Terrible Tasks

21 June 2009

I’ve often thought there were some jobs I just wouldn’t want – for any money.  This was brought home to me this week by the number of stories in the news about the Department of Community Services (DOCS).  Their role is child protection and welfare, including foster and adoption services etc.

Now I’m quite sure there are DOCS employees who are incompetent and lazy.  Why not?  They can’t be immune from occasionally hiring the wrong people.  But I bet they don’t last long.  If you’re looking for an easy job, this probably isn’t quite the right choice.

I’m also sure there are employees who have made wrong decisions, as there are in any organisation or profession. 

But I’m also sure there are many, if not all, DOCS employees who have sleepless nights worrying if they’ve done the best they can do.  And when they get up in the morning, they have to face what has become the daily ritual of criticism from the press. 

I have no children.  I have no expertise in the raising of children.  But I do know that to take a child away from her family has very serious long-term implications.  I believe research has shown that however well-intentioned foster parents are (and there are many cases documented where they weren’t well-intentioned at all), they’re really no substitute for the real thing, even when the real thing isn’t up to the job.  Obviously a child in serious danger has to be removed from that danger.  But this is one of those instances where hindsight is a wonderful thing.

In New South Wales, one in ten children is “known to DOCS”.  TEN PERCENT OF THE STATE’S CHILDREN.  How on earth can they properly monitor each of these children?  Leave a child in danger and you’re damned, as is the child (and the press baying at your heels).  Take it away, and you’re damned – seriously damaged child, distraught family with its reputation in tatters (and the press baying at your heels).

They’re accused of being slack.  And they’re accused of being heavy-handed.

I wouldn’t for one moment think that they’re particularly highly paid but whatever they get, they deserve every penny.

Not for me, thanks! 


  1. This is a wonderful post, Sally. I agree with you totally. Working in child welfare – or indeed most social-worker type jobs – must be emotionally draining even without the stress of needing constantly to make very difficult decisions.

  2. Just the same here, of course, with the press and everyone criticising the poor buggers who are at the sharp end.

  3. One of my good friends works in DOCS. She’s been in DOCS for the past 2 years, and because of the nature of the job, she’s thinking of leaving at the end of the year after her contract finishes. It’s a horrible job not because of the pay is bad or the boss treats her unfairly (which is what people usually whinge about), but because of the pressures you outlined in your post. I really admire my friend, because she tries so hard to not let it get to her, and affect other aspects of her life. I don’t know how she hides it so well, but some of the stories she tells me are pretty sad…

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