A STOLEN GENERATION IN THE MAKING
Pru Goward’s Broken Promises
Prue Goward misled the people of New South Wales. Before being elected to government she stated that she was going to “adopt a family preservation model” and stop overloading the foster care system making it unsafe for children. After the election, rather than focusing on supporting families so they could reunite the policy suddenly changed to permanent removal of their children through adoption. Giving families rigid timeframes, without supportive services, to get their lives in order otherwise lose their kids forever. Before elected she complained that the number of children removed from their families was “out of control” and that NSW “removes more children than any other state”.  She promised if the Coalition won government it would work to reduce removals “By working more with families” and that “there would be far fewer removals with children being safer”. Goward blamed the expansion of mandatory reporting for burdening the system, the taxpayer and making the system inefficient.
Once elected however, Goward did a complete turn around. No longer was the foster care system ‘so overloaded it was failing’. She claimed it was because the annual budget for out-of-home care had doubled from $304 million in 2004-2005 to $694 million in 2010-2011 because of “the increasing number of abused and neglected children”. The budget had blown out, but for all the reasons Goward had identified prior to her election, not because more children were being abused. This was a complete distortion of the truth. Claire Tilbury conducted research that identified the reasons for the increased number of children in the foster care system. The focus has been on quick removal rather than family preservation. Children are going into care at younger ages and staying longer. Tilbury stated there are a number of dynamics at play creating obstacles for a child being reunited with its family or for family preservation strategies being implemented. Hence over time there has been an accumulation of children in the out-of –home care system. Could this be the result of privatising the care industry – as placing and keeping a child in foster care is financially expedient for the non-government organisations now contracted to facilitate care? The fact children are kept in care longer coupled with the impact of mandatory reporting creates another problem, there are not enough reputable foster carers, hence state contractors have employed foster carers that are not properly screened. This has led to numerous complaints and currently many carers are under investigation. This is discussed later.
It is important for policy considerations to understand the real reason for the increase in the number children in care otherwise there will be implementation of very poor public policy. A case in point is Goward’s introduction of the punitive legislation that underpins Forced Adoption which she justifies by stating it is to curb the increase of children in foster care and to provide more stability in placement. Unfortunately this speaks more to her pro adoption agenda than resolution of a societal problem. For instance, at 30 June 2001, there were 18,241 children in out-of-home care across Australia. By 30 June 2008, this had risen by 73.6% to 31,166 children. The prevalence rate of children in care increased from 3.9 per 1000 in 2001 to 6.3 per 1000 in 2008. However, there had been little change in the number per year of children entering out-of-home care across Australia over the period. A total of 12,030 children were admitted to out-of-home care across Australia in 2000-2001 compared with 12,891 in 2007-2008, an increase of 7.2%. The rate per 1000 of admissions to out-of-home care across Australia in that period increased slightly from 2.5 to 2.6 per 1000. Hence the inflow each year has remained steady. In some states, the rate of admissions declined. In Victoria the number of admissions increased over the period by just 1%. In NSW the number of admissions decreased by 1.7% from 4,542 to 4,467 over the 8 year period.
Mandatory reporting differs across states and territories. This impacts on the number of children placed in out-of-home care in the various jurisdictions For instance, the persons who may report, the criteria used to determine types and levels of abuse that meet notification requirements are not uniform across Australia. An example of which is the following case study which highlights the fact that even after abuse in the foster care industry was exposed the numbers admitted to care increased sharply.
A Crime and Misconduct Commission Inquiry into the abuse of children in foster care commenced implementation in 2004. The Commission investigated allegations of sexual and physical abuse of children in foster care. There were two investigations of misconduct conducted on officers of the Department of Families and “many other complaints” against departmental officers accessed. In short children removed from their families supposedly for their protection were placed with individuals who sexually and physically abused them. When officers were alerted to the abuse they failed to remove the child from their foster homes. The Report identified significant failings within the child protection system and concluded that “over a long period of time the Queensland child protection system itself failed to deliver the support and services required for children at risk of abuse”. It recommended a serious overhaul of the system. However Claire Tilbury noted: “It is ironic that an inquiry finding widespread abuse of children in foster care should be followed by a spike in admissions of children to foster care”.
An explanation for this spike may be that in 2005 nurses were included as mandatory reporters in Queensland under the Public Health Act 2005 (Qld.) sect 191 & 192. Additionally Queensland mandatory reporting is wide and includes notification if the person has a reason to suspect the child is “likely to be harmed” by any person (not just those who reside in the same domicile) and includes the criteria of psychological and/or emotional abuse. Tilbury concludes: “Queensland data are largely responsible for a “status quo” rate of children entering care every year for Australia. If Queensland was out of the picture, or showed the same pattern as other jurisdictions, the entry rate to care each year would have declined Australia-wide”. Tilbury hypothesised that the number of children in foster care increased over the 8 years of her research because “reunification efforts waned as permanency planning captured policy attention”. And that “adversarial stances with parents have contributed to concentrating the permanency debate on adoption and permanent care orders”, rather than alternative options for stability such as keeping the family intact.
The Commission suggested that reunifications were not undertaken as there existed a conflict of interest with protection workers who on the one hand made the notification about the child being at risk and on the other selected the foster carers. To avoid this conflict it recommended that these two functions should be conducted by separate entities in which case the child had a better chance of reunification with its family. The recommendations of this report were not heeded. This had led to the recent damning report by the latest inquiry into the Queensland care industry. Commissioner Carmody stating that there were systemic failures made worse by significant over reporting with the protection industry failing to protect the most vulnerable. He said there should be a “better system to support families and avoid children being put into state care” in the first place. Babies and toddlers under 3 however, are to be fast tracked to adoption. I will discuss this later. The Queensland government has accepted the major provision of the Inquiry that: “Parents and families should take primary responsibility for the protection of their children and that, where appropriate, parents should receive the support and guidance they need to keep their children safe. It is only as a last resort that the government should intervene in a statutory role to ensure the protection of children who are at significant risk of harm”.
Unfortunately for NSW, Goward has not properly researched the reasons behind the high number of children presently in foster care. She is rushing down the path from which the Queensland Government is currently trying to extricate itself. Her agenda, I suggest, is going to make an already bad situation worse. She knows the problems and the solutions, but is failing NSW families because of her pro adoption stance. After she was elected there was no more discussions about reuniting families or family preservation, nor any attempt to provide additional support such as services for housing, disability, alcohol, drug treatment, mental health and family violence. Rather Goward blamed vulnerable families and began slashing money from her troubled Department. Barbara Perry, Shadow Minster for Family and Community Services, stated “For the first time in over a decade, the budget for Family and Community Services has gone backwards. This year’s budget expenditure is $1.4. billion, down from $1.6 billion last year … There are two gaping holes in the budget – no extra funding for both early intervention and family restoration programs and inadequate support for the transfer of foster care to Non Government Agencies”. Perry states: “and this was after Goward promised on the ABC program Lateline, that she was going to use enormous resources to get these families straight”.
Goward has divulged the real reasons she had a change of heart: saving money and a willingness to promote the interests of childless couples. Interestingly these two objectives are not mutually exclusive. Goward is implementing a short sighted fix to remedy the welfare budget blow out by remedying the lack of babies/infants for “childless couples”. Many of who are now finding it difficult to become parents as “overseas adoption is almost impossible”. This is not the outcome of “red tape” or bureaucratic bungling”, but because one after the other countries are closing down because of the levels of corruption in the intercountry adoption system. Full of child trafficking, black markets and corrupt middle men countries have either stopped or considerably reduced the number of infants they are sending abroad to meet the needs of comparatively wealthy westerners. Save the Child UK states that up to 98% of babies in orphanages have a living, but impoverished parent. All have relatives. Further recent research has shown that the child’s best interests are rarely considered or their rehabilitation with their biological family prioritised over international procedures. It is rarely the last resort it is supposed to be. In fact, research has shown that international adoption is associated with an increase in the numbers of children in residential care rather than a decrease in both sending and receiving countries. An important fact to note is that when the money goes out of the adoption market the number of “orphans” who need “saving” drops accordingly – and the number of adoptable BABIES drops to zero. This should stand as a warning – turn the out-of-home care into an industry and ruthless market principles prevail.
Why Pru Goward wants to follow the US model of “grab the baby and run” is unfathomable. A superficial investigation into the US’s unregulated billion dollar adoption industry or the UK’s show they are both riddled with unquestionable practices, exploitation of women and a vehement disregard for maternal rights. The US industry is criticised by child welfare experts both here and in the US for being enormously wasteful, totally inefficient and completely failing to protect the children within the system.
When one unpacks the spin Minister Goward is using to promote Forced Adoption what she is really proposing is reduced parental rights, separating out a child from its kin, community and culture and making its transfer to strangers more socially accepted. It once again gives those in more powerful positions the right to decide, who is and who is not, ‘fit’ to rear children. Professor Ainsworth describes the rush to take children for adoption as supplying “babies for the deserving”.
 Jones, G. (2011, Mar 3). ‘NSW Coalition plan for kids in care to return to their families’, Daily Telegraph http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/coalition-plan-for-kids-in-care-to-return-to-their-families/story-fn7q4q9f-1226014979888
 Tovey, J. (2011, Nov 11). ‘Children to get families not foster care’, SMH, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/children-to-get-families-not-foster-care-20121121-29qap.html#ixzz2mDrLQa4m ; Barnardos Australia Submission to Queensland Child Protection Inquiry September 2012, http://www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/162384/Barnardos_Australia_Voigt_Louise.pdf
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 Jones, G. (2011, Mar 3). ‘NSW Coalition plan for kids in care to return to their families’, Daily Telegraph, http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/coalition-plan-for-kids-in-care-to-return-to-their-families/
 Smith, A. (2011, June 23). ‘Children at risk to miss out on $1.3b’, SMH, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/children-at-risk-to-miss-out-on-13b-20110622-1gfkz.html
 Hanna, B. (2013). Agents, Stewards and Co-Producers: Using theory to examine the outsourcing of out-of-home care in NSW, Unpublished Masters of Politics and Public Policy, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, MacquarieUniversity
 Tilbury, D. (2009). ‘A ‘Stock and Flow’ analysis of Australian Child Protection Data, Communities, Children and Families Australia, 4(2), p. 12.
 Mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect (2013). AIFS http://www.aifs.gov.au/cfca/pubs/factsheets/a141787/
 Brendan Butler. (2004, Jan). Protecting Children: An Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Foster Care, Crime and Misconduct Commission Queensland, p. v. http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CC0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cmc.qld.gov.au%2Fresearch-and-publications%2Fpublications%2Flegislation-review%2Fprotecting-children-an-inquiry-into-abuse-of-children-in-foster-care.pdf&ei=rQzNUs_MCdGnkgWqu4HYCw&usg=AFQjCNEnKLwMuF_UVXQ2zic9iHMeittrcw&sig2=yZnhTVByURFOQiRp7qedCg
 Ibid p. v
 Tilbury, D. (2009). ‘A ‘Stock and Flow’ analysis of Australian Child Protection Data, Communities, Children and Families Australia, 4(2), p. 14.
 Mathews, B. P., Walsh, K. M., Farrell, A. & Butler, D. A. (2006). ‘Mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect: legislative developments and questions for future direction’. In, Protect All Children Today Conference, Sept, 2006, Brisbane, Australia; Mandatory notifiers and reporting http://www.communities.qld.gov.au/childsafety/protecting-children/about-child-protection/mandatory-notifiers-and-reporting
 Tilbury, D. (2009). ‘A ‘Stock and Flow’ analysis of Australian Child Protection Data, Communities, Children and Families Australia, 4(2), p. 14.
 Ibid p. 15
 Brendan Butler. (2004, Jan). Protecting Children: An Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Foster Care, Crime and Misconduct Commission Queensland, p. 96.
 ‘Queensland inquiry recommends pulling back on child abuse reporting’, (2013, July). National Affairs, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/queensland-inquiry-recommends-pulling-back-on-child-abuse-reporting/story-e6frgczx-1226672542882
 Michael Madigan, (2013, Dec 16). ‘Child protection revolution to adopt suffering toddlers out of hell’, The Courier-Mail, http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/child-protection-revolution-to-adopt-suffering-toddlers-out-of-hell/story-fnihsrf2-1226783634203
 Queensland Government Response to the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry Final Report: Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection. (2013, Dec). Queensland Government (Foreword) http://www.communities.qld.gov.au/resources/reform-renewal/qg-response-child-protection-inquiry.pdf
 Scott, D. (2007, Dec 18). ‘Children need protection from the grassroots up’, SMH, http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/children-need-protection-from-the-grassroots-up/2007/12/17/1197740178867.html?page=2ildren need protection from the grassroots up
 Barbara Perry MP, Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services (2012). Media Release: Goward Rhetoric at total odds with her Budge, 12 June
 Silmalis, L. (2011, Nov 11). 46 Adoptions in NSW this Year: 18,000 kids in care searching for a home: 500 families desperately waiting to adopt a child’, Daily Telegraph, p. 31.
 Barnardos Australia Submission to Queensland Child Protection Inquiry September 2012, http://www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/162384/Barnardos_Australia_Voigt_Louise.pdf
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 Citing Chow and Brown (2008) in Brown K.. (2009). The risk of Harm to Young Children in institutional Care, Save the Children UK, Better Care Network, at p. 19 http://www.nottingham.edu.my/Social-Sciences/documents/TheRiskofHarm.pdf
 Voigt, K. (2013) Sep 16). ‘International adoption: Saving orphans or child trafficking’, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/16/world/international-adoption-saving-orphans-child-trafficking
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 Scott, D. (2002). ‘A promise unfulfilled on child abuse’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 26(5), pp. 415-416
 Ainsworth, F. & Hansen, P. (2009). Babies for the Deserving: Developments in Foster Care and Adoption in one Australia State – Others to Follow?, Just Policy, No. 50 April 20. http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2010-13/commcontribformerforcedadoption/submissions