In this issue, as promised in my intro issue, I'm going to relate my experience of the NSW Department of Community Services (DoCS).
I was deluded enough to take a job at DoCS after I decided to leave ICAC. Given my extensive child protection background, when I saw a job advertised for a new function reviewing child deaths within departmental care, I actually thought I might be able to make a difference. Well, we all live and learn.
As a side note, whilst I've left various jobs feeling somewhat disenchanted with them, in hindsight I've never regretted taking a job, except for this one at DoCS. I only spent 12 months there.
I should have listened to my gut feeling at the two job interviews I had, as the senior DoCS members on the panels came across as some of the coldest people I've ever met.
Anyway, that urge to do good things overrode my instinct and I took the job - Assistant Director for Child Death Reviews.
Fool was I.
Things started innocuously enough, with setting up systems, collating data, etc. But it rapidly became clear that DoCS was not remotely interested in properly "reviewing" deaths of children in its care. What the DoCs senior management appeared to want was a thorough and detailed justification of the Department's actions, regardless of the outcomes.
Of course, those "outcomes" were dead children. Dead because of all sorts of reasons, but the one thing they all had in common was that they were under DoCS oversight as these were the seriously vulnerable and at-risk children in our society.
Now, before you think I'm writing off every single person within community services, I'm not. In my short time at DoCS, I met many front-line staff who were trying their hardest to do a damned difficult and thankless job. And I applaud those dedicated and caring staff.
But DoCS head office was another culture completely. This was the culture of cover up and deception and document destruction; the culture of avoiding responsibility and accountability at all costs.
Things came to a head for me with the case of a baby who was beaten to death in a town in country NSW. The child had been placed with supposedly carefully selected carers, who both happened to have extensive records of alcohol and violence. The DoCS office didn't carry out proper checks, it turned out, and then placed the infant in the custody of these clearly unsuitable people. The little child was murdered, no glossing over that. The DoCs office then claimed they had done the checks, even "creating" records to try and establish this, but came unstuck in the review as, for one thing, the police records simply didn't correspond.
When I wrote my review report, I obviously highlighted this appalling negligence in not doing the checks, and then the egregious malfeasance in trying to cover up the fact. To cut a long story short, I was called in by DoCS senior management, and directed, loudly and aggressively, to remove the damning portion from my report. I was told that I could find fault with systems used, but under no circumstances was I to make any negative findings about DoCS personnel.
Yeah, I've never been that ambitious - I refused. That wasn't exactly what you'd call a "career move". However, I didn't foresee what was in store for me; should have guessed it was going to get nasty.
Three weeks of daily sessions (had been weekly meetings previously, but it seemed I suddenly deserved special attention) with senior management followed, being yelled at and denigrated, along with other punitive tactics. It was all intended, no doubt, to make me cave in. I didn't last longer than the three weeks, and I left. Not my proudest professional day. Rather than my resolve to stand my ground surrendering, it was finally my health that gave out, following the constant bullying, and I left in an ambulance (literally!).
I never saw the final review report, but I'd bet it was nicely sanitised and the "inconvenient" evidence collected had probably gone into a shredder.
And there were other aspects I saw which reflected endemic corruption at DoCS head office, including discussions about removing documents from files before the NSW Ombudsman viewed them. It was, simply put, an entirely corrupt culture.
Whilst this sort of corruption has nothing to do directly with money, I think on many levels it is far more serious. It's all about protecting the Establishment power structure from all scandal and criticism, let alone legal culpability. And innocent, vulnerable members of our community are the victims.
If you're prepared to cover up the true facts around a child's death, then I would suggest that you are utterly morally bankrupt; you have sunk to the lowest level of gutter corruption possible; and you have surrendered all human decency to serve your own venal needs, and perhaps those of others (in this case, the government of the day - as they never like scandals under their watch).
Yes, whilst I've seen a lot of corruption in my time, in terms of a sheer moral abomination, nothing has ever topped what I experienced at DoCS.
May all those responsible for this type of corruption truly rot in hell.
P.S.1: More Corruption Tales coming!
P.S.2: In case you've read the above and are wondering if I tried to do anything outside DoCS... (and a fair question).
I subsequently tried twice to contact a senior officer at the Ombudsman's office with oversight responsibilities for DoCS - my calls were not returned. To set the context at the time, the government had recently given a $4B funding injection to DoCS. I don't think anyone wanted to rock the boat, that's my speculation. Or maybe that person was just bad at returning calls. Who knows?
After I left DoCS, there was a Commission of Enquiry into child protection matters. I did make a submission. One of their lawyers contacted me and said they would need me to produce some documents or evidence to support my submission, if they were to be able do anything. Yeah, given the nature of my leaving, I wasn't exactly collating documentary evidence on my way out the door.
So, the lesson to me was that our oversight mechanisms can be very "selective" in their oversight urges.
Sad but true.
Oh, and whilst I was in the process of resigning, I did formally complain to DoCS about the way I had been treated. Result? Nothing. Not that there were any surprises there.
Bringing you hard-boiled and noir tales of crime and corruption. And various related opinions!