Maintaining the Mental Health of Child Protection Practitioners

Tabled: 10 May 2018

Appendix E. Comments from CPPs

The following are a representative selection of the comments that were made in response to our survey questions and during CPP forums during site visits and CPP interviews.

Workload

'There are never enough hours in the day and sometimes there is a sense of “damned if you do and damned if you don't”.'

'Demand is such workers no longer feel they are doing a good job—they feel everything they do is “light touch”.'

'There are unrealistic expectations placed on CPPs around workload and the time it takes to complete an endless amount of tasks—all of equal importance under the ridiculous assumption you can achieve it all in 7.36 hours per day.'

'The department relies on the goodwill of staff to go the extra mile, work extra hours, etc.—but this cannot go on forever without having a significant impact on staff wellbeing.'

'Child Protection has to do more and more. The workload and additional administrative tasks in the role continue to increase. The role is much less about achieving positive outcomes for children at risk and supporting them being safe at home or placed into more appropriate care options. The role is now just constant reporting about the DPAC [Departmental Divisional Performance and Assurance Committee], performance data, meeting KPIs and crises driven.'

'I regularly work 80 hours a week and have to set my alarm at 4am to start work in case I get caught up in another urgent matter which I had not previously featured into my diary.'

'The main issue seems to be workload. It's too high for anyone to reasonably keep on top of, and do a good job.'

'It is not unusual for a sole worker to have worked all day and then have to travel for hours to deliver a child to a placement, and then have to drive back again on their own.'

'The Department holds workers responsible for not completing tasks, even when it is very clear that there is not enough time to complete them. If workers are not completing tasks the Department puts them on a work performance supervision program and increases the distress and anxiety workers are suffering.'

'If a [CPP-3 or CPP-4] is protected with their wellbeing by workload management—you can be guaranteed the CPP-5s are burdened beyond reasonable standards. There is no protection for management rather the expectation that CPP-5s protect their supervisees (as well they should) but at their own expense.'

'Workloads are the biggest issues for Child Protection staff.'

'This practice enables workers to be able to do very little work on their cases, it provides just enough to keep it from falling behind.'

'I do not have one office but three to cover, leaving me travelling from place to place to the point of exhaustion; this does not include having to attend meetings at other venues, often at short notice.'

'There is nothing proactively done about workload management and it is only when either an incident occurs, physical health deteriorates that options for “well-being” come into effect.'

'I think staff get sick a lot, possibly this is … likely to be because of the workload, stress and adrenalin and late nights.'

'Although practitioners have knowledge of self-care skills, this is rarely implemented and the practitioners are often forced to sacrifice their “work life balance” to have work completed.'

'There are a lot of unallocated clients (that is a client where there is no CPP assigned to the case). These clients are managed as tasks arise and there is a need, not in a proactive way.'

'Every program area is under this pressure. Managers are under pressure. No matter how the work is allocated throughout the organisation there is always too much work and not enough CPPs to do the work.'

'The demand is relentless and there are times when I feel so overwhelmed it is almost paralysing.'

'The organisation will say that there is the workload monitoring and review panels. These do not change the workload. These panels have been ongoing for many years and the issues of workload persist. The organisation will also say that “workload is a question of an individual's capacity, all individuals are different therefore each worker needs to talk to their manager about what they can achieve”. The way the individual worker has to deal with this is to negotiate directly with their supervisor about their workload. There are inherent problems with this. There is a power imbalance between the worker and their manager, it is difficult for the individual worker to tell their manager that they are being allocated too much work and are struggling and stressed.

The worker will be concerned that they will be viewed by management as:

  • not as good as their co-workers. This may worry the CPP that they will not be successful for progression in their chosen career.
  • incapable or unskilled. The CPP does not want to look incapable or weak and the CPP does not want to feel that they are letting their team down as the work they do not do will be allocated to other CPPs or not be done and there is guilt as the children and family will not be receiving a service.

It is not appropriate for a CPP to base their workload on negotiating with their manager as the manager has all these unallocated children and is under pressure from their manager to get all the work done. This pressure is passed on to the CPP which causes a work environment were the worker is under constant pressure, is stressed and feels like no matter how hard they work they will never get on top of all the work.

It is not fair for a new CPP to be negotiating with an experienced manager who needs to allocate a lot of work.'

'We are told by management all the time that we need to ensure self-care, take breaks, leave etc. and it is constantly implied that it is our responsibility however a workplace framework that allows you to do these things and be able to manage a work-life balance does not exist.'

'The families that Child Protection get involved in are difficult, damaged families and they need a lot more than three phone calls from our community agencies before they close.'

'Also be aware that the department will say that the average case allocation per CPP is well under 24 children. The way this number was arrived to needs to be scrutinised as the average CPP is not allocated any less than 24 children.'

Staff retention

'A huge impact on mental health at work is lack of retention of staff and staff shortages. When programs are not fully staffed the workload substantially increases for individual workers and teams.'

'When this environment is sustained over a period of time it has a cumulative detrimental impact on mental health. People work long hours, become tired, sick and resentful.'

'There are multiple CPP vacancies however this is not taken into account with workloads and regardless of the number of vacancies in a team the existing staff are expected to cover everything.'

'They [CPP-3s and CPP-4s] are exhausted and a high number leave after 18 months.'

'DHHS allows some managers to bully others and not to follow a professional standard simply because finding replacements would be hard.'

'This is the first time in my life when I have questioned whether I want to continue in this field as these are the worst working conditions I have ever experienced.'

'I attended my GP last week at the point of exhaustion who informed me I was burned out which I know is work related but I cannot see any way forward other than to leave a job I have loved for a quarter of a century and one which I have always been able to manage the demands and achieve a work life balance.'

'We cannot get to complete good work with our families and engage them in the process of change due to time restraints due to staff shortage and lack of support from management.'

Professional standing

'When other professionals in the community have a poor view of CPP staff, as a result of staff being stressed, under resourced and trying to manage a broken system, this also adds to a sense of worthlessness and alienation.'

'Child Protection is a fairly thankless task and the perception by the community does have an impact on job satisfaction at times.'

'There is no positive media about Child Protection, there should be a media campaign about all the good we do rather than only ever hearing about the tragedies and our inadequacies.'

Supervision

'My immediate supervisor is under a great deal of stress and pressure due to operational issues that he is struggling to provide the quality support required.'

'Supervision does not happen or happens occasionally due to work demands.'

'Limited supervision provided often task focused.'

'Supervision is often administrative in nature. Because supervision is conducted by the worker's direct line management, there is a concern that what is discussed in supervision will be factored into performance appraisal. This makes it difficult to discuss anything that might be considered a “weakness” (such as wellbeing issues).'

Conduct towards CPPs

'One senior manager … told me that the conduct … did not apply to one individual despite their poor behaviour. The reason cited was that the individual was an experienced worker and needed to be retained at all costs. This statement was made in front of [redacted]—who corrected them, but still the behaviour was allowed to continue without being held to account.'

'Workers who have had formal complaints about bullying have been promoted within the organisation into a higher position than they were in previously.'

'Issues such as bullying go unaddressed for extended periods of time and processes to address these behaviours often do not result in any changes to the concerning behaviours …'

'There is also a concern as to workplace bullying and the obvious impact that this has on mental health.'

'I still think that not a lot is done to address workplace bullying despite departmental initiatives.'

'There is lateral violence observed between Team Managers and Senior Practitioners and between Team Managers so they can be seen as the best person for the role and adhering to the various KPIs that exist. In Team Managers meetings they unfortunately put practitioners down and discuss them in a negative manner.'

'Bullying behaviours are rewarded and there are no consequences to behaviours. Practitioners are reluctant to discuss these issues with their Team Managers who are frequently in strong friendships with the bully and little to nothing is done to address this issue which is rife.'

'Perpetrators who demonstrate violence (emotional and psychological) to practitioners are hard to prove; even though there is an internal formal investigation, the outcome is not effective with perpetrators of bullying behaviour often rewarded for their behaviours by engaging in promotions as a Practice Leader or Principal Project Officer positions. This demonstrates to practitioners that disclosing bullying behaviours is not worth the risk.'

Experiences in the court environment

'Brutality.'

'The Team Managers and Team Leaders must learn though exposure to the court environment, although these exposures are often negative ones.'

'The people in the court system have little regard or respect for CPPs.'

'CPP workers are devalued by the Children's Court process where workers are treated shabbily by Magistrates and opposing legal counsel. There are no sanctions for legal reps who make personal attacks on workers and question their professionalism as we try to do our work. Many workers have been traumatised by their experiences at Court.'

'If we do a good job then no one says anything in the organisation, and we never hear about the clients. If something goes wrong then usually the Court will reprimand the CPP publicly, or management will have one of those “supportive” conversations with you.'

'When something goes wrong, no-one thinks about what the magistrate said.'

'The courts make impractical decisions—such as a child with multiple fractures being transported for four hours a day in a car seat (which distresses the child).'

'The court system is the primary difficulty—the demands are not unreasonable, it's just that they're physically impossible.'

'The judges lack an understanding of our workload.'

'All other areas are given extensions/deferments due to workloads or delays—but not us.'

'Magistrates are hugely powerful—and unsympathetic to the administrative difficulties of child protection.'

'Court has the expectation that there are government resources that can be called on—court considers that it is making the best directions in care of the child, and the resources to do so are your concern.'

'CPPs do not have enough time to do quality work and are then torn to shreds on the witness stand.'

'[at court] I'm getting told off for a system that's in crisis.'

'You get yelled at by judges.'

'Judges bully you.'

'We are bullied by barristers.'

'Unprofessional behaviour and definite bullying, “getting dressed down”.'

'Workers have come back crying.'

'The independence of the judge tends to result in magistrates not being accountable for their behaviours.'

'We are subject to personal attacks from judges and legal representatives.'

'Solicitors think that they are in another league to CPPs—they are rude and there are no repercussions for them.'

'Parents feel empowered by poor behaviour and then do likewise.'

'The Children's Court is the only court environment where lawyers are allowed to be so disrespectful—they [mother, father and lawyer] hunt as a pack.'

'People in the court are disrespectful, unprofessional, belittling, bullying and use standover tactics and intimidation.'

'There's a higher focus on the parents' needs than the child's—it's all about solicitors talking about parents' needs.'

'Threats to physical safety are not being taken seriously by magistrates (personal safety plans are overridden by magistrates).'

Perceptions of supervisors and the organisation more broadly

'I believe my immediate supervisor cares about my emotional wellbeing but she is overloaded with demands of her role and can't afford time to focus on my needs.'

'She absolutely cares however I don't believe she has the capacity or time to support me as she is busy with her own case load…'

'My immediate supervisor is under a great deal of stress and pressure due to operational issues that he is struggling to provide the quality support required.'

'I would like to feel valued for the job I do. I do from my Team Manager, however I mean from higher up.'

'The organisation cares as long as you are well. If you are emotionally unwell, even for a short period of time, and this is known to management or other staff around you, management see this is as you not having the capacity to cope and effects any career advancement opportunities…'

'Good work is rarely recognised but any issues are harshly challenged.'

'When an organisation allows its workforce to become depleted, stressed and overworked and does not attempt to address any of the identified issues, until the workforce feels that the only avenue to address the problems and obtain assistance from the union, it does not lead to a healthy and productive workgroup.'

'Priority appears to be the business needs of the unit over work-life balance and health and wellbeing of employees.'

'The practice of senior managers focussing only on meeting targets and KPIs is detrimental to the organisation's capacity to care about their workers/staff and to support the maintenance of a healthy workforce.'

'Senior management is located in metropolitan areas, which means that we rarely see them, they lack insight into the challenges of rural work and if we wish to access them, there can be a wait until this can be achieved.'

Taking TIL/leave/work breaks

'There's always a sense of raised eyebrows.'

'If workers take sick leave or stress leave, this is viewed negatively and as though they are not coping, rather than the system is at fault.'

'Though leave is encouraged it is unavailable as staff are competing for time off.'

'On multiple occasions I have had leave or TIL denied, even with it being booked months in advance.'

'Workloads are such that entitled breaks are not taken—can cause more stress to have the time away from your work.'

'Flexible work arrangement i.e. applications for purchased leave are often not approved.'

'This is frowned upon. The idea of missing a meeting/deadline because of the need to have a break is really critically viewed.'

'Though leave is encouraged it is unavailable as staff are competing for time off.'

'If I discussed [the constant need to work overtime to perform my role effectively] with my supervisor I know I would be counselled to get used to feeling behind.'

'The culture in Child Protection is such that the workload is so high, that taking time off for rest or as a mental health day is faced with a heavier workload when you return to work. This sometimes requires you to gain further TIL which in turn is not taken as the cycle would only continue.'

Support (generally)

'I have not felt supported in my role and a few contributing factors which have affected my wellbeing … no information was given about “in/outs/conventions” of role—a welcome pack would have been very helpful.'

'It is understandable that staff are busy, yet first day back from completing Beginning Practice training, it would have helped to have a structured conversation about my nine clients, and the next steps of where to go.'

'There is a culture of “just ask questions”—as a beginning CPP, there is a lot of information to process and sometimes you don't know what questions to ask.'

'Often I see workers self-medicating to deal with vicarious trauma—mostly with alcohol in order to relax, sleep and reduce anxiety.'

'Many workers will claim sick days for physical conditions, when the issues relate to their mental health, as they are concerned about being judged and their capacity as workers questioned. This issue is further exacerbated by:

  • the practice of putting workers on fixed term contracts rather than ongoing positions which mean that workers have low job stability and are in the constant situation of having to prove themselves
  • blaming workers for tragic client outcomes when the nature of risk is that it can be reduced but sadly not eliminated
  • lack of flexibility around arranging holidays and recreation leave, meaning that workers often accumulate large amounts of leave
  • often higher levels of critical feedback relative to positive feedback are given, irrespective of performance.'

'I am finding I do not want to come to work and that does not happen for me. I am tired all the time and feel that we keep talking about the issues, giving lots of easy quick solutions to some of these areas and nothing happens or changes.'

'It is felt that Child Protection is just a difficult job so if you say that you're not coping you get labelled as not being able to do the job so people are afraid to speak up as they feel it may prevent them from progressing as this has happened to people previously.'

'At present I do not feel valued or supported as an individual or as a team. I feel like I cannot speak up as I just get shot down and that has prevented me from being successful in roles I have previously demonstrated I am more than capable of doing … I am currently looking at options outside of the Department as I am unable to work in such a negative environment.'

'Supports such as IT, office maintenance, payroll, human resources, and placement coordination are all located in larger metro areas and are not easily accessible to us. I.e. if you have an IT issue sometimes you are required to wait until an IT worker is scheduled to attend the office to rectify the problem … It is also my experience that if you are mentally unwell, i.e. experiencing depression, stress or just not coping, there is no support provided by the organisation unless you have a WorkCover claim in place.'

'The opinion was “if you can't hack it leave”.'

'Think that Child Protection program significantly under-report incidents of abuse that impact on individual's wellbeing. Data from DINMAs etc. would not be a true reflection of the incidents' occurrence.'

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