Assumptions, Bias, Labels … why the search for justice is elusive

A BLOG POST

I have written previously on this site to try and give context to findings that were less than satisfactory to people who have just wanted understanding and fairness. I had hoped I wouldn’t have to write again.

The Coroner’s Court of Queensland is undoubtedly populated by experienced and deeply knowledgeable individuals – that is not disputed. Neither can it be denied that Talieha Nebauer, Will Fowell and Caitlin Wilkinson Whiticker were each precious, courageous, developing individuals.

And it is INDIVIDUALITY that is at the very heart of the matter that must be illuminated by what has transpired over the 6½ years since the inevitable closure of the Barrett Adolescent Centre was first revealed to be underway.

Each human being is unique. Even identical twins are not actually identical. Each of us has a physical make-up that is not organically replicated exactly in any other person. We are a one-of-a-kind collection of thought patterns and hopes and likes and backstories and quirks and motivations and needs and lifespans. But the world often seeks to put us into categories. To label or pigeonhole. To impose. And sometimes, to assume to know based on superficial information.

The need to classify is often understandable. It’s too hard to start with a totally blank page when dealing with thousands or even millions of people. So we are grouped and assigned and we have to compromise on the parts of ourselves that fall outside the parameters we are supposed to fit within.
And sometimes those compromises aren’t a big deal.
But sometimes they are.

As individuals, none of us has the capacity to be truly objective. Despite it being vital at times in professions and key life moments, our humanity can never totally be shut down. So we bring our histories and agendas and ambitions and perspectives of the world to all that we do.
And sometimes that isn’t a big deal.
But sometimes it is.

 

 

So when an individual provides their input on an issue or event,
what is FACT and what is INTERPRETATION?
And when several different individuals have their say on a particular situation,
who is providing what could be seen as the closest to OBJECTIVE information?

In the case of the Barrett Inquiry and the Coronial Inquest, for example,
whose evidence has been determined to be the EXPERT information on which findings will be based and whose evidence is viewed as FLAWED so has been broadly disregarded?

That has been for the Commissioner and the Coroner to decide. Based on years of legal knowledge, experience and precedents; standard practice; even societal conventions. There are high expectations of everyone involved. Protocols and time limitations to adhere to. It is no easy task and one where compromises must regularly come into play.

Not unlike those compromises we all have to make when we don’t fall into the stereotypes that can be assigned to us.
Like the mothers who have tolerated snap judgements about their relationships with children whose lives are in turmoil. (Because those mothers burst into tears when they finally admit out loud that they’re terrified their child could be dead every time they’re out of sight for more than a minute). But they continue because no other treatment has been effective.
Like the carers who have long given up on hoping vicariously for a life of professional achievement, fulfilling relationships and creative satisfaction for the suffering young person that they love. (They just want them to have a life. And then one that isn’t a never-ending nightmare.) But they continue because they are realistic and determined that the young person’s life will be better in some small way.
Like the parents who have sacrificed a stimulating and useful professional career and their own stable, healthy existence because the young person with such complex needs means more to them than anything else. (24 hr diligence and stress will always take a toll. And a life wholly focussed on another – a loved one who moves from torment to hopeless – drains like nothing else can.) But they continue because know their priorities and their responsibilities. Their child comes before anything for themselves. Anything.

So this blog post is just to note that:
Individuals make compromises based on their priorities.
Individuals categorise based on their particular agenda.
So all we can hope for is that, in every situation possible, everyone will do their best to take in everything each person says and does. As much as possible. Factoring in the context of the information being provided – the role of the individual, their incentive, their bias.
Each individual’s input should be seen as valuable. There should never be judgements based on stereotypes or assumptions.
This approach is something we all hope for many times through our lives. Over trivial incidents. And life changing events. Because it’s the only way to get closer to understanding. And fairness.
And those two things are vitally important. Especially in circumstances where individuals have suffered.
And are suffering.
And could suffer so much that the worst can happen.
If it hasn’t already.

 


The media have reported that the inquest found that “there are no strong links between the suicide of three Queensland teenagers and the controversial closure of a youth mental health facility,  … other factors played a more significant role in the suicides”. To try to consider the situation within the context provided by the people that experienced the closure process and aftermath … click on the button below.

4 thoughts on “Assumptions, Bias, Labels … why the search for justice is elusive

    • It would have been shockingly devastating if the families hadn’t, sadly, been expecting this kind of outcome. The process of the inquest had been extremely difficult for them, not least of which was of course reliving all the details of the loss of the young people they loved. But the fact that they had to battle against multiple legal professionals whose roles were to protect large entities like government departments, hospital and health services etc., made the drawn out proceedings even more upsetting. And when organisations like that have a considerable amount to lose based on the findings, picking off some grieving mothers is probably all in a day’s work. I’m sure all involved respected the process but it seems that doesn’t necessarily apply to their approach to the human beings involved.

  1. While this is a tragedy regarding the 3 young people of the Barrett Centre and my heart goes out to all the families. Similarly though, this situation also occurred (around the same time of government closures) within the public mental health system, with patients discharged from mental health hospitals even when extremely unwell. Expecting patients to attend a community appointments, as if that would be sufficent. Reason given- no facilities and no where available for patients to go to be monitored or have access for further treatment. Barrett centre was closing, and therefore aged care facility given as an only option. Also informed of all the costs involved, which is just what a young person with complex mental health issues needs to know. Also feeling the injustice!
    Following the events of the Barrett Centre and having the inquest, I thought things may have been different.
    So sorry that there has not been justice given. Our family situation is a bit different, however we can relate to being shut down, the play of words used, and literally being swept under the carpet.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Julie. The families affected by the Barrett closure are, as you say, just the tip of the iceberg. As it stands, people in difficult circumstances are so often in situations where the reality of their lives seems either misunderstood or not even considered. The ramifications of (often bureaucratic) measures can be extremely damaging for those with serious health concerns. The more devastating aspect is that service providers and the bureaucracy as an entity simply don’t seem to care. “This is the situation … you’re going to have to deal with it.” The fact that so many people survive these shattering measures speaks to the tenaciousness of those most disadvantaged and of the people who care about them. If healthcare systems were run by people who had had the experience of those with severe and/or chronic issues, whatever the limitations of the services, there’s no doubt that the approaches and attitudes would be totally different. As it stands, so many valuable and treasured people are simply disregarded.
      On the positive side, some things are changing. Peak bodies like Health Consumers Queensland have begun to empower consumers and carers of health services and there are some ‘individuals’ at high levels of government who are embracing the involvement of consumers and carers in many aspects of service delivery and development. So that’s a start. So if you have an issue that requires advocacy, you can try getting in touch with HCQ (contact details at hcq.org.au). Some things ARE moving in the right direction. But there is a long way to go particularly in relation to mental health. I hope things improve for you and those close to you.

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