The NSW Government has introduced new rules making it mandatory for all children in ‘out-of-home’ care to find a permanent home within two years of entering state care.
This means that children who are unable to be returned safely to their parents will be able to be adopted by new families.
These changes to the current over-emphasis on ‘family preservation’ at almost all costs are desperately needed — in NSW and in all other states and territories too — to prevent the harmful ‘drift’ or instability (repeat placement moves and repeat entries into care) suffered by the tens-of-thousands of Australian children who spend most of their childhoods in long-term care.
Lack of permanency — the safe and stable home all children need to thrive — leads to poor outcomes in life experienced by many children who leave care after they turn 18.
Nevertheless, critics argue that the NSW adoption reforms are a ‘grab the child and run’ policy that will ‘steal children’ all over again, without properly supporting parents to change and safely keep their children.
These emotive claims ignores the sweeping nature of the Their Future’s Matter child protection reforms under way in NSW. The centrepiece of these reforms includes ensuring that all parents with children at risk of entering care or in care receive targeted support services to help keep as many families together as possible.
A two-year deadline — a long time in the life of a child — for parents to get their acts together before adoption, may seem harsh but is essential to reset the pendulum that has swung too far in favour of defending parent’s rights to the detriment of protecting children’s rights
The NSW reforms are nationally significant — and are a politically-viable model that can be emulated by policymakers in other states — because they debunk the idea that adoption is some kind of child stealing ‘fast resort’.
In reality, adoptions in NSW will only occur after the best efforts to support parents have tried and failed to fix families, and only as the last resort in the best interests of children who otherwise will drift in damagingly unstable care without finding a ‘forever family’.
Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies, and author of Resetting the Pendulum: Balanced, Effective, Accountable Child Protection Systems and Adoption Reform in Australia published this week.
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