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Adopting new law can be dangerous for kids

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Opinion piece by PeakCare’s Lindsay Wegener published by Courier Mail on 20th January 2021

The sides are drawn as Queensland politicians decide if adoption is the answer for children in state care. It comes as the Stolen Generation and thousands of other Australians are still recovering from forced adoptions in the past.

For some, the answer is simple. Unloved children at risk of being harmed by parents should be removed and adopted by those who can guarantee safety and life-long care.

For others, it’s far from simple with adoption seen as drastic and severing a child’s inheritance rights and legal ties with their birth parents. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, there are vividly painful memories of families ripped apart by adoption practices of the past. These memories are raw.

Child protection has always been vulnerable to quick-fix solutions in response to tragic events. The child protection system as we know it arose out of the case of Mary Ellen Wilson. At the age of ten she was removed from her parents in 1874.

The legal action to rescue her was initiated in New York by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals because there was no organisation for the prevention of cruelty to children.

Worldwide outrage followed about children having fewer rights than animals and very quickly countries, including Australia, created child protection laws, established authorities to investigate cases of abuse and set up specialist children’s courts.

This framework for child protection continues today and is heavily based on removing children in preference to providing better and much earlier support to struggling families. The irony is that the parents Mary-Ellen was rescued from were actually her adoptive parents.

Many who have lodged submissions to the parliamentary inquiry about the proposed amendments to the Child Protection Act are not confident there will enough families willing to adopt children who have disabilities or are suffering from the trauma of abuse or neglect. Others have recounted stories of failed adoptions, especially when children reach teenage years, and have been left in legal and emotional limbo with a sense of having been rejected all over again.

A group of National and Queensland Children’s Commissioners, the Human Rights Commissioner, Deputy Public Guardian and chief executives of key child protection peak bodies have co-signed a submission raising questions about the legislation. The concerns of such a prominent group should not be over-looked.

There are few who do not hold the view that children benefit from having permanent, stable relationships with adults responsible for their care. But adoption does not guarantee permanence or stability.

Unlike other life-long relationship commitments such as marriages, that require the consent of both parties, very young children and infants have no say about being adopted or who will adopt them. These are decisions imposed upon them by adults, mostly who are faceless strangers.

For many, past Government policies that led to the Stolen Generation and forced adoptions loom large. Both involved gross violations of the human rights of children and parents and subsequent apologies.

The Queensland Government appears confident that it has built in enough safeguards to ensure this shameful history will not be repeated. But the majority of those who have lodged submissions to the parliamentary inquiries seem unconvinced. Is adoption the best means of achieving permanent and stable care when a child is removed not only from parents but also from grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins and siblings? A new birth certificate along with removal of the birth parent’s name, expunges family history and identity.

Members of the Parliamentary Committee charged with examining this legislation and Queensland politicians who will vote on it are faced with an onerous responsibility. They must be convinced that it will, in fact, benefit Queensland children.

The wrong decisions may very well result in a future government having to, yet again, apologise for a lifetime of pain inflicted upon many.

The joint submission to the child protection inquiry was signed by the National Children’s Commissioner, Queensland Family and Child Commissioners, Queensland Human Rights Commissioner, Deputy Public Guardian and chief executives of the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak, SNAICC, the national Aboriginal and Torres Islander peak body, PeakCare Queensland and the Queensland Council of Social Service. Lindsay Wegener is the Executive Director of PeakCare.

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17 Comments

  1. Kimberley on January 20, 2021 at 3:25 pm

    A great opinion piece. I totally agree with this having worked in the industry for a number of years. I believe many carers struggle with the teenage years and make all sorts of promises when the children are little, leaving them vulnerable to being rejected once again. I also particularly like the point on consent. Many of the child I’ve worked with in state care love and value their connection with their biological family; something which is important to retain for identity.

  2. Dr Lorraine Muller on January 20, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    Safe guards, guidelines, protocols, are useless if they are not implemented. What is written and stated is happening for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, and what actually happens on the ground can be totally different.

    There are no checks to make sure Indigenous children retain connection to their culture if in foster care with non-Indigenous carers. Children’s files are not often read, and only token attention is paid to the care given to children in care by carers. Those wonderful carers who do a great job and actually care and provide a loving safe (socially, physically and emotionally) struggle to get assistance. Respite carers struggle to get paid! Whereas some ‘carers’ can treat foster children appallingly.

    Even the best non-Indigenous carer needs support and even the expectation that children in their care will retain connection to their culture. This serves vital social, emotional and spiritual protective factors for children. We know this. It has been research, and written about. Sadly few in the welfare and govt sector take time to read and value the works of numerous Indigenous Australian academics and people in the field.

  3. Karyn Walsh on January 20, 2021 at 6:02 pm

    Thanks for raising our views once again Lindsey this legalisation is so disappointing and unnecessary
    We need legalisation that ensures investment , partnerships and cross government cooperation to provide a two generational response to parents and to children together . a roadmap for permanency with family and culture . The lifelong impact of the trauma of separation from biological mothers , families and culture couldn’t be more explicit about the lifelong impacts such decisions have had on people. Every Inquiry has documented pleas of adults who were adopted or in care as children “please don’t let this happen again “
    If adoption is the best outcome we have legislation. If adoption occurs because it is legislated and parents have never been given the chance or resources to parent , to grow and change in the love for their children ,the injustice and harm will continue .

  4. Sean Boudette on January 20, 2021 at 8:43 pm

    As an adopted child, it is great that people are wanting to adopt children and give them a stable and permanent loving home. This is what I had. The one thing that needs to be left open is a road back to the birth parents. This I do not have because of no contact laws put into place years ago. I have all the details of my adoption. I even have a copy of my original birth certificate, with my birth mother’s name on it. I have made it my mission for this year to make every endeavour to find her.
    Please if you’re going to take children away from their birth parents, do not close the road back.

  5. Paul Testro on January 21, 2021 at 1:03 pm

    Thank you PeakCare Qld for your continuing efforts to promote the interests of children and families, and to inform ongoing consideration of what are very complex issues.

    Last year, the Child Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Bill was considered by the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee. I read the committee’s report and was concerned with its findings. While the Committee succinctly and accurately summarised the key issues as raised in submissions, there was a major disconnect between that and its recommendation that the Bill be passed without amendment. The arguments for this and for not recommending additional safeguards be put in place were not clearly set out.

    The passage of time means that this Bill is before the new Parliament and opportunity exists to have a more comprehensive look at the proposed Bill. It is critical that the government now take the time to consult and research further to ensure the best interests of children and families.

    The consequences of such legislation for children and families both now and into the future are too serious to do otherwise.

  6. Susie Edwards on January 21, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    Thanks Lindsay for encouraging public discussion around this important issue for Queensland families, particularly families who are likely to be impacted by the proposed changes. Karyn’s position on two generation approaches aligns with the first permanency preference, which is to work with both parents and their children. Something parents tell us we haven’t got quite right yet.

    Good points raised in the discussion about lessons not being learnt from past policies, the chasm between policy and practice, the need for collaboration within government and the sector, that policy alone will not fix or address permanency issues adequately.

    Congratulations on the submission made by the National and Queensland Children’s Commissioners, the Human Rights Commissioner, Deputy Public Guardian and chief executives of key child protection peak bodies to the committee. If we do the same, we are going to get the same.

    There are contemporary options which are more inclusive, just and less intrusive for children, parents, and families which would align with The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle and not risk severing children’s connection to their birth parents.

  7. Rachael Donovan on January 22, 2021 at 9:52 am

    Thanks Lindsay for highlighting important concerns in this contentious issues. Whilst adoption has been touted as a panacea for increasing stability in the lives of children in the care system, we must remember that the children themselves have no say in this crucial life long decision that severs ties to their birth families. Children have a right to participate in decisions about their lives, and the move toward adoption effectively takes away their rights to family (including extended family and both current and future siblings). Furthermore, parents and families should be supported to overcome disadvantage that often creates the conditions for child protection concerns as permanency at home should never be dismissed.
    Adoption should only be considered if the child is included in the decision, which means other ‘permanency’ pathways should be used when the child is too young to be involved in the decision.

  8. Leith Sterling on January 25, 2021 at 8:30 am

    Thank you for continuing to raise awareness of this issue, Lindsay.

    I’m an Executive at The Benevolent Society and we support the call for additional safeguards to protect the individual and best interests of the child if this new legislation passes and adoption is elevated as a preferred option.

    Decisions about permanency must be subject to independent oversight to make sure the child’s rights are met both prior to and following approval. If a child is unable to live safely with their family of origin or kin, adoption may be one option for achieving stability and permanence, provided that this is in the best interests of the child and ongoing post-adoption support is provided, as we know that this need will arise in their lifetime.

    The evidence tells us that the main focus for all levels of government should be on supporting at-risk families and preventing the need for children to enter the child protection system in the first place – it is far better to intervene early to prevent problems occurring than to try to address them once they’ve become entrenched.

  9. Bridget on January 25, 2021 at 10:28 am

    My sister was forced to give up her only child. We NEVER wanted her lost to us!!!!!! We are NOT allowed to know her!!!!! We have NEVER stopped grieving for our lost baby.

  10. Toni Cash on January 27, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment Paul; Lindsay for giving us another chance to think through and comment on this very complex issue; and to the Commissioners and CEOs for their considered and united response to this matter before our Parliament.

    I too am deeply concerned with the findings of the Committee and cannot understand the link between the summary of the complexity of the issues raised in submissions and the recommendation to pass the Bill without amendment.

    Like others commenting here, I have spend an extensive amount of time working with children and families in the child protection system. Queensland already has the capacity of adoption as one of a suite of permanency options available to children requiring protection in our state. We are really struggling in Queensland to make use of our existing options well and appropriately. Prioritising one form of permanency over others is not the answer. Skilled casework and rigorous and balanced assessments of children’s needs; enough resourcing of families to help them in their journey to achieve permanency for their children; and dealing with the poverty and disadvantage that impacts children and their families should be at the heart of the conversation we are having together as a sector and with government. Adoption exists now and can be used when good casework (from the sector and the department in partnership together with each other and with children, parents and families) and good assessment inform us that this is the right permanency option to pursue. Our attention would be better focussed on working on how we overcome the disadvantage that brings families into contact with the Child Protection system in the first place (thanks Rachael and others here).

  11. Pauline Sullivan on March 30, 2021 at 2:22 pm

    I have worked in the system for the past 20 years in Victoria. What worked well under the Victorian legislation was a Permanent Care Order not adoption. Where a child who has been removed from the parents care for 3 or 4 years with no change being made, sometimes one parent might have deceased. We had a Permanent Care Team who would assess carers, often these carers could not have children. It was a thorough assessment and if approved by a panel of experts they would be matched to a child or children. A couple whom i worked with ended up with 6 children all siblings because mum kept having children and she could not care for them. The difference between a Permanent Care Order and Adoption is that there is a condition on the order that the children have at least 4 contact visits with their biological parents per year, they can also send letters and photos to keep them connected to their identity which is really important.

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