Senate backs inquiry into children in out of home care – Exposing horrific sexual abuse

The Senate has supported the Greens call for an inquiry into children taken into care – terms of reference available on Senator Rachel Siewert’s website:

This was announced on July 17 -this is timely in view of the revelations being made about the criminal sexual abuse in the SA out of home care industry:

Premier Jay Weatherill to order Royal Commission into child abuse following horrific new case at government-run care facility


Families SA – South Australia’s statutory child protection body –  was told bluntly in 2002 and again in 2008 that it was failing to protect its most vulnerable children.  It was further told that removing children from their ‘dysfunctional’ families and placing them with strangers was in many cases putting them at more risk. Here we are more than a decade later and a system of child removal continues unabated while at the same time failing to protect children from predators lurking within the very system purportedly set up to protect them.  The introduction of non-government organisations working in tandem with the government has not made it safer.  The following is an excerpt from a damning report released 2008-2009:

“The Committee heard evidence that a culture of power and impunity operates within Families SA; that there is a “rotten culture of power without accountability” in the Department. Many departmental officers behave in an unprofessional, biased and vindictive manner and they are permitted to hide from recrimination. Case-workers are bullied by supervisors. Departmental policy is developed without consulting with those working at the “coal-face”. Policy makers fail to support workers and readily shift blame for adverse events onto the workers rather than admitting to organisational failure.  This evidence painted a picture far removed from the Department’s self-proclaimed culture: ‘connected, ethical, brave and respected’. Any who come into contact with the Department would greet with cynicism the words of farewell from the former chief executive when she referred to a strong culture of ‘working together and putting our customers and their families first.’  The passage of legislation with the cutely reassuring title of Children’s Protection (Keeping Them Safe) Amendment Bill 2005 and the publication of glossy brochures in response to the disturbing findings of the Layton Report (2002)  have done nothing to change the ingrained culture of Families SA …   Many workers in the field are young and inexperienced yet have unfettered power, poor professional supervision and a lack of accountability. They often display an inability to work in partnership with families  … Many staff are untrained in child development and have little understanding of children’s reactions to abuse and neglect. Staff also lack training in conflict management, case-conferencing and the skills necessary to productively engage highly emotional and disenfranchised parents, relatives and carers … Lack of experience and training may also explain why some caseworkers fail to adequately verify facts and case notes include conjecture as “fact”. Evidence was received that it is not uncommon for case records to be altered when they come under scrutiny”.  (Legislative Council of South Australia, Select Committee on Families SA. (2009, Nov). Report of the Select Committee on Families SA, Presented to the Third Session, Fifty-First Parliament 2008-2009, at p. 5, available on-line.)

The foster care system is a dismal failure. But lets not allow non-government organisations such as Barnardos’, to politicise this fact by promoting its open adoption program as a safer alternative.  It is NOT. And we should remember that for every child Barnardos fast tracks into adoption it is financially rewarded – receiving $37,000.   Adoption is NOT safer, and statistically, removed children who are adopted have higher rates of drug and alcohol problems and are at higher risk of suicide than their non-adopted peers – and that includes those left with their ‘dysfunctional’ families.[1]  It must be remembered that just as foster carers are genetic strangers so are adopters.  The foster care system has the supposed added protection of the ongoing scrutiny of children in its care, however once a child is adopted no such scrutiny exists. Biological relatedness offers a degree of inherent protection.  Research indicates that in sole parent families it is the introduction of the non-related male that raises the risk of sexual and physical abuse of children and infants.  It is not the fact a child is being raised by a single parent that is the danger – as much as the pro adoption lobby like to insist it is!

Jan Barham from the Greens does not support making adoption the default option for children at risk and  cites submissions, given at a recent Inquiry re the changes to legislation in NSW that prioritize adoption, to support her view. Barham states:

“The Greens do not support the pursuit of adoption as a solution to the challenges facing the child protection system and consider it an inappropriate and ineffective way to ensure the wellbeing of children who have been placed in out-of-home care. The inclusion of adoption as part of a standard decision-making framework, to be applied in all cases where it has been decided that restoration of a child to their parent is not realistic, risks permanently removing the legal relationship and connection between parent and child in a way that may be unnecessary and against the best interests of the child. Many submissions to the Government’s Child Protection Legislative Reform Discussion Paper, which proposed not only this move to promote adoption but also included proposals to allow greater capacity to dispense with consent and even to remove a parent’s right to be informed of a proposed adoption from out-of-home care, highlighted that adoption may be appropriate in some cases but that this must be decided based on the individual circumstances and with careful consideration.

There are a number of reasons that promoting adoption as a general principle is inappropriate within child protection. The evidence does not clearly establish that adoption itself produces better outcomes. The quality and stability of placements are important. These need to be addressed in the foster care system, through improved management and resourcing, and could be addressed via options such as well-supported guardianship. Associate Professor Judy Cashmore stated in her paper entitled “What can we learn from the US experience on permanency planning?”:

the well-being of children in adoptive homes, in foster care or returned home was related to their sense of permanence in the placement, not to their legal status.

I heard in a number of speeches in this place and the other place reference to evidence about adoption being better than stable, secure and permanent placement. That just is not true. The evidence is not there. The submission by the Council of Social Service of New South Wales [NCOSS] on the child protection legislative reform discussion paper emphasised the importance of stability as a principal consideration that is not as simple as preferring one form of placement to another. The submission states:

NCOSS notes that data shows that children under the care of the Minister are more likely to have multiple placements and therefore poorer wellbeing outcomes than their peers. NCOSS does not support the argument that this is an inherent feature of such care and would argue that efforts can, and should, be made to improve stability in placement in such care arrangements. In other words, NCOSS advocates that across all forms of care, steps must be taken to improve stability of placements. NCOSS is therefore not convinced that the proposed hierarchy of placement is necessary and that decision should be made based on the best interests of the child or young person in their particular circumstances and context.

Adoption is a dangerous enterprise:

A 2006 Swedish study identified the higher risk of suicide among adoptees, whether they were adopted from overseas or locally and irrespective of the age  adopted.[1]  Another study supports this and states:

The study of more than 1,200 Minnesota teens found that those who were adopted were four times more likely to have attempted suicide. More than 8 percent of adopted girls and 5 percent of boys had tried to take their own lives, compared to less than 2 percent of non-adopted kids …

Adopted teens also tended to have more problems that can be associated with suicide risk — such as behavior problems at school and “family discord.” But even when the investigators factored in those differences, adopted kids were still nearly four times more likely to have attempted suicide than non-adopted teens …

And although the majority of the teens (in the study) were adopted from other countries, Keyes said there was no evidence they were at greater risk of suicide attempt than U.S.-born adoptees …

parents of adopted kids need not be alarmed, but should be aware“. [2]

This was the same advice given  by researchers to Swedish adopters in the previously mentioned study – in fact the researchers recommended that anyone who adopts should be educated to be aware of behaviours that indicate their adopted child/adult is at risk of a suicide attempt as the propensity for suicide was 6 times higher than their non-adopted peers.

“Adoption agencies should inform prospective adoptive parents honestly about raised risks of compromised long-term development compared with peers in the general population … clinical agencies should state in their internal guidelines that adoptees are granted easy access to diagnostic procedures … professionals are advised to take seriously the concerns of adoptees and their parents and intervene with appropriate consideration of the high risk of suicidal behaviour”.[3]

1] Von Borczyskowski, A., Hjem, A., Lindblad, F. & Vinnerljung, B. (2006). Suicidal behaviour in national and international adult adoptees: A Swedish cohort study, Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, 41, 95-102, Retrieved 12 August 2007 from

[2] Anthony Rivas, Medical Daily, Sept 9, 2013, :

[3] Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad and Bo Vinnerljung, (2002).  The Lancet, August 10, p. 443.

In short children placed in the care of strangers are far more likely to be in the juvenile system, pregnant or unemployed and  homeless,[1]  than those who remained with families purported to be dysfunctional. These facts were supported by a 2007 study that found that children whose families are investigated for abuse or neglect, but whose children are not removed do better in life than if they go into foster care. [2] A data linkage study of 45,000 Illinois child protection cases compared children at similar risk level where some were placed in foster care and others remained at home.  School aged children on the margin of placement who remained at home had lower adult arrest rates, lower teen pregnancy rates and better employment than those placed in foster care.[3]

Researcher Joseph Doyle, an economics professor who studies social policy, was impressed at how much better children did that remained in their supposedly dysfunctional homes: “The size of the effects surprised me, because all the children come from tough families”.  Doyle’s research traced 15,000 kids from 1990 to 2002, and is the largest study to look at the effects of foster care and compare it with children from at risk families.  Doyle’s and another study done by Mark Courtney, from the University of Chicago, showed that the 500,000 children in US foster care are more likely than other kids, and that included children from at risk families,  to drop out of school, join welfare, commit crimes, abuse drugs, become teen parents and end up part of the homeless population.[4]

Doyle’s research shows that this holds true even when foster kids are compared with other disadvantaged youth. He states than an abusive family environment is harmful, but removing a child is traumatic and that is harmful in itself.[5]  To then be placed in foster care with strangers with its inherent higher risk of abuse leads to very poor outcomes for children and increased social problems.  Doyle’s study provides “the first viable, empirical evidence” of the benefits of keeping kids with their families. He states: “Our research supports family preservation”.[6]

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, stated: “Children do better with their own families than in foster care. But instead of helping families deal with the issues of poverty and substandard living conditions they have a “take the child and run mentality”. He went on to say that nearly 60% were in care because of neglect.  Neglect is defined as the failure of the parent to provide for the basic needs or provide a safe and sanitary living environment. Wexler explains that is the perfect definition of poverty and “confusion of poverty with neglect is the single biggest problem in American child welfare”.

[1] Children First Advocacy: Keeping Children & Families Together

[2] Koch, W. (2007, July 3). ‘Troubled homes better than foster’, USA Today,

[3] Doyle, (2007) ‘Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care;, American Economic Review, 97(5), 1583-1610; Scott, D. ‘Fragile Families: Handle with Care, Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] Doyle, J. (2007). ‘Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care’, Forthcoming, American Economic Review,  MITnews. (2007, July 3). ‘Kids gain more from family than foster care’,


When will Australia learn that removing children from their families creates inter-generational abuse and systemic social and economic problems. Foster care and adoption as alternative care arrangements have never protected children in the past nor saved them from trauma and/or multiple mental health problems.  It is far better to provide services to support vulnerable families and keep them intact.

Unfortunately though, according to Professor Patricia Fronek:

“It is no secret that the real political agenda is to turn Australians towards adopting children from care. That’s cheaper than government-funded foster care and providing services for struggling families”.





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For Bio info click on - About - tab and 'A bit about me' Dr. Christine A. Cole Convenor Apology Alliance Australia
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