Now that some research has been undertaken, a clearer picture of my client’s life is emerging. We have interviewed her and her hubby, as well as her parents and her GP.
We are getting mixed messages.
Her parents appear very supportive. They have the children regularly, including overnight. That weekend, the children had been at Nan and Pop’s, only returning home on Monday afternoon. Tuesday morning, mum had her ‘meltdown’. She has a history of mental health concerns, but no formal diagnosis. There may be some (understandable) depression. She may have had, or still have, anorexia. Her parents believe she has an alcohol dependency. There does not appear to be any evidence of that.
Her GP states she has a very, very long history of refusing to accept services. She has been referred to you-name-it on many occasions, yet fails to engage, preferring to do it alone. The GP and her parents describe her as being a martyr. The GP states she has these ‘meltdowns’ on quite a regular basis. She then picks up the pieces, carries on ok for a while, then ‘goes off’ again. The reason we haven’t had contact before, is that there have not been any previous concerns for the children. There is a general feeling that perhaps she went too far this time, or else she confided in the ‘wrong’ person on this occasion.
She has poor attachments, forming inappropriate relationships with people, then sucking the life out of them, before moving on when the relationship crumbles under the pressure.
She tells us she was ‘venting’. She does not accept that her behaviour prompted the response it did. She denies saying that she was suicidal, but we have two separate, very detailed reports, quoting words she is alleged to have said. She states that she believes she copes very well most of the time, but her parents tell us otherwise. Her husband does not seem to know what to believe. He is a shiftworker, and is not at home a lot.
Her excuse for not engaging with services is that so many people come and go that you don’t know who does what. I can accept that to some degree. I know that people with disabled children can feel overwhelmed by the various therapists and assorted do-gooders in their lives. She tells us she has not had a good night’s sleep for 6 years, but her parents tell us they regularly have the children overnight and longer. She doesn’t deny it. She rejects respite care, then says she is exhausted, and can’t cope. Late last year, my own organisation offered a voluntary program to the family, which she initially accepted, then declined.
I know other people who have rejected services (waves hello), but they do soldier on. They don’t run around threatening to commit suicide. If they vent, they do so carefully, to selected individuals such as partners or parents who do not have mandatory reporting obligations. You could say that this was a cry for help, but speaking to her the other day, she still denies she needs help. She says she wants everyone to go away and leave her alone. Her parents believe she is a manipulative attention-seeker. If that’s the case, it sure got her some attention this time!
Who amongst us has not felt overwhelmed? Exhausted? Emotionally spent? Who, as a parent, has not threatened to ‘kill’ their child, knowing full well it would never, ever come to that? Who has never felt the urge to go to sleep and never wake up? It would be very rare to find anyone who has never, however briefly or fleetingly felt that way, but we don’t all go around harming our kids or ourselves. Some people are born drama queens who bask in the limelight. They don’t feel complete unless there is a crisis going on. The question is, what category does this woman fall into?
I’m reasonably confident that Tuesday’s performance was an aberration. She is exhausted. She is overwhelmed. Is she suicidal? I’m not a mental health worker, but I don’t think so. Is she capable of harming her children? Possibly. Is she likely to do so? Probably not. I would be really happy to see her engage with some services. I’d love for someone from disabilities to come in, make some modifications, maybe provide some in-home respite. I’d love her to have a full mental health assessment, just to see what is really going on there. I’d love for her to have a full physical check-up. I don’t have much faith in counselling (apologies to anyone who does!), but if she could get some benefits from that, she should give it a try.
The kids are at school all day. There is time for her to access some of these things. What I really want to see, is for her to acknowledge that she needs some kind of help, and is willing to accept it. I don’t want 500 people she doesn’t know walking into her home. I don’t want to tell her how to live, or how to raise her kids. I just want her to receive some support, to see these crisis situations avoided. To give her some strategies for what to do when it all becomes too much. Then I can get the hell out of her life, and get onto some families that actually need a big stick.
There is a lot of debate around at the moment, particularly regarding the Queensland tragedy. I have my own, very strong opinions on that particular situation, but I won’t be sharing them here. The problem, as I see it, is that various child protection authorities are very crisis-driven. We tend to react, or over-react to individual incidents, rather than responding in a timely and considered manner. There is so little opportunity for actual casework to take place, that it really is a situation of crisis intervention. Naturally, by the time the family has reached crisis point, it is often a bit late for casework!
I don’t know what the answer is. As individual professionals, I believe the majority of us do the very best we can, often with little or no factual information. It is never my intention to walk into someone’s home and remove their children. In my experience, a removal is an absolute, unavoidable, last resort. It is never done lightly. It is never (I hope) a knee-jerk reaction. We always try to work with the family. We are mandated by our legislation to do so. In this situation, the children were not removed at any stage. It was our recommendation, which was voluntarily accepted, that the children go to Nan and Pop’s for a couple of days. There are usually alternatives to removal, and I would say these are always, without exception, considered.
I’d like to add that what happened to that mum on that day, did not occur as a result of our involvement. The police were called (not by us). It was the police officer who decided to detain her, for her own safety. It was his decision to call the ambulance. He was obliged under his legislation to take those actions. Our role, on that day, really ended upon sighting the children and ensuring someone was able to pick them up and care for them. We only stayed with mum out of some weird, possibly misguided, hope that we could in some way calm her down to a point where we could talk to her. Once we could see that was not going to happen, we remained with her because otherwise she would have been alone with three large men in uniforms. It was kind of an impotent nod at sisterly solidarity.
I welcome debate in my comments area, if people are so inclined. I understand this is a really emotive issue, for various reasons. Please be mindful of that, and be respectful towards each other. You can’t offend me! It’s impossible. I had those parts of my personality amputated a long time ago.
I also hope nobody feels that I’m speaking out of turn. I don’t believe I’ve said anything here which could identify the players.