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