This blog was originally published without references on www.perthnow.com.au
When parents severely abuse or neglect Western Australian children it is the responsibility of the State Government, specifically the Minister for Child Protection Robyn McSweeney, to step in and protect them. Regardless of whether Minister McSweeney delegates their care to foster parents or provides care in an institution it is her job to make sure their often complex needs are met.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that too many children in Minister McSweeney’s charge are managed rather than cared for. Managed with a range of psychotropic drugs including, antidepressants, anti-psychotics, amphetamines and anti-anxiety ‘medications’ as a cheap substitute for the intensive support they so desperately need.
On the numerous occasions I have requested hard data about the issue, Minister McSweeney and others in the Barnett Government, including the Premier1, have refused to provide it. They have consistently argued that, providing this information “would be a significant drain on the Department’s resources”.2 This is the oldest political trick in the book. Refuse to do the research needed to confirm a problem exists and then you never have to accept responsibility for solving the problem.
Other state governments however, at least know the extent of the problem. In 2008 the New South Wales Government found out a staggering 50% of children twelve years of age and younger in state government residential care were taking psychotropic medication. This compared to 2% of their peers.3 Similarly, recent Queensland4 and US5research indicate that psychotropic medications are the dominant first world method of governments managing damaged children.
Obviously given their tormented history these children are far more likely to have significant mental health issues. But we treat the causes of these behaviours as if they are biological, i.e. biochemical brain imbalances, rather than being an inevitable result of abuse and neglect. Surely having been abused and neglected by their carers of first resort, their parents; these blameless, voiceless, victims deserve the very best from their carer of last resort.
Minister McSweeney has no excuse. She is a former child protection worker who in opposition expressed outrage about the number of children ‘medicated’ to control their behaviour.6 But now she is in charge, it appears likely that many of these children, having been physically and yes, sometimes sexually abused, are now being chemically abused in the care of Minister McSweeney.
If we continue to turn a blind eye, we doom too many of these children and eventually their children to a perpetual cycle of abuse, neglect, misery and medication. Let Western Australia at least take a first step by researching the extent of the problem.
- Barnett, Hon. Colin, Premier of Western Australia. (letter to Martin Whitely MLA) 14 July, 2009. Also Whitely, Martin. Western Australian Parliamentary Debates, Hansard 7 May 2009, pp3586d-3604a. http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Hansard/hansard.nsf/0/02539ddc227be544c82575ca00292c82/$FILE/A38%20S1%2020090507%20p3586d-3604a.pdf ↩
- Whitely, Martin Western Australian Parliamentary Debates, Hansard: Questions on Notice 5 May 2009, p3378b-3378b ↩
- ‘Children in care drugged’, The Australian, 2008 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/children-in-care-drugged/story-e6frg6nf-1111117927563 ↩
- ‘Foster children doped in care’ (Brisbane) Sunday Mail 12 February 2011 http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/sunday-mail/foster-children-doped-up-in-care/story-e6frep2f-1226005048486 ↩
- ‘Financial and societal costs of medicating America’s foster children’, Government Accountability Office presented to Senate subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security 1 December 2011www.hsgac.senate.gov/download/salo-testimony ↩
- James, Amanda ‘ADHD drug linked to poverty: report’, The West Australian 25 September 2002 pg 2. Also McSweeney, Hon Robyn Western Australian Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Council, Hansard 5 June 2007, pp2648c-2658a ↩