Life as an Advocate Foster Carer, Whistleblower Against Corruption – Part 2. Why trusting State Government appointed contractors is incredibly difficult to volunteer for.

BERRY STREET FOSTER CARE

Foster Caring through 2014, I was asked to provide care for two young males.  I received a call after hours in my car from Senior Case Managers Andrew McCausland & Suzanne Pickard. I was already frustrated with the unprofessional conduct of Pickard – a supposed veteran of the Child Protection area. I couldn’t be more disappointed with her underhandedness behind the scenes of smiles to my face, knife in my back. It seemed doing her job for her as an unpaid, volunteer Foster Carer was none to pleasing to precious Pickard. As to McCausland, he was a little more difficult to read. Ive worked in Mental Health before and learnt to study the behaviour of adults – even the cunning ones. You know, smile to your face…knife in your back !

I remember the weekend because my eldest brother & neice were also coming to stay for the same weekend. The arrangement was booked some time earlier as I was Executor to my late mothers estate & we had to discuss the arrangements I had made for the disbursements of her estate.

Pickard made the call to my car, my friend Mykael was witness to the call as of course it was hands free. Pickard was aghast I refused to agree with her request that in order for me to agree to accommodate these two young people – I would not (as Pickard insisted) alternately accommodate my siblings in a hotel to make way for the Foster kids emergency placement. I told Pickard that both my brother a Registered Psychiatric Nurse in South Australia and my Neice had both been regularly Police checked in accordance with the requirements of their jobs.

Other than occasional mutterings in the back ground, McCausland barely uttered a word. The placement needed to occur that night as DHS and Berry Street were needing to Foster a total of 6 siblings. Pickard indicated they would need to discuss the fact that my siblings would also be staying in my home that weekend. It was clear in the minds of all concerned that I did not need or seek the permission of either DHS or Berry Street to have family stay.

Approximately one hour later, a DHS Government van pulled up to my driveway where upon I spoke at length with two female Child Protection Officers . I reiterated the conversation I had with Pickard and McCausland earlier that evening. The CPO’s were quite happy with the conditions I had set upon agreeing to foster these to young lads. the kids then exited the vehicle and we did introductions all round. The kids were ecstatic to hear the barking of my Chihuahuas inside as they ‘love dogs’ and couldn’t get inside to my home quick enough. My Brother & Neice still hadn’t arrived from South Australia at that time. Darkness of the night had set in, it may even have been a bit cool that night, I can’t exactly remember that detail.

We collected the two kids meagre personal belongings as the CPO’s did have much time to collect to much of the personal effects of the children before they were taken into care by the state. We parted company with the CPO’s all smiles and inside we went to have introductions to the dogs. The kids eyes were like saucers, they couldn’t believe they had such a welcoming committee. It meant lots of playtime was before them. Hopefully I could distract them sufficiently enough to occupy their minds away from what was to be a rather unpleasant experience as to a family court matter booked before the Magistrates Court early the following week.

As is often the case, CPO’s called later to make sure the kids had settled in well and were travelling well with no major behavioural issues to work with. Other than the usual traumatised effects of being removed from their parents, the kids were doing remarkably well – though through the guise of brave little faces. They’re such courageous little fellows, I knew life was tough right now but I reassured them we’d get through it. Though I tried not to obviously change the subject that first night when the kids were clearly looking forward to returning home Monday or Tuesday the next week, as thats “….what Mum and Dad told us….”

The kids had fun decisions to make in the coming minutes, which of the two choices of vacant bedrooms they wanted to call their own for the next few nights. To hear two clearly traumatised kids laugh as they negotiated the terms of their agreement to take in turns so they could have access to the television adjacent to one of their bedrooms just incase they couldn’t sleep. It didn’t matter if they wanted to watch TV late. There was more for the kids to be concerned about than staying up a little later. As it turned out, they fell asleep watching the tele anyway.

The following morning, we knew we had to meet one of the CPO’s at Ballan. Half way between Bacchus Marsh & Ballarat. We’d arranged the night before the kids didn’t have access to their medication. At around 10am Saturday morning, off we drove on the freeway. As I was driving, the kids knew there was more deals to be done – ‘who bags the front sea next to Drew’. As it turned out I had previously set child lock on the back doors, we were thankful they chose to sit together in the back. We pretended we were chauffeurs so the kids could summon their driver to come and open their doors for them when we parked at Ballan to obtain the kids medications. This Chauffer bit they thought a huge joke, but laughter often quickly turned to sadness if just a little reminder of home travelled in and out of their thoughts that weekend.

We played one of those games called loom band I think it was where both boys made wrist bands and various other colourful little toys to play with. After all they didn’t have any toys to play with. That Saturday we bought these two sets of loom band, all colourful…some sparkly some not – but all fun. Kept them occupied for hours on end. It was hard to get a word in edge ways as they borrowed my iPad to check tutorials (under my supervision of course) as to how to navigate their way through difficult left, right,up,down turns. Buggered if I could follow it – but they had it down pat !

As the weekend was fast drawing to a close, we drove to the Ballarat Magistrates Court complex to meet with two state funded Solicitors. One for each lad. I had chatted with both Solicitors independently and together as their knowledge of some finer detail appeared scant. I was humbled to receive dual congratulatory thanks and admiration from both Solictors for jumping on the ground quickly in keeping the lads extremely busy all weekend. Trips to Werribee zoo and much more. We all met at Beechworth Bakery next to the Magistrates Court Complex. Much food was had. We could have had breaky at home, but we all decided some luxury was in order and ate out, and boy did they eat – groovy. Eating and drinking well is a good sign, again though through very brave little faces and minds.

It wasn’t long before they were summoned to the court room with their guardians – then the State Solicitors.Both female Counsel were lovely to speak to and mighty appreciative of my work with the lads in such a very short time.

By this time, my brother and niece had arrived & we all dined together at the bakery that morning. State Solicitors were chuffed we were all working well as one big ‘sudo-family’.

Seemingly like clock work, I had received a call from their Case Manager Camilla Berger at Berry Streets Ballarat Office in Redan. Berger asked me to bring the two boys into Berry Street Offices without delay after their court appearances so we could discuss their Care Management plans. Of course we obliged as due Volunteer Foster Carers. Immediately upon our arrival appeared two Case Managers, one of which was none other than McCausland himself. The same McCausland who was involved in the telephone hook up days before.

McCausland and Camilla Berger in effect ambushed me at the door in the reception area with the lads. Berger gestured to the boys to follow her before going in behind a locked secure door. I was never to see them again. Berger never returned with the lads. I did not know as a Foster Carer that it was planned the lads were to be removed from our care for no known reason whatsoever by both McCausland & Berger. We couldn’t forward plan to tell the boys they would be going into an office they’d never seen before or be taken away by a woman they’d never known. That same day I sent an SMS to Berger and stated ….”thanks for the ambush…..” Berger did not reply.

As the boys disappeared behind a locked door with Camilla Berger, McCausland made small talk as moments later he’d ask me to follow him to a very small office that travelled along the same corridor the boys had walked moments before. He closed the door behind us. I asked what the hell was going on. There were no witnesses, just he and I. I cannot prove what was said other than a statutory declaration as to his unprofessional, unethical conduct that day. I was chastised for “not advising Berry Street I had siblings staying for the weekend and they had been troubled by this  found knowledge”. Clearly McCausland was lying, his conduct highly inappropriate as was his manner of entrapment of me in his office that morning. After he chastised me for approximately 20 minutes before he had opened the door and released me to the corridor to be walked from his office back to the main door and escorted from the building.I was again scapegoated for the incompetence behind the scenes. Even legal Counsel had some concerns.

This weekend morning was the last time I was to see McCausland & Berger again or any of his Berry Street colleagues at this time. The corruption and entrapment damn well astounded me.  Months later it grinds me deeply as it does still hurt.

I raised formal complaint by email to Berry Street CEO and Matt Chandler Manager of Home Based Care as to the unprofessional conduct of McCausland & Berger that day. I will detail further unprofessional conduct by each of these Managers and their colleague Pickard later. As far as I’m concerned McCausland & Berger are as of those along with Pickard who must be dismissed.There is no room for entrapment, corruption. There can be no excuses, no room for negotiation. I did not deserve to be treated this way, I did not know I was to be deceived that day let alone by McCausland in particular. He knew by this time we were to transfer to Bendigo & both he and Pickard were “pissed off” they had to “train” my mate Mykael to be formally accredited a Carer even though he had been supporting me months earlier in caring for MrM, as detailed in my previous blog.  Despite initial rumblings about Mykael’s Accreditation, I had been fully accredited months prior. It was convenient for Berry Street to be keen for me to Foster kids it seems were very difficult to accommodate and in many cases were a thorn in the side of both DHS & Berry Street in terms of finding suitable short to medium term stable care. The behaviour of Chandler, McCausland, Pickard & Berger was quickly collated in terms of noting their behaviour looking for reason & similarity. There was some I not dotted or a T not crossed and I suspect they’d been chastised by DHS for something they hadn’t done properly in this case. I suspect this was due to the minimum bed allocation for Child Protection Cases as required by DHS. Who knows, perhaps they didn’t want to commence placement with two homosexuals? You can though see a pattern developing. Though carefully crafted otherwise, given our standard of care was “exemplary” why would Berry Street staff take the action they did? Were they trying to hide a stuff up on their part? were they told to pull their heads in and tidy up this case? I don’t know. Although Berry Street evidently did because they apologised to me later, though without total, appropriate reasoning. Why did Berry Street staff further traumatise already traumatised kids?

16th July 2014 we were to leave Bacchus Marsh & move to Bendigo. My friend Mykael was already living in Bendigo & so as we were getting along well continued to live together as friends occupying separate bedrooms. It was a household working very well. We decided to challenge much of the old school methods, inappropriate treatment of Foster Carers. We could either walk away, or we could challenge the stereo typical methods of what are not isolated cases of appalling mis-management of Child Protection Case Managers and incompetence of and nepotism in staff between DHS & its agencies.

Theres much more to be documented I have yet to extrapolate further from both blogs surrounding the several cases of care I have provided.

I have advised Minister Jenny Mikkos & Minister Jacintha Allen MP this afternoon as well as sources in print & audio/vision media.

Part 3 to follow