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June 8, 2009 permalink
Australian baby snatcher Lauren Psaltis says that she was ordered to take a baby from mom even after her own examination showed no risk of harm. Caseworkers deliberately schedule appointments at times that are difficult or impossible for the families.
A lifetime of scars: the case worker's story
Peter Munro, June 7, 2009 - 12:00AM
LAUREN Psaltis worked in child protection for about four years, far longer than most. "The average is about six months to a year," she says. "When you see young workers come through you think, 'OK, how long is this person going to be here for?' You almost watch people churn in and out."
Child protection work becomes debilitating, she says. Workers are overburdened and under pressure from the Department of Human Services, which she says is governed by a culture of risk management.
Once, Ms Psaltis was directed by a manager to remove a girl from her mother, despite assessing the child as being at no risk of harm. "You'd hear things around the corridors of people saying, 'Just remove the kid.' Decisions were made with a flippancy that I guess you become almost immune to, despite the significant impact long-term your decision is having on people's lives," she says.
"People have a very quick reflex action for removal because it's preventive, it's something that means the worker and management can sleep at night. You're not encouraged to dig deep and think strategically and creatively about how to keep a child at home."
Ms Psaltis, 33, left her job — she worked in the department's Box Hill office and for Anglicare — about three months ago to join a mental health outreach team.
"I'm working now with the stuff-ups of protective services in the adult homeless, mentally ill and drug addicted," she says. "I'm probably going to be responsible 20 years down the track for decisions I made in child protection."
Some parents miss out on access visits with their children because case workers are so busy, she says. "Some workers say, 'You need to contact me at 9am on Thursday,' even though they know mum has got sleeping problems or drug problems and would find it difficult to do that, because it lightens the load.
"Or just say a child's father has gone missing and I could put a lot of work into finding this dad but (don't have time so) I make a superficial call to Centrelink and say, 'That's all I can do.'
"There were a lot of things… that ideally if we had been more resourced we would have done… . There is a sense of always having to be vigilant, whether from your client or colleagues or management. You're constantly on guard. It's quite isolating."
Source: The Age (Australia)