Tia’s story as a (former) Residential Care Worker with Caring Family Services continues to unravel in ways that are about her, but without her. Recapping the previous post, her employment was terminated, without written reason, although she was verbally informed her Working With Children Check (WWC) might subsequently be revoked on the basis of allegations that “had not been cleared” but could not be discussed because “the investigation was closed”.
For those who may not know, a valid and current WWC is a prerequisite for many jobs in Australia even if the work does not directly involve children. Tia needs to know where she stands, and to clear her name, so she recently decided to contact Child Protection (a unit of the Department of Human Services, DHS) to ask them about the allegations and implications for her WWC. They had been involved in the investigation and should, she understood, be able to answer questions her employer would not.
Navigating the bureaucracy
I said I would work with Tia on this, and so we came to spend the best part of an afternoon navigating the bureaucracy – the (par for the course) long wait to speak to a human being; endlessly repeating recorded message that is presumably somebody’s idea of good PR; misdirected calls; confusion created by yet another restructure; databases that haven’t caught up; difficulty establishing exactly who it is you need to speak to; finding they are unavailable anyway; all interspersed by regular interludes with the recorded message.
After several hours it is tempting to give up; many probably do unless the matter is vitally important, and others would be obliged to because they are at work during business hours. We were able to spend the time because I’m retired, and Tia is still looking for another job. And, of course, we did not give up because Tia’s WWC is of vital importance.
We did eventually manage to speak to someone who could set us in the right direction by providing contact details for the case manager and team leader we needed to speak to. We could not get through at the time, but left a number for return calls.
Then, thinking we had reached a dead end for the day, we took my dog for a walk. I was surprised when my mobile rang, and it was Child Protection; even more surprised when it turned out to be the same team leader who had conducted the investigation involving Tia, from the DHS end.
Coming full circle
So, rewinding, I explained that Tia wanted information about what, if any, specific allegations against her had been substantiated. The team leader could not provide this information, she said; the investigation went beyond Tia to include other staff employed by Caring Family Services, and the information was confidential. I acknowledged the ethics, but also asked the team leader to consider how difficult it was for Tia to have allegations against her she had not been allowed to address but that might yet compromise her WWC. The team leader repeated, I think reluctantly, that she could not help.
I then asked whether an application was in process to reconsider Tia’s WWC. The team leader could not tell me that either, she said, because any such application would come from the employer (Caring Family Services) not DHS.
But here we have a problem, because the employer won’t talk to her about it; they wouldn’t at the termination meeting so why would they now? And, they subsequently provided an Employment Separation Certificate for Centrelink (another bureaucracy) indicating ‘unsuitability for the type of work’ as the basis for termination. An alternative option of ‘misconduct as an employee’ was not indicated. Surely, I said, this implies that no serious allegations have been upheld against Tia – doesn’t it – and therefore that no basis exists for revoking her WWC? The team leader could not say; we would need, she said, to ask Caring Family Services, adding that an application for reconsideration of a WWC does require clear grounds.
This is so frustrating. Tia is caught up in something that has serious implications for her future and yet no one will discuss her situation. She might hear something, but if she hears nothing (for three months, six months, 12 months) what does that mean? That there is nothing? Or that it might still happen?
The team leader could not help us, but suggested we write a letter to Caring Family Services asking them what they have done, or plan to do in relation to Tia’s WWC; in other words, complete the circle. We could also, she added, approach the Working With Children Board.
So, having gone from the employer to Child Protection, it is back to the employer, and a letter has now gone to Caring Family Services to ask…but I’m sure I don’t need to repeat myself here. I don’t suppose Tia expects instant resolution, either, but at least she has done what is possible at this stage.
Written By Joan Beckwith, PhD
20/20 Social Justice
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