They also refer to the suicide of an ex-staffer about two years ago.
The comments coincide with the Prime Minister’s appointment of a Royal Commission into detention of young people in the NT which will also examine the child protection system.
DCF said about the death on August 6 that it “extends its condolences to the family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time. As this is a personal matter, the Department has no further comment.”
The suspected suicide occurred a few days after the staff member was seen crying in the office.
One of our sources says that the CEO from Darwin flew to Alice to address the staff about the tragic event, and managers have told staff that talking amongst each other, or to outsiders about the death would be “disrespectful”.
“The department in Alice Springs is toxic, retributive, and unless you’re part of that repressive gang you’re in trouble,” says that source.
There is a massive turnover and “destruction” of staff: To survive, “they keep their heads down, their mouth shut and work as hard as they can to get out of this place.”
“Leaders” have strategies which put staff into no-win situations: They are given case management deadlines which are unrealistic and unachievable and the inevitable failure to meet these deadlines is recorded in the staff files.
If a staff member then wants to apply for transfer to another department, this information can be given to the interview panel, which can also obtain references from members of the “inner circle” –the DCF team leaders who are in a position to put damaging information before the panel.
“This hugely constrains getting work elsewhere,” says the source. That in turn binds the lower level staff to the DCF and increases their vulnerability to bullying and exploitation.
The fact that few complaints are lodged – almost exclusively because of fear of retribution, say our sources – is commonly cited by the upper echelons as proof that there are no problems.
DCF says it “has a cultural organisational framework that outlines the core values of respect, courage, integrity and trust that underpin behaviour in the workplace.
“The department values and invests in its staff and any complaint is taken seriously and investigated.
“The Department encourages staff that may be experiencing difficulties to report their concerns and utilise the support services offered.
“If you are aware of any staff that may have a complaint or concern, please direct them to any manager or Department of Children and Families complaints.”
But our source says use of ‘divide and conquer’ methods are standard in this “very punitive organisation”, isolating people and groups: “Different groups are called together and given bits of information and then are being told not to talk about it to other staff,” says the contact.
“Yelling at staff, imposing unreasonable workloads, isolating staff, spreading rumours, encouraging them not to engage with particular workers who are a ‘bad influence,’ putting people down, talking to them like to a school-child, rolling eyes, dressing someone down in a public forum, wagging finger, eye glaring” are all in the arsenal of the “oppressive clique,” says the source.
“Stifling debate amongst the staff by declaring matters confidential, discouraging workers from having support people with them when they are in a performance management meeting, or pretending it is a case management meeting in which a support person would not be needed” are among of the strategies.
While the massive staff turnover is expensive in financial terms, the costs to the clients – the children – is inestimable. While it is vital that the case workers build up a relationship of trust and understanding, the 400-odd children in The Centre who have been taken away from their families are faced with three or four different case workers in a year.
Payments of up to $1000 a week per child are being made to carers, says our source, money that could be spent on helping parents to set up a functioning household.