Newsletters

October 2005

Newsletter No. 8

MHYF Vic 2005 Annual General Meeting Death of Dr Howard Cooper Child Welfare on the Cheap?

MHYF Vic will hold its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday 9 November 2005 at 7.00pm in Portabella Café, Beaconsfield Parade, Albert Park, on the beach beside the Kerford Road pier.
The plan for the meeting is to have formal business commencing at 7.00pm, followed by a light meal (menu below), then a series of brief presentations from 8.30pm to end around 10.00pm.

The formal part of the Annual General Meeting will consider:
? the President’s report;
? the Secretary’s report;
? the Treasurer’s report; and
? nominations for election to the MHYF Vic committee.
The presentations will include:
? brief descriptions of some of the projects being undertaken by members;
? discussion of some of the issues of concern to members; and
? a summary of the MHYF Vic Strategic Plan, including one and five year targets.
We believe that the meeting will be quite an exciting evening and we thoroughly recommend all members to attend.

Partners and friends are also invited, although they will not be entitled to vote on any resolutions.
The venue has been reserved exclusively for our meeting. It is a pleasant café with large glass windows looking out over the bay to the lights of St Kilda. The menu will give a choice of four items, each priced at $15, with wine/beer at $5 or tea/coffee $3.
The menu choices are:
1. fish and chips;
2. chicken or bacon quiche;
3. smoked chicken and avocado salad; or
4. vegetarian foccacia (with spinach, eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted capsicums and fetta cheese).
Take care with car parking because parking meters operate until midnight on the south side of Beaconsfield Parade, and the north side without meters has some permit zones.
It would be a great help for the catering and meeting arrangements if members could notify the Secretary of apologies or acceptances (and even better if there was an indication of menu preferences) by email to admin@mhyfvic.org
Allan Mawdsley

Death of Dr Howard Cooper
MHYF Vic Committee and friends were shocked and saddened by the untimely accidental death of one of our most talented and active members.
The following Obituary by Professor Bruce Tonge of Monash University is reprinted from the Newsletter of the RANZCP Victorian Branch.

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Howard Windham Cooper,
MB BS, MPM, FRANZCP, Cert Child Psych RANZCP
6 March 1960 – 20 September 2005
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The successful creative and compassionate life of Howard Cooper marked with integrity, wisdom, energy and fun cannot be contained and adequately expressed by the written word. Howard has made an extraordinary contribution to the profession of child and adolescent psychiatry. After training in psychiatry in the Prince Henry’s Hospital rotation training program he completed his RANZCP accredited child and adolescent psychiatry training in 1991-93 at the South Eastern Child & Family Centre and Monash Medical Centre. Alert to the opportunities and wisdom to be gained from an international perspective, he spent 18 months broadening his experience as a Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
in England, particularly in Cambridge. This interest in a global perspective, was seen earlier, when as a medical student he sought medical experiences in Mount Isa, Papua New Guinea and Vellore, India; then more recently when he contributed his knowledge to a review of adolescent health services in Mongolia for the World Health Organisation.
After several years as the head of the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Consultation Liaison service at Monash Medical Centre, Howard was appointed, in 1997, to the position of Director of the Victorian Postgraduate Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Training Program. Howard led a vigorous strategic review and development of this program, auspiced by Melbourne and Monash Universities, which led to its naming as Mindful – a Centre for Training and research in Developmental Health. Howard invigorated Mindful resulting in an expansion of staff and courses to ensure that it continued to provide quality professional training for child and adolescent psychiatrists, clinical staff in the state child and adolescent mental health services and others who work with children, adolescents and their families who suffer mental health problems. He took a particular interest in supporting the training of child and adolescent psychiatrists from other countries including, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Bahrain, Canada, USA, New Zealand and the UK. He played a central role in the development of new multimedia teaching techniques, including the use of Telepsychiatry, which is now in routine use. He had an outstanding capacity to communicate effectively with children and their families. His students were all inspired and encouraged by his clinical skill and up-to-date knowledge. His specific clinical research interests were in the treatment of anxiety disorders in children, particularly OCD, which is one of the most challenging fields of work.
My memories of Howard include: carefully guiding across a faltering video link, a confused and perplexed colleague, struggling with a difficult family, to reach a creative understanding and a therapeutic way forward; gently guiding, in his study surrounded by the artwork of his partner, Lindy and refreshments to suit all tastes, a conference planning group that culminated in a most successful national conference; advocating for the rights and needs of children with mental illness with tenacity, knowledge and passion in a forum that was developing national policy; joyfully hosting a dinner to welcome newly qualified child and adolescent psychiatrists; speaking with excitement about the successful funding of his shared vision to develop the innovative “take-two” service for vulnerable children in care; and more …
Then there is Howard’s life as a sportsman and triathlete, as a friend and as an extraordinary father to Hedda, Conrad and Leo and partner with Lindy, of whom he spoke with a glow of pride and love.
Farewell Howard, our lives and the community are so much richer for what you gave to us.

Bruce Tonge (Reproduced from the Newsletter of the RANZCP Victorian Branch)

Child Welfare on the Cheap?

The Children’s Bill will shortly be introduced into State Parliament. It was drafted in response to serious shortcomings in child protection.
In particular, critics pointed to many examples of the “revolving door”. Children taken into protective custody may experience multiple foster placements interspersed with repeated unsuccessful home releases over a period of years before finally being placed in permanent care.
The proposed legislation will “fast track” permanent care. While virtually everyone supports the idea of children being in a stable home environment for their critical formative years, the proposed legislation will attempt this without adequate
safeguards. We risk creating a whole new “stolen generation”.
Before a child is permanently removed from its family there should be a thorough assessment of the difficulties, and a genuine effort made to restore healthy family functioning.
Although the stated aim is to reunite children with their parents whenever possible, there is no requirement that, before a permanent care order is made, appropriate treatment will have been undertaken. This is not happening now, and will not happen in the future if Child Protection is not required to do so by law.
It does not happen now because the main focus is upon the child. The parents are referred to non-government agencies for “counselling” or parenting support so poorly funded that in most cases has little chance of working. It will not happen in the future because the government is trying to achieve child welfare on the cheap.
The current system is costly and difficult to administer, as well as being harmful. The cost of prolonged and repeated foster placements may be reduced by earlier permanent placement. The difficulties in recruitment and retention of foster carers may be reduced if the “revolving door” is avoided. Human Services hopes to reduce these costs and to avoid having to pay for the assessment and treatment of families.
The present system does not require assessment of the capacity of families to resolve the difficulties that brought them to Court. Child Protection is primarily concerned about their failings. It is up to the families, themselves, to convince the Court that they can resolve their problems, but many are unable to do this without help. This help is often not available.
It is always an extremely serious decision for permanent removal, even from an abusive family. There is no certainty that fostering will achieve a good outcome. It is a disaster to remove a child from a family that, with help, could meet the child’s needs. It is a miscarriage of justice if this is done without adequate assessment and adequate treatment.
Protective Workers are skilled at assessing dysfunctional parenting, and when it is necessary to remove a child from home. However, they have totally inadequate training in assessing capacity to respond to treatment. Workers act primarily as “prosecutors”, focusing on the negatives, which is the main reason why there is such intense hatred of them by many of the families they investigate.
Human Services should not only ensure that an adequate assessment is done, which includes the strengths as well as the weaknesses, but that an adequate treatment program is undertaken where relevant. To achieve this, they may need to employ psychologists with necessary clinical skills or seek the input of independent clinicians. Furthermore, Human Services should make sure that funding of programs is adequate for a fair trial of treatment. Anything less is a gross breach of human rights.
At present, not only does Child Protection fail to assist, it sometimes actively undermines the potential for reunion. It does this by restricting access between child and parents. Whilst restriction of harmful access can be justified, there are many occasions on which the real reason is to diminish parental involvement in the lead up to a Court application for permanent placement, after the workers have decided this is what they think best. Child Protection is here acting not only as the prosecutor but as judge, jury and executioner as well.
The parents have no recourse against this discrimination because even the Children’s Court Magistrate does not have the power to direct appropriate access. The new Bill continues this serious omission. If helping services are trying to improve dysfunctional parenting, how are they going to do this if Child Protection is undermining the therapy? The Magistrate should be empowered to order whatever access is appropriate for the management of the case until such time as permanent
placement is decided by the Court. It is not acceptable for Protective Workers to conclude that a child will need permanent placement and begin distancing the parents before this issue has been put before the Court.
Another potentially catastrophic change in practice is being quietly slipped through under the guise of “helping” case management. This is the automatic presumption that Children’s Court Clinic reports will be made routinely available to Child Protection unless there is compelling advance evidence of expected harm.
There is no doubt case managers would find it useful to have expert appraisals given to them from independent sources. Information given to helping professionals confidentially to assist in understanding the problems, as contrasted to prosecuting failings, is much more likely to be “warts and all” than information given to prosecutors. So, too, is information given to legal advisors, priests, family doctors and blood relatives, but this is no justification for legally requiring such information to be disclosed to prosecutors. They are not entitled to this information and they do not need it. What they need is advice about management, and this will be gladly given by helping professionals without confidential files being violated.
The subterfuge that this is to help the child is patently untrue. If this is all that is wanted, the information is available from the professionals involved, but the reality is that the reports are misused to selectively quote disadvantageous material to bolster the prosecution, not to help the child. There is no “Chinese Wall” between the prosecuting elements and the case management elements of Child Protection because the helping phase has long since been outsourced to non- government agencies as not core business of Child Protection. The agencies do not need Protective Workers to get material for them.
Human Services wants this power because it bolsters their prosecution, not because it helps the child. It is essential that this encroachment on confidentiality be rejected. It is only a tiny further step to demand that clinical files of child and adolescent mental health services be made available. The justification for “helping the child” is the same, and the consequences would be just as catastrophic.
The consequences of loss of confidentiality are that clients in desperate need of assistance will not trust the helping professionals. Indeed, legal advisors will be duty bound to advise against disclosing anything that could be detrimental to the legal case. This may destroy not only the accuracy of the clinical assessment of the Children’s Court Clinic and the appropriate conclusions about assistance, but ultimately affect the conclusions of the Court to the detriment of the child. Paradoxically, it will also ultimately make the reports useless for Child Protection as well.
This encroachment into the confidentiality of clinical files has ramifications for the whole mental health and counselling field. It is one thing for sharing of helpful information, but it is a totally different thing for confidential reports and files to be accessed without consent. The damage is avoidable by requiring specific consent as applicable under current legislation.
The issue of contact between children in permanent care and their families of origin has not been addressed in this legislation. Adoption Law reform has arrived at the conclusion it is desirable in most cases for adoptees to have the opportunity for continuing contact with families of origin. Why shouldn’t children removed by Court edict have similar rights? This legislation has serious shortcomings because it was written by Human Services to suit their own ends, rather than by independent authors seeking the best outcomes for children.
Whilst supporting the concept of speedy conclusions about the long term placement of children whose families are not able to provide ‘good enough’ parenting, these conclusions should only
be reached after adequate assessment and adequate treatment. This should not only be mandated, but the means to achieve it should also be mandated. It is not good enough for the government to rush through “fast-tracking” measures which deny natural justice and destroy valued processes along the way. It may save some expenses, and some embarrassment, about problems in the foster care system, but the cost will be in a generation of children taken from their families growing up wondering if it all could have been avoided. In human terms, it is a cost we should not be prepared to pay.

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