On the day a frustrated father protested on the Sydney Harbour Bridge over access to his children, I finished a nearly nine month stint as a Community Services caseworker.
Although Mick Fox’s grievance centred on custody arrangements after divorce, Community Services, forever to be known as DoCS, was also a target of his outrage.
A former girlfriend said, ‘I was with him for a lot of the time when he was trying to get in contact with DOCS [the Department of Community Services] and the police, purely because his kids were in danger every day.’
However the police and even the Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward denied it was a case in which Community Services were involved.
Without commenting on this particular case, it is sometimes one of the less attractive strategies of battling partners in divorce and custody cases to ring the child protection Helpline to accuse the other party of harming the children.
For a child protection system already stretched to the limit, these calls are always investigated thoroughly but soak up the precious time of caseworkers.
And so the day began on that dramatic note and proceeded to by a relatively typical day for my final one as a caseworker. Read More »
Sitting in a Christmas Eve service I was enjoying a short film from the kids of St Paul’s in New Zealand, when a phrase spoken by one of the children went off in my head like a gun.
‘Jesus had two daddies, God and Joseph…’
While people sometimes stumble over the paternal origins of Jesus, the children who made this Christmas film had no trouble accepting that there were, in some sense, two fathers in Jesus’ life.
And why would the kids of today have trouble with this concept when so many of them live with this reality, and even more complex ones.
In the work in which I’m currently involved, I spend much of my time with children and young people coming to terms with a constellation of adults who represent mother and father figures to them.
It is particularly difficult at times for foster children, who find themselves in a loving foster home with carers they regard as their mummy and daddy, while at the same time having regular contact with other people who are, in many cases, equally loving parents.
It is one of the main challenges of child protection globally to know how to resolve this issue in a healthy and a whole way, for the benefit of the child. It rarely is easy and often encounters incredible difficulties.
Hundreds and thousands of foster children will be faced with this dilemma this Christmas season and how well they negotiate it will depend a lot on the selflessness and security of the adults involved.
Then there is that other broad category of children who have multiple parental relationships – those from families touched by divorce.
Perhaps for the first time it occurred to me, during the Christmas eve service, that Jesus had found yet another way to identify with the heartache of this world – represented by the complexity of having two dads.
I know it’s different, and I know having God for a dad is unique, but in the moment that child spoke these words, ‘Jesus had two daddies’ I knew many children would feel happy to hear that they were not alone in working this out.
For many years I have attended church and was aware of and in touch with global poverty, local disadvantage, the ravages of substance abuse and the struggle of mental illness, but I had scant knowledge of the hundreds and thousands of children balanced in the fulcrum of parental responsibility. Who has responsibility for them – mum and/or dad? Uncle and/or aunt? The government and its delegated foster carers? Or have they taken responsibility for themselves at far too tender ages?
Jesus had two dads who both took responsibility for aspects of childhood wellbeing. We live in a time when more and more children are finding their parents will not or cannot take responsibility for them. These are rarely clear-cut or easy decisions.
Stepping into this breach are a range of government and non-government caseworkers, relative and foster carers trying to replicate the love and belonging of birth family, something that is remarkably hard to do. And yet many do it well – and deserve special recognition and thanks.
So if you are going to pray this Christmas, spare a line or two for kids with too many parents or too few; for parents who have lost their kids and can’t seem to work it out; for carers who are family and those who are not, who raise kids with love; and for government and non-government workers who try to put this stuff together, usually with not a thanks to be found. Happy Christmas. Jesus had two daddies too…