New CIS paper: Rest of nation must follow NSW adoption reforms to protect children

Jeremy Sammut

11 November 2017 | MEDIA RELEASE

cis logo 640x360(National Adoption Awareness Week Nov 13-20)

Within 10 years, the number of Australian children living in state care — and suffering the resultant poor life outcomes — will have nearly doubled to more than 86,000, unless the rest of the country follows NSW’s lead in addressing the problems with the child protection system, Centre for Independent Studies researcher Dr Jeremy Sammut says.

His latest research paper outlines that this growth, and the impact on children of lacking a stable childhood home, could be stemmed if the NSW policy approach was followed by other states and territories.

In Resetting the Pendulum: Balanced, Effective, and Accountable Child Protection Systems and Adoption Reform, Dr Sammut shows that if state and territory out-of-home care systems continue to grow at the same rate as during the previous 15 years, more than 86,000 children will be in state care nationally by 2025-26.

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“Since 2000-01,” says Dr Sammut, “the number of maltreated children living in foster and other kinds of government-supported care has grown by 155% from 18,241 children to 46,448 in in 2015-16.”

“But although more than 31,000 of these children had been in care for more than two years and have little prospect of safely returning home, only 70 were adopted out of care nationally in 2015-16; 67 in NSW and just 3 across the other seven states and territories.”

“The appalling difference between the remorseless increase in children in care compared to the low number of adoptions shows ‘family-preservation at all costs’ policies have swung the pendulum too far in favour of parent’s rights at the expense of children’s right to have the safe and permanent homes all kids need to thrive.

“As National Adoption Awareness Week highlights, this results in ten of thousands of children suffering ‘system abuse’ — poor outcomes in life due to the harmful ‘drift’ and ‘churn’ suffered in unstable, long-term care without achieving permanency.

“Thankfully, NSW is leading the way in breaking the adoption ‘taboo’. The doubling in adoptions out of care to 127 in 2016-17 is welcome – if slow – progress.”

“More importantly, the NSW’s system-wide child protection changes are debunking the myth that more adoptions mean repeating past mistakes and ‘steal’ children all over again.”

“Under the Their Futures Matter reforms, the NSW Government is investing in targeted early intervention and family support services for all families with children in, or at risk of, entering care to assist parents to change and keep families together wherever possible.”

“A new outcomes-based contract and funding system will also require the non-government providers that manage half of all out-of-home care placements to find all children a permanent home within a two-year maximum deadline after entering care. If (non-indigenous) children can’t go home safely, an application will be made in the Supreme Court for an adoption order.

“The two-year deadline may seem harsh,” says Dr Sammut, “but is essential to reset the pendulum, and prevent the harm done to children who otherwise will drift in unstable, long-term care.

“This is not ‘grabbing kids and running’ as critics claim. Adoptions will not occur in NSW as the ‘fast resort’, but only 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.”

“This is why the ground-breaking NSW reforms are of national significance – they mark a turning point in the overcoming the taboo on adoption.”

“By emulating the NSW blueprint, policymakers in other states can — far from ‘child stealing’ –reset the pendulum throughout the nation, and protect the right of all children to have a permanent family for life.”

Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies, and author of the book The Madness of Australian Child Protection. His research report, Resetting the Pendulum: Balanced, Effective, Accountable Child Protection Systems and Adoption Reform in Australia will be released at 11.59pm on Saturday November 11. Dr Sammut will speak at Adopt Change’s ‘Connections for Life: National Permanency Conference’ during National Adoption Awareness Week.

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