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Beneath and Beyond the Bravado

by PeakCare Qld on 13th February 2013

Home -> Articles -> 2013 -> February -> Beneath and Beyond the Bravado

Recent hearings of the Queensland Child Protection Inquiry have focussed on residential care. One of the people to take the stand was a young man referred to as ‘Ben’ (not his real name) who has been living in a residential care service for over two years.

Ben’s testimony was recounted in a story produced by Courier Mail journalist, Madonna King under the headline Child protection treated as joke.

Ms King commenced her article with the statement, “If you needed evidence that the state’s child protection system is a shambles, it was delivered by a 16-year old this week.” Much of Ben’s testimony to the Inquiry was faithfully reported, word by word, by Ms King and led her to the conclusion that Ben is “milking the system” and his testimony “undermines the support of all those who hope and trust the system will make a difference”.

Ms King is correct in calling for improvements to the child protection system including the practices of residential care services. But these improvements should not be driven by the bravado of one or more young people. To the credit of Commissioner Carmody and the CREATE Foundation, young people in care have been provided opportunities to contribute their views and insights concerning the child protection system through focus groups and other activities. A range of experiences and opinions of young people is presented in the Consultation Report produced by CREATE at the request of the Commission of Inquiry. The voices and opinions of these young people must not now be lost in the reactions to Ben’s testimony.

The danger of taking his testimony at face value, as it appears to have been by Ms King, is that it masks what might lie beneath his bravado and does not invite solutions that look beyond a superficial and simplistic reaction to his words and demeanour.

I don’t know Ben, but I am certainly no stranger to the bravado of his presenting attitudes and behaviour. As a previous director of residential care services as well as, in particular, a manger and director of youth detention centres, I am all too familiar with the bravado of young people bragging about having no fear of police and courts and their flagrant displays of defiance. It was often at night though when the stifled sobs of these same young people could be heard through the locked doors of their cells and the attempts at suicide or self-harm were being thwarted that the message was most vividly brought home that what lay beneath the bravado was something quite different.

I don’t know Ben. I don’t know what, if anything, his bravado is masking. But I have known many other Bens and appreciate the patience, experience and skill needed to look through their bravado to the fears and grief and the emotional turmoil and rage that lurk beneath.

There is a massive challenge in working with young people in both assisting them to meet and comply with the requirements of living in the ‘real world’, whilst also giving them the leeway they need to find their feet and view the world in a different way. This cannot happen simply through their containment or by increasing discipline. There is much more to it than that.

Most definitely, improvements are needed to the child protection system including residential care, if the hope and trust in the system that Ms King calls for is to be earned. The answers to this cannot be found however in a simple panacea. Both the problems and the solutions are far too complex for that.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director, PeakCare Queensland