Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table. 3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.
When I started researching the nation’s child protection crisis a decade ago, there were approximately 35,000 children living in out of home care in Australia, and only 35 of these children where adopted from care in that year.
In 2016, with over 46,000 children in care nationally, only 70 children were adopted — with all but 3 of these adoptions occurring in NSW.
This means — as my book showed — that tens-of-thousands of children are continuing to spend the majority of their childhoods in highly unstable care without finding the permanent homes that all children need to thrive.
However, the good news is that in 2017, adoptions from care in NSW more than doubled to 127.
This is slow but significant progress. The credit is due to the nation-leading child protection reforms implemented in NSW since the election of the O’Farrell government in 2011. And those reforms reached a milestone this week.
Adopt Change has been appointed to deliver a new program — ‘My Forever Family’ — designed to halve the time children spend in care before finding a permanent home through either successful restoration with parents, or through guardianship and adoption.
Predictably, critics have again zeroed in on the taboo subject of adoption — and falsely claimed it is being used as a quick fix to solve the problem of rising numbers in care in NSW.
But as my recent research report explained, the NSW reforms are investing heavily in targeted early intervention and restoration services designed to ensure as many children as possible can stay home safely and be reunited safely with their parents.
This means adoptions will only occur in NSW as the last resort to achieve permanency for children after the best efforts to assist struggling parents have failed.
By implementing a two year deadline (a long time in child’s life) within which permanency must be achieved, the NSW reforms have struck the right balance between attempting to keep families together and protecting children’s vital need for safe and stable homes.
However, what NSW has also done is something I and advocates of the greater use of adoption have long argued for.
This is to swing the pendulum of the child protection system back from the ideologically-driven pursuit of family preservation at almost all costs — regardless of how long, unstable, and ultimately damaging a child’s time in care ends up being — and instead ensure more children find permanent homes via adoption.
It’s gratifying that the NSW Government has heeded this message. The next step is to ensure the ‘NSW model’ is emulated in all states and territories in children’s best interests.
Much has been said about the federal government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP). Launched in 2015, supporters have hailed the scheme as one of the ‘proudest achievements’ in Indigenous affairs. However, I have criticised the policy, arguing it is interventionist and can undermine the benefits of the free market.
The overall impact of the IPP will take years to become clear. However, some lessons are being learned at a state and territory level, where governments are introducing their own procurement strategies.
The New South Wales government recently released its own Aboriginal Procurement Policy (APP). The Minister for Finance and heads of NSW Procurement consulted with the CIS on the development of this strategy — and it appears some of our recommendations have been implemented.
Significantly, the APPs the certification of a business’s Indigeneity will be far more wide-ranging than its federal counterpart. Under the IPP, Supply Nation was appointed the sole certifier of Indigenous businesses. Contrastingly, the APP will see this process open to a larger list of organisations — as long as a set of minimum standards are adhered to.
The benefits of this are clear to see. With multiple certifiers available in the market, Aboriginal businesses will have the power to choose who they pay their membership fees to. This will create an environment for competition between certifiers, who will have to continually improve their product in order to attract more members.
For business owners, this means certification becomes about far more than a confirmation of Indigeneity. Organisations such as Supply Nation and the NSW Indigenous Chamber of Commerce will be incentivised to offer more benefits — such as business skills training and networking opportunities — to win over suppliers.
This is a boost to Indigenous businesses, many of which were frustrated when Supply Nation effectively became a monopoly after it was chosen as the ‘winner’ for the federal IPP — rendering the businesses’ memberships of other organisations virtually void.
Indigenous suppliers face numerous challenges, such as poor financial literacy and limited business connections. However, fostering competition amongst businesses support organisations will undoubtedly help overcome these.
In his extraordinary 2009 book The Beautiful Tree, James Tooley revealed how low-cost private schools were providing education to the poorest people in the world and changing their lives for the better.
This remains the case, but not everyone is happy about it — including the local teacher unions. Recently and inexplicably, teachers unions in the UK and Australia have also started protesting against private schools for the poor in Africa, claiming they entrench inequality.
Private schools in developing countries are almost all small family businesses, located in city slums where public schools are crowded and inadequate, or in isolated villages where there is no public school. Very poor families willingly pay a small but significant proportion of their income so their children can have a decent education.
Some private education in developing countries is delivered in school chains run by corporations. The largest of these is Bridge International Academies, which gives teachers centrally-developed lesson plans and resources based on the national curriculum. This is a huge advantage in places where state-accredited teachers are difficult to come by, or are restricted from teaching in private schools. Thanks to funding from private investors and governments in developed countries, these schools are also affordably priced.
It sounds like an efficient way to provide education to the estimated 600 million children in developing countries who would otherwise miss out, doesn’t it?
Not according to organisations ideologically opposed to private schools — even if it means children go without an education. Education International, an international federation of teachers unions, is backing the claims of Kenyan teachers’ unions that Bridge schools provide substandard education in unsafe conditions, despite there being no proof of this, even in EI’s commissioned report. In solidarity, the UK National Union of Teachers has held protest rallies against foreign aid supporting Bridge schools.
Bridge International Academies opened its first school in Kenya 10 years ago and now has 600 schools in five countries. Like most low-cost private schools, its students achieve academic results higher than the national average (with lower per-pupil expenditure).
But the most convincing evidence that the unions are wrong is that Bridge schools are schools of choice. Why would so many parents intentionally waste the little money they have? As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia said, “this distinction between public and private shouldn’t matter; a school’s outcomes should.”