In the wake of debate created by a recommendation to “routinely and genuinely” consider adoption as a suitable permanency option for children made by Deputy Coroner Jane Bentley in her findings into the tragic death of Mason Jet Lee, the Federal Government’s Assistant Children and Families Minister, Michelle Landry has waded in and created a furore by making an extraordinary claim. In promoting her own views about adoption, Ms Landry has stated that “child protection systems must have the moral courage to remove at-risk children”.

PeakCare, similar to many other organisations, academics and individuals, has significant concerns about the excessive use of adoption and holds reservations about a number of aspects relating to the Deputy Coroner’s recommendations. PeakCare entirely rejects the notion that our concerns or those held by others are borne out of a lack of “moral courage”.  It is an offensive accusation. Whatever opinions may be held about adoption, it must be assumed that all who participate in the debate hold children’s best interests at heart and they do not deserve to be chided for expressing their views. Ms Landry’s comments are divisive and polarise opinions when, in reality, a much more nuanced discussion is required to explore and research where and when adoption can most suitably fit within the range of options that must be extended and made available to match the needs and circumstances of individual children. There is no place for quick-fix, one-size-fits-all responses to children’s needs, whether that be adoption or any other supposed solution.

PeakCare has no qualms whatsoever about adoption being “genuinely considered as a suitable permanency option”. Our concern is that other options must also receive the same genuine consideration, and this was not stated within the Deputy Coroner’s report. There are very few who would disagree with the goal of achieving permanence in the arrangements made for each child’s care and allowing them to achieve a sense of belonging and connection with trusted adults upon whom they can always rely. This is especially true for very young children under the age of three, as highlighted in the Deputy Coroner’s report.

Regrettably, the Deputy Coroner’s recommendation focuses only on adoption as the means for achieving this. It ignores the other means of achieving permanence and stability in children’s care which, for most children carry far lesser risks than adoption. These risks include irreversible disruption to their lifetime connections with extended family – their brothers and sisters especially, both those who exist now and those yet to be born – and the damage that can be caused to children’s formulation of their identity especially during their adolescent years when many adoptions in the past have failed with devastating impacts to the lives of both these children and their adoptive parents. Of course, this was not the experience of all, but it was the experience of far too many.

Rather than presenting adoption as a means to an end, the Deputy Coroner has depicted adoption as an end in itself – a fundamental flaw and dangerous muddling of the purpose of the child protection system. This is exacerbated by the recommendation that the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women report to the Coroners Court the numbers of children adopted and the details of those matters, every six months for the next five years. What benefits can possibly be achieved from reporting on this one matter in isolation from reporting on the full range of strategies being employed to achieve the safety and wellbeing of children and the permanence and stability of their care arrangements?

Moreover, why is the Department being required to report to the Coroner’s Court when there is a legislated responsibility held by the Queensland Family and Child Commission to monitor the operations and effectiveness of the child protection system? Surely it is the Commission that is far better placed to monitor and evaluate whether or not adoption is being appropriately used (or mis-used) within the context of the child protection system as a whole. Should this reporting not be directed to them?

It is obvious that the adoption recommendations will have an alarming impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. They more than any other group know what it is like to have had their children’s connections with family, kin, communities and culture ripped apart as a result of adoption practices of the past. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples themselves are, of course, far better placed than PeakCare to speak to their concerns about the Deputy Coroner’s recommendations. Giving credence to the recommendation places at threat significant gains made since the time of the Carmody Inquiry in investing in earlier support to families when struggles start to emerge, and far better and increased use of kinship care when children may be unable to remain in the care of their parents, at least for a while. These are initiatives that benefit not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, but non-Indigenous children as well. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities however, acceptance of the recommendation will constitute a breach of the slowly developing, but understandably guarded, trust in the State Government that it is truly committed to self-determination – a trust that will be hard to recover.

PeakCare fully appreciates that questions about the use of adoption can become a contentious matter and there may be a range of opinions held about this matter. PeakCare embraces a diversity of views – it simply means that we must engage in further research, discussion and debate. You are therefore strongly encouraged to enter comments about any of the matters discussed in this blog below, or over on PeakCare’s Facebook page. No matter what view you express, please be assured that PeakCare will not accuse you of lacking “moral courage” in making your views known.