Changing the Working with Children screening in Queensland

 

Hi there, today I want to write about a cause that has become apparent to me that I feel is unacceptable. It is in relation to the safety of children in the state of Queensland Australia and the manner in which checks are conducted to allow people to work with children in regulated settings (transport, child care, nursery etc). For further information, please check out the Change.org petition on this matter.

Currently people with history with the Department of Communities (Child Safety) can legitimately apply for a Blue Card and receive it due to a loophole in Blue Card screening procedures.

The concern that this petition addresses is that there is currently no mandatory check of Child Protection history when a Blue Card is issued meaning that people who may have been subject to Child Protection matters are able to seek employment in child related work.The reason behind this is that Child Protection matters are heard by the Children’s or Family Court and as a result do not appear on a person’s criminal history. Due to a difference in the balance of evidence required to substantiate claims a person could have their children removed due to direct child abuse, or due to serious concerns, however these claims may not then meet criteria under the Criminal Code. Blue Card checks only currently check convicted Criminal history.

If a person does have a child protection history, this must be notified to the Commision for Children, Young People and Child Guardian (CCYPCG) before they can act on it. In saying this, CCYPCG can only take action on this information if the applicant themselves approves Child Safety of releasing this information. If the applicant does not release the information the Blue Card can continue to be processed based on the ‘information available’. According to this procedure, a person may have had their children removed from their care, however be able to work in regulated child based employment as long as they do not have a criminal history in relation to children.

The concern with this procedure is that it potentially places children in daycare, schools and others industry in contact with people who may have their own child protection history.

The information that I have presented here has been given to me through conversations with staff at the CCYPCG and also through Child Safety, and are by no means spurious accussations about how this process works, this petition is based on the facts of how these cards are processed. So please, if you feel as strongly about this matter as I do, please sign the petition at Change.org

Cheers

Cameron

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The stereotype stops here

This is an article that I wrote for the Good Men Project,  original can be found here.
I was driving home from work on a normal weekday afternoon, with the clouds finally parting from a rainy week and entered my street, sitting at the top of the hill were a couple of young boys who gave me a dirty look as I dared to enter into the road where they were riding their pushbikes. I couldn’t be annoyed at them for being in my way—like anyone, they were enjoying what little sun we had for the week. After what seemed like an eternity of eye contact, they finally decided to yield right of way when they realized that I was serious about driving my car down the road and that their choice of vehicle was much smaller than mine. I drove a little down the road and pulled into my driveway, into the garage and stepped out of the car, simultaneously hearing a scream from out on the road: a single scream that turned into a wail that after an eternity, turned into loud crying and sobbing. There was a part of me that was so shocked by the sound on such a quiet and dreary afternoon that I started to think irrationally.
“Did I hit one of those boys without realizing it?” I asked myself, but quickly shook this off realizing that it could not be true as in the back of my head I knew that the boys were up to mischief by the way that they had stared me down, and that I needed to exercise a little more caution than usual.
The screaming continued and I knew that something needed to be done. “I know,” I thought. “I will get my wife,” who was inside the house, just a few steps away. This is when rationality finally came flooding back into my consciousness. Why my wife? I am First Aid trained, I am the closest adult, and I have sustained, as a child, enough injuries off pushbikes to be able to understand the pain, shock and embarrassment that go with these events. I went and rendered aid, sat him down and checked him over, tried to calm him by talking about his day and he was fine in the end, just some scraped hands and knees. It was the shock of the fall and resultant embarrassment in front of a friend that had made him scream like he did. It was all sorted in a matter of minutes with no permanent damage.
I look back on that incident and see that a child was screaming in the street in obvious pain and distress, but the issue that had pushed into the front of my mind was, “But what will people think?” This thought took a matter of milliseconds to pass through my consciousness: I wasn’t spending long minutes pondering the question.
I had read an article in the newspaper not long prior, in which a prominent Australian researcher had been approached by security while shopping for underwear for his daughter. When approached by store staff, he was asked, “Don’t you have a job?” as though a man buying children’s underwear was an obscene act, that the act in itself had to be associated with some other hidden and dark cause. For me, and I am sure other fathers and men, there is the constant feeling that I am being judged by my proximity to children.
Despite the boy being only superficially injured and no real aid required, I noticed that there is a belief in me, that has been instilled from somewhere, that a mother can do a better job, and if not a mother, then a female, any female. In my semi-deluded, socially imposed automatic thought state I thought that the criteria of who can help a screaming child went: mother, female, father, male, in that order.
I could say that this belief is a result of traditional gender roles, of mothers being the usual primary caregivers of children. I could say that this belief is due to a history of a tiny number of male strangers perpetrating horrible crimes on children. But I don’t believe that either of these things is the absolute truth. With any belief system, there are a number of not just cultural and societal precursors, but also individual inputs: our choices. The reality is, when I look back on this incident, that the instinctual part of me didn’t want to bear the embarrassment of potentially having a finger pointed at me for providing care for a child who wasn’t mine, I automatically assumed that something bad would come of providing care, and I didn’t want to be judged. On a rational basis it was not only acceptable, but the right thing to do. If I offered comfort to a child in pain and someone had a problem with that, it is their problem, not mine. I made the choice not to allow personal embarrassment to stop me, not to take the lazy and stereotyped way out.
I don’t see this as a cultural perception, but a personal one, of me as a man. I think that this challenging one’s own beliefs doesn’t occur enough, and in fact as a practicing psychologist, I know this to be the case. When we have been handed down beliefs and they have been tested and reinforced over the years, they stick, regardless of whether they are adaptive or maladaptive, and unfortunately it is only in watershed moments (like depression, trauma, relationship breakdown) that people tend to really evaluate what their beliefs mean to them.
This incident displays to me some of the most important aspects of addressing equality in parenting, caregiving and ‘traditional’ gender roles: that despite the stereotypes that are taught to us, we still have a right to choose whether to accept them and assimilate them into our own daily experience and active belief systems. This is why I decided to write for the Good Men Project, because the ethos of the project does exactly what I am talking about here: it challenges the assumptions and old beliefs that have been culturally set and passed down over generations, beliefs which, for the most part, have limited application in modern manhood.

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Is Addiction a Choice??

I read with much interest Tom Matlack’s article ‘Addicts are Superhuman‘ and reflected on my own work with those who suffer from substance addictions.

When I tell people I work with addicts, the reactions I get are surprisingly similar. They say that it must be hard working with people so down and out, that it must be so difficult. My response is always the same — that it isn’t as hard for me as it is for them. You see, one of the big assumptions that people make is that people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol live on the street or in share houses, or have just been released from prison. These people are dirty, they drink from paper bags, they have destroyed their families and they don’t contribute to society because of a choice that they made in deciding that they would abuse drugs or alcohol. But this is not the case, not for the people that I work with.

The people I work with are parents holding down a job and caring for their children, or professionals who work at their career day in-day out and get the job done well. These people function in some aspects of their lives, but in others they struggle and they use drugs and alcohol to cope with feelings and physiological urges which can’t be quelled in any other way. They are in a constant existential struggle between their need to keep their feelings at bay and their desire to quit altogether, this time for good. I want to ensure that my clients and colleagues have an understanding of what addiction is, and what it is not. In some ways, I suppose I see myself as somewhat of an addiction treatment apologist.

♦◊♦

Addiction is an illness so stigmatised that opinions are hard to change even for those closest to the person suffering. Although it’s an illness, the response is often “Well, why don’t they just stop?” or “They are just doing it to themselves,” as though this is a choice that people make to destroy themselves and their bodies in order to chase a high in order to escape any psychological demons they have or to just simply ‘have fun’. The shift away from the disease model of addiction seems to focus on the idea that we want people to choose to use drugs, because this would explain their behaviour in a parsimonious manner and abrogate anyone else of responsibility or a duty of care. If someone chooses to use alcohol and drugs to deal with their demons, well then, that is their coping mechanism and we can’t take it away from them.

In the case of men, we are very good at becoming confederates in each other’s drinking behavior by creating reasons to drink with friends for sports, meetings, academic achievements or just a way to get away from daily stresses. The reality is that there are a lot of people out there who drink more than others, who must be the last person standing or the one who always initiates drinking the drinking or drugging. But how do most men approach those behaviors in other men? I have seen this approached in a few ways. First is the ‘blowing it off’ approach. This is the approach that says, “He will work through it” or “He will grow out of it soon enough.” Second is the ignorance approach —  that there isn’t a problem at all.  Third is the recognition there is a problem but that this problem can be easily explained by the fact that, “He is an adult, and has made a choice.” The fourth  and most helpful approach is the hardest approach, that of recognising that there is a problem and having the difficult conversation with our friends to tell them that maybe they are drinking or using too much. With this comes a personal responsibility though, which means that we must either disengage from our friend with an addiction, or change our drinking behavior when he is around. My feeling is that a friend who recognizes the problem in a friend but keeps partying with him is part of the way addiction is perpetuated. The individual with the problem gets some kind of passive positive feedback from being ‘allowed’ to drink around friends and as a result the perception of the problem is minimised. What occurs is a perpetual Catch-22esque loop: If friends and acquaintances think that the problem will just go away, or avoid talking about the problem, the individual with the problem will start to believe that there isn’t a problem and continue drinking.

This article is not about justifying the “I have an illness” stance (or more correctly “I have a dysfunction in my brain in the reward circuitry”) and allowing the sufferer to ‘get away’ from their responsibility of their drug use. It is also not about blaming friends and family, and telling them they need to change first. The reality is that for a person suffering from an addiction there are several issues occurring all at once on the psychological, biological and social spectrums and these act together in a manner which makes the decision to stop very unappealing. In some cases, the executive function of the brain is impaired to the extent that the concept of change doesn’t even enter the equation. As a psychologist working with these issues I have seen friends and families of addicts whose ignorance of what addiction is actually helps creates an environment where the addict uses more because they feel cut off and isolated. But the important thing to remember is that for the person who is truly addicted, the concept of choice is a distant one.

There is a strange irony in the belief that addicts have a choice and yet the option that we justify, — the option of drinking and using — is a choice which impairs the ability to rationally think about consequences and outcomes.

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Mining FIFO workers and mental health

I read an article today on Fly-In, Fly-Out (FIFO) workers on The Conversation This article outlines the risk that FIFO workers have of committing suicide and also of the risk for mental health issues.  One of the motivating factors of starting Insite Psychology was when I initially heard about the House of Representatives enquiry in FIFO practices  and the issues such as risks of depression, anxiety, suicide and family discord were noted as an issue for men and women who were working in the mining sector. As this mode of working has proliferated there has been greater demands placed on communities and especially on casual mining workers keeping their jobs.  I believe that a small part of the solution is to provide adequate psychological support to workers in FIFO roles so that they may be bale to function in the best way possible both whilst they are away on work and when they return to their families.

The reality is that many people suffer from depression, anxiety and high levels of stress in their lives and FIFO workers are no exception. The difference, however, for FIFO workers is that unlike other workers, they may not be able to seek adequate psychological assistance due to distance and the preference to use home times to catch up with family, rest and home duties. Even if FIFO workers are able to seek assistance from a psychologist when they are at home, this could tend to be inconsistent, due to having to skip appointments when away on roster and as a result the continuity of care is missed and workers may start to feel their symptoms come back.

The above is not to say that FIFO work causes any of these issues, but that maybe some workers enter the industry already with underlying depression or anxiety which is triggered by stressful work, long hours and family isolation. In saying this I have personal experience knowing people who have worked at the mines in FIFO roles stating that they are looking for a change in their lives and that FIFO work can give them that, but at the same time they don’t recognise the changes that they may have to make or their expectations may not be met and as a result they can become depressed.

Insite is able to offer psychological assistance to FIFO workers even whilst they are working away, all that this requires is either a telephone line or internet connection. As a result workers are able to experience a continuity of care, but also they are able to use the time that they have at home for the things that they need to, rather than having to attend appointments and cut into valuable home time between rosters.

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Online therapy – The way of the future?

I started Insite Psychology in 2012 as a way of communicating with clients all over the world in a manner which is accessible for the vast majority of people who have some form of internet access. The premise is two-fold. Firstly, people suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental health ailments, and the use of psychological intervention has been shown to be effective in most cases.  Secondly, our lives have been filled with new technology which makes it easier to communicate with the rest of the world, through phone, email, and direct messaging services, this has meant that the world is smaller, but not necessarily that we are any less busy in that world.
My thoughts on online therapy is that it fills a niche for people who are unable to attend ‘traditional’ one on one therapy appointments, or indeed for those who prefer to not attend one on one services for any reason. 

There is a building evidence base for the use of online therapies as an effective method to address anxiety, depression and substance abuse and the evidence continues to come in, due to this being a boom area in everyone’s life (that is, the increase in the amount of technology that we are exposed to on a daily basis).

My goal with Insite Psychology is to attempt to help ease suffering in a manner which is conducive to our everyday lives, without the need for excess travel and attendances at external appointments. 

Is online therapy the way of the future? Only time, experience and research will tell us this for sure. 

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Great article on the use of mindfulness in relation to recovery from addiction.

Death By Trolley

A few weeks ago, Daniel Fincke did a post on what it takes to  kick an addiction such as alcoholism. Factors considered include self-discipline, humility, support and substitutions (i.e., replacements to fill the life-space previously filled by the addictive substance). Based on education and experience gained via an undergrad degree in Psychology, years of practicing and studying mindfulness meditation and related philosophy, a Masters degree in Occupational Therapy, and an outpatient mental health placement in which one of the focuses is on assisting people in managing addictions (e.g., smoking, alcohol, marijuana, hard drugs, impulsive spending, self-destructive sexual promiscuity), I would like to offer additional perspective on the issue of what it takes and what can help in kicking addictions. Concepts to be addressed include:

  • Reasonable goal setting;
  • Commitment and discipline;
  • Tolerance for lapses;
  • Support;
  • Substitutions, Distractions and Strategies; and
  • Mindfulness and insight into the nature of one’s emotions and thought.

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