Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill

Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, Legislative Council Hansard, 26 March 2014

The Hon. JAN BARHAM [6.28 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens to speak on the Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill. I indicate at the outset that The Greens hold serious concerns about the approach taken by some of the key reforms proposed in this bill. I believe it must be amended to ensure it will address the best interests of children and young people in this State. It is beyond doubt that there is a desperate need to do more to look after the wellbeing and safety of children in New South Wales. The statistics from our child protection system are nothing short of alarming. There are more than 18,000 children in out-of-home care in New South Wales, making up almost half of the total number of children in care across Australia and giving us the second-highest rate of out-of-home care placement behind the Northern Territory. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are severely over-represented in child protection. More than one-third of the children and young people in out-of-home care in New South Wales were identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and the rate of out-of-home-care placement, at 83.7 children per 1,000, is nearly 12 times higher than the rate for non-Aboriginal children and young people.

The high rate of children placed in out-of-home care in this State is not a new problem, but it continues to worsen. Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that at 30 June 2002, New South Wales had 8,084 children in out-of-home care, a rate of five per thousand. By 2008, that had risen to 13,566 and a rate of 8.4 per thousand. At 30 June 2012, the figures were 17,192 and 10.5 per thousand. The rate of children and young people in out-of-home care more than doubled in that decade. I take this opportunity to read from the executive summary of the report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in New South Wales 2008. It said:

The key principles which underpin the Inquiry’s reforms are as follows. Child protection is the collective responsibility of the whole of government and of the community. Primary responsibility for rearing and supporting children and young people should rest with families and communities, and with government providing support where it is needed, either directly or through the funded non-government sector.

It went on to say:

The child protection system should comprise integrated universal, secondary and tertiary services, with universal services comprising the greater proportion. They should be delivered by a mixture of the non-government sector and state agencies, with DoCS being a provider of last resort.

Many of the failures of our child protection system were highlighted by the Wood special commission of inquiry, which reported in late 2008. Since those findings, both the Labor and Coalition governments have introduced a range of policy reforms and new programs in an effort to address the challenge of improving child protection and preventing abuse and neglect. The Keep Them Safe action plan is now approaching the end of its five-year term. The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children commenced at the same time, in 2009, and is into the second of its three-year action plans. The commitment of State and Federal governments of all persuasions to attempt to improve safety for children is not in doubt, but clearly we need to do more, and we need to understand how to do it right.

The national framework, along with the comments of many experts and those working in the sector, make clear that we need a much greater focus on investing in prevention. From a public health perspective, putting far greater emphasis on primary and secondary services is crucial to reduce the numbers in the child protection system and deliver improved outcomes. These services include the universal supports, to assist all families, and the targeted supports, to prevent those who are in disadvantaged and at-risk groups from reaching crisis point. Unfortunately, these investments, which would help to break intergenerational problems and improve wellbeing, are the sorts of long-term strategies that are too often swept aside by governments dealing with the pressures of a three-year budget cycle and media pressure over current failings at the tertiary end of the system. They are also, to a large extent, beyond the statutory part of the child protection system and cannot be addressed within the bill before us today. However, I note that the interests of this State’s children and young people, and the future demands on many of our community, justice and health services, rely on governments making the commitment to take that long-term focus and begin doing much more to deliver prevention and early support services across our cities and regions.

The Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill seeks to introduce some additional steps to prevent the placement of children in out-of-home care through the introduction of new parent capacity orders and reforms to the current provisions for parent responsibility contracts, which have rarely been used because of the legal risks they expose parents to. Any efforts to create possibilities that head off the move toward child removal and placement in out-of-home care deserve consideration. If we can deliver appropriate, targeted support services to help parents to address risk factors and become able to provide a safe home for their children then we should absolutely do so.

Unfortunately, at present the provisions in the bill create the orders and contracts and provide that they place obligations on the parents to undertake treatment, drug testing or other interventions, but they do not give enough certainty that the supports and services these parents need will be delivered. In introducing the bill the Minister announced that some additional funding—$35 million—would be provided to support the rollout of these reforms, including the provision of more early intervention services. This is a small, positive step, but the allocation of overall funding does not guarantee that parents will get the specific support they require to improve the safety and wellbeing of their family. The bill does not provide for their situation to be prioritised.

We know that there can often be waiting times to access services. In regional areas there may be difficulties with the availability and location of services. The services also need to be suited and appropriate to the needs of the parent. If we are unable to ensure adequate and appropriate service delivery then any contracts or orders will be setting parents up to fail. When they do not meet the requirements placed on them—no matter what the reasons might be—they risk being placed in a situation of seeing their children removed. I recently sat on the General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 inquiry into drug and alcohol treatment, which heard about the delays and lack of services. There are not enough services available and it appears that there is a lack of recognition of the time it may take for someone to recover from substance abuse. The UnitingCare submission to that inquiry, dated 21 March 2013, said:

Research undertaken by UnitingCare CYPF in 2012 indicated a significant shortage of beds available to women with children who require residential drug and alcohol treatment in NSW. In November 2012, fewer than 100 beds were available to women with children who required such a service, and all of the services reported long wait-lists. Many of the services will not allow teenage boys to stay with their mothers, and very few residential drug and alcohol services existed for single men with children. Availability of appropriate crisis services such as these is essential for tackling underlying causes of neglect.

Submissions on the Child Protection Legislative Reforms Discussion Paper, which the Government released in late 2012 and which provided the basis for the bill before us, highlighted the concerns about service delivery. The Greens will move amendments to improve the bill’s framework, to assure service delivery. I acknowledge that the Hon. Penny Sharpe has also foreshadowed that the Opposition will be moving amendments. The Greens amendments will require that any contracts or orders must provide clarity and detail about the services that the parent is expected to engage with, the time frames and other details involved and, importantly, any assistance that will be provided by Community Services or by non-government agencies to help to ensure that the parent has every possible opportunity to address the issues affecting the safety of their family. We regard these as crucial to ensuring that the efforts to prevent removal by delivering earlier forms of intervention will be effective.

Although the focus on delivering services aimed at preventing the need for out-of-home care placement is welcome—and we believe that it can be made effective through our proposed amendments—the bill’s proposals to modify the framework for permanency planning are more troubling. In particular, in her comments in the Parliament and in the media, the Minister has emphasised her plan to increase the rates of adoption of children from out-of-home care, an approach that has led the Premier to label these reforms as “radical”. This increase in adoption is to be achieved by creating a hierarchy of options to be considered when deciding on which permanent placement choice to pursue for each child in out-of-home care. It begins with family restoration and proceeds to family or kinship guardianship, after which adoption becomes the preferred option.

The Greens do not support the pursuit of adoption as a solution to the challenges facing the child protection system and consider it an inappropriate and ineffective way to ensure the wellbeing of children who have been placed in out-of-home care. The inclusion of adoption as part of a standard decision-making framework, to be applied in all cases where it has been decided that restoration of a child to their parent is not realistic, risks permanently removing the legal relationship and connection between parent and child in a way that may be unnecessary and against the best interests of the child. Many submissions to the Government’s Child Protection Legislative Reform Discussion Paper, which proposed not only this move to promote adoption but also included proposals to allow greater capacity to dispense with consent and even to remove a parent’s right to be informed of a proposed adoption from out-of-home care, highlighted that adoption may be appropriate in some cases but that this must be decided based on the individual circumstances and with careful consideration.

There are a number of reasons that promoting adoption as a general principle is inappropriate within child protection. The evidence does not clearly establish that adoption itself produces better outcomes. The quality and stability of placements are important. These need to be addressed in the foster care system, through improved management and resourcing, and could be addressed via options such as well-supported guardianship. Associate Professor Judy Cashmore stated in her paper entitled “What can we learn from the US experience on permanency planning?”:

As Lahti found, the well-being of children in adoptive homes, in foster care or returned home was related to their sense of permanence in the placement, not to their legal status.

I heard in a number of speeches in this place and the other place reference to evidence about adoption being better than stable, secure and permanent placement. That just is not true. The evidence is not there. The submission by the Council of Social Service of New South Wales [NCOSS] on the child protection legislative reform discussion paper emphasised the importance of stability as a principal consideration that is not as simple as preferring one form of placement to another. The submission states:

NCOSS notes that data shows that children under the care of the Minister are more likely to have multiple placements and therefore poorer wellbeing outcomes than their peers. NCOSS does not support the argument that this is an inherent feature of such care and would argue that efforts can, and should, be made to improve stability in placement in such care arrangements. In other words, NCOSS advocates that across all forms of care, steps must be taken to improve stability of placements. NCOSS is therefore not convinced that the proposed hierarchy of placement is necessary and that decision should be made based on the best interests of the child or young person in their particular circumstances and context.

We must also recognise that adoption placements, particularly with children affected by a history of abuse or neglect, can break down in the same way as other placements. Associate Professor Judy Cashmore also noted:

“[Adoption] needs to be carefully considered because, as noted earlier, adoptions can also break down, and at rates that are not markedly different from long-term foster care when the age at which children are placed is taken into account.”

Other submissions on the Government’s discussion paper raised concerns about a range of risks and potential legal complications that arise when adoption is part of a standard permanency planning process. These include that children may be cleared for adoption, but without adoptive parents being available. The UnitingCare submission noted:

One such consequence is the possible creation of a pool of “adoption orphans” – children who have adoption orders but do not have any prospective adoptive parents. A review of research from the US by Judy Cashmore … describes the likely negative psychological impact of being an “adoption orphan”:

Being ‘freed ‘for adoption but ‘not chosen’ is perhaps one of the worst possible outcomes for children; it leaves them in limbo without a legal parent and is more likely to undermine rather than increase any sense of permanence or security for these children.

Others, including Legal Aid NSW, warned that the elevated prospect of adoption could increase contested legal matters, which would undermine the efforts in other parts of the bill to promote alternative dispute resolution and constructive engagement to address risk factors. Ongoing support of adopted families and the impact of increased involvement in adoption evaluations for the child welfare sector also were raised in submissions. I note with concern that this Government previously reduced funding that is provided to support families who adopt from out-of-home care. Given that, as I already have noted above, the issues of stability in placement breakdown are not as distinct from other forms of care placement as the reforms seem to presume. The funding and support issues are further reasons for concern about negative impacts for the promotion of adoption in this bill. This submission from the Benevolent Society states:

In relation to long-term guardianship orders and adoption, it is essential that ongoing financial and practical supports are available so that children and young people have access to opportunities that promotes their social and emotional development as well as services to address the often complex needs.

If the proposed hierarchy is adopted, the elevation of adoption means that non-government out-of-home care service providers will increasingly play a role in adoption. To do so they must be trained and resourced accordingly, including being able to access legal advice.

In short, adoption must be considered with extreme caution based on the circumstances of each individual case. Implementing a legislative requirement that the director general consider adoption whenever restoration has been deemed unrealistic, along with including it in a standardised hierarchy for decision-making, undermines the capacity to give adoption this necessary case-by-case consideration. When we are talking about such a permanent and irrevocable step as adoption, this is unacceptable. Referring to question 12 in the discussion paper, the UnitingCare submission states:

The Adoption Act 2010 (NSW) is underpinned by the principles of open adoption and capacity for contact with birth families in an attempt to prevent the tragic impacts of adoptions policies that led to the Stolen Generation and the forced adoptions. Because of the profound effects of poor public policy in adoption, UnitingCare CYPF advises caution in relation to objectives to “fast-track” and/or “relax” requirements of adoption legislation and policy.

Internationally, the move to fast-track adoptions has in some cases created hurried, poorly-matched placements resulting in poorer outcomes and adoption breakdowns.

I certainly hope that in 10 years time whoever is in this Parliament is not having a sad debate about how this could have happened and making yet another apology. There is no argument that timely decision-making about permanency planning and care arrangements are an important aim. It is a crucial part of managing out-of-home care casework to pursue and ensure stability in the care arrangements of a child while, whenever possible, seeking to address risk factors and promote permanency. However, there also needs to be flexibility to recognise that change can take time, progress may not always go without interruption or setbacks, and that a crucial part of case management is recognising that sometimes a quick decision may not turn out to be the right decision.

Although the bill offers the court some discretion to extend this time frame, The Greens maintain—as did a number of submissions to the child protection legislative reform discussion paper—that determining the time frame for permanency planning decisions, particularly for considering the possibility of deciding that restoration is no longer a realistic possibility, is a matter for policy and casework rather than something that should be fixed in legislation. The existing Community Services policy aims to meet the time frames this legislation would introduce to the Act. This is where they should remain. The bill includes a range of other provisions that will change the way our child protection system operates. Some, such as the increased focus on alternative dispute resolution processes like family group conferencing, offer promise for a system that engages parents in a constructive effort to head off risk and develop a path towards a better parenting capacity, safer families and improved wellbeing. The effectiveness of these approaches will depend on the Government delivering the framework, the resources and the funding to genuinely support at-risk families.

In launching this bill the Government labelled it as aiming to provide children with “a safe, stable home for life”. Presented in isolation and repeated as a slogan, it seems hard to fault this as a principle. But as is often the case, when we discuss what is in the best interests of children and young people we find that equally valid principles can come into conflict with one another. Children should have the opportunity to build and maintain a connection with their family to the extent to which they are able. Moving to rapidly sever relationships through adoption—albeit a process of “open adoption” that allows some contact—undermines this opportunity. I read with interest that in 2001, at the time when adoption was being proposed by the current Opposition and then Government, Mr Hazzard, the member for Wakehurst, raised the idea that the best interest of the child should not exclude the very important issue and essential principle of children’s interests being part of a continuum. He referred to a report and stated:

… all reasonable efforts should be made to preserve and unify families but where this isn’t appropriate all reasonable efforts should be made to place the child in permanent care.

Children should not be subjected to neglect and abuse. Too often that is a product of an intergenerational cycle in which disadvantage and lack of capacity pass on the most terrible harms and the worst lessons to the parents of the future. Sadly, we see all governments doing too little about this important and obvious issue.

Lack of transparency and accountability on public housing sell-off

Question on notice asked on 30 January 2014, answered by Government on 6 March:

5404—Family and Community Services—SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT INTO MILLERS POINT PUBLIC HOUSING

Ms Barham to the Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, and Minister for the Illawarra representing the Minister for Family and Community Services, and Minister for Women—

When will the Social Impact Assessment into the sell-off of public housing in Millers Point, including the questions asked of residents as part of the assessment process, be made publicly available?
How many responses were received from Millers Point residents to the surveys carried out as part of the Social Impact Assessment into the sell-off of public housing?
Answer—

Information relating to social housing in Millers Point will be available once the NSW Government’s plan is ready for release.

Question without notice, 19 March 2014:

The Hon. JAN BARHAM: My question is directed to the Minister for Ageing, and Minister for Disability Services, representing the Minister for Family and Community Services. Will the Minister advise the House why the sell-off of nearly 300 public housing properties at The Rocks and Millers Point was announced less than two weeks after my questions on notice about resident consultation were left unanswered? Will the Minister advise the House why the sell-off was announced less than one week after representatives of Housing NSW and the Land and Housing Corporation appeared at the inquiry into social, public and affordable housing? Will the Minister advise the House why the Government’s sudden announcement, which will have a huge impact on the lives of those communities, demonstrates a fundamental lack of openness, transparency and respect for those residents?

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I thank the honourable member for her question. At the outset I indicate that I do not agree with the latter parts of the member’s question. The O’Farrell-Stoner Government is committed to a sustainable public housing system. That includes making sure public housing resources are being distributed fairly across New South Wales so that as many people as possible can be helped. This morning the Minister for Family and Community Services announced that the New South Wales Government will sell its public housing properties in Millers Point, Gloucester Street, and the Sirius building in The Rocks due to the high cost of maintenance, the significant investment required to improve properties to an acceptable standard and high potential resale value.

The Government did not take this decision lightly, but it is the right decision in the interests of a sustainable and fair social housing system. This system currently has more than 57,000 families on the waiting list. The long waiting list is due to the failure of those opposite when they were in Government for 16 years. Those opposite failed the people of New South Wales for 16 years. The proceeds from the sale will be reinvested directly into the public housing system. That is the fundamental point. Maintenance on properties in Millers Point costs more than four times the average for public housing dwellings in New South Wales. In the past two years nearly $7 million has been spent maintaining this small number of properties. Subsidies to tenants in the last year reached almost $9 million, with individual tenants receiving subsidies as high as $44,000 per annum. Let us compare that to other places. This compares to the subsidy of $8,000 per year in Campbelltown, $7,000 per year in Gosford and $11,000 in Wollongong.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I call the Hon. Peter Primrose to order for the first time.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: For every subsidised tenancy in Millers Point the Government could assist three to five tenants elsewhere, which means that three to five tenants on the waiting list are missing out on housing because the Government is subsidising these properties.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I call the Hon. Peter Phelps to order for first time. Order! I call the Hon. Sophie Cotsis to order for the first time.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: When the former Labor Government began selling off public housing in Millers Point in 2008 it let other properties fall into disrepair. There was failure on its part for 16 ears. The former Labor Government left us with repair bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore some of these terrace houses to heritage standards.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Sophie Cotsis has other occasions during proceedings of the House when she can raise this issue. The honourable member should not shout at the Minister for the duration of his answer. Other members, including the Hon. Peter Primrose, the Hon. Penny Sharpe and the Hon. Walt Secord should bear that in mind as well. The Minister has the call.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: The community expects us to invest in a sustainable social housing system that supports disadvantaged people across the entire State.

The Hon. JAN BARHAM: I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate on his answer in relation to the third part of my question?

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I thank the member for the opportunity to continue. The Government’s ability to assist more people on the waiting list is severely limited if it sinks millions of dollars into a small number of properties. I recognise that some of these tenants have lived in public housing in Millers Point for decades and that moving to a new location may be difficult. Today the Minister has announced that a team of more than 40 Housing NSW staff is already on the ground talking to and assisting these tenants. Over the next three months a specialist relocation team will work with each and every tenant to understand their needs, and work with them and their families through this relocation. It is a relocation; no-one is telling these tenants that they will not have housing into the future. It is a prioritising of the proper approach by the Government. These staff are senior client services staff who have been selected for the role. Initially each tenant will be visited to undertake a housing needs assessment.

The Hon. Sophie Cotsis: You are throwing them on the street.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: The Hon. Sophie Cotsis should be ashamed of herself, and the record of her government. I say shame on her. This assessment involves understanding the individual needs of each member of the household and discussing their preferences for relocation. Any special needs will be identified in detail, including any medical needs, mental health issues, disabilities and other complex needs. The same officer will work with the tenant throughout the process of relocation. All reasonable costs of moving, including reconnecting utilities, will be covered by the Government. [Time expired.]

Question without notice, 20 March 2014:

The Hon. JAN BARHAM: My question is directed to the Minister for Ageing, and Minister for Disability Services, representing the Minister for Family and Community Services. Will the Minister advise what proportion of the proceeds from the sale of public housing in Millers Point and The Rocks will be spent on the construction of new social housing? Given that the Government has still not produced the Asset Portfolio Strategy that the Auditor-General recommended be completed in December 2013, and that the use of proceeds from previous sales in the area have not been transparently accounted for, what guarantee has been given to the more than 57,000 people on the social housing waiting list that the money from the sell-off will deliver much-needed housing stock and will not be used as a temporary fix for the Government’s $330 million maintenance shortfall?

The PRESIDENT: Order! I am sure the Hon. Jan Barham was hoping to receive an answer from the Minister, not from the rest of the Chamber.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I thank the member for her question. Let me assure her, as I indicated only yesterday, that all of the proceeds will go back into the public housing sector. I repeat: all of the proceeds. The Hon. Pru Goward has made it clear—

The Hon. Sophie Cotsis: Even the Minister didn’t say that.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I cannot hear you when you mumble. Speak up a little bit so I have a chance of hearing you.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I do not want to hear her at all. The Minister has the call.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: The Hon. Pru Goward has made it clear that the purpose of selling the properties is so that substantial money can be reinvested in public housing. Members opposite screamed and carried on when I mentioned the list. They should have listened when I spoke on this question the other day. I will read the list to them again and maybe this time they will listen.

The Hon. Jan Barham: Point of order: My point of order is relevance. I specifically asked about the breakdown between maintenance and new housing.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I think the Minister thus far has been largely generally relevant in his answer. He should ensure he remains so during the balance of his answer.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: As I stated previously, the former Ministers responsible for public housing made it clear in a number of statements that these properties needed to be sold so that the proceeds could be reinvested in public housing. That is what the Government is doing. I made it clear on the last occasion that the maintenance costs for these properties can be as high as $44,000 per annum, compared with other properties that cost only $8,000 to $10,000 per annum. This means there will be substantially more money. The Hon. Pru Goward announced that the Government will sell its public housing properties—and this is the list as I announced it—in Millers Point, Gloucester Street and the Sirius building in The Rocks. The Minister said the reason for the sale was the high cost of maintenance and that the significant investment required to improve properties to an exceptional standard will result in a high potential resale value. It is a pity members opposite did not listen on the previous occasion.

See also:

Millers Point Public Housing Statement

The O’Farrell Government today announced the sale of 293 public housing properties in Millers Point and the Rocks with the move expected to displace more than 400 public housing tenants.

This is despite the fact that they have to date failed to undertake a complete assessment of the housing stock in question and that they have not developed a staged strategy to ensure certainty for the public housing tenants affected.

Greens MP and Housing Spokesperson, Jan Barham said:

“It is simply unacceptable that the government has made this announcement without notifying residents, and only days after it fronted the Parliament’s Housing inquiry.

“Affordable and appropriate housing is a basic human right and there is already too little social housing stock within Sydney’s CBD and surrounds.

“The Government is selling off housing without a strategy for how it will manage its public housing system, while residents have been left without answers about the potential disruption to their community and lives,” Ms Barham said.

Greens MP and Planning spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“This is a government that cannot see beyond short term financial gains, to long term future planning for our communities.

“In the face of a severe housing affordability crisis in Sydney, the O’Farrell government is selling off some of the most centrally located public housing in the city.

“With the failure to provide any serious affordable housing units in the State’s largest construction site at Barangaroo and now the sale of Millers Point properties it is clear that this government sees no place for social housing anywhere near the CBD.

“We need to break down barriers for social inclusion, avoid the ghetto like public housing precincts of the 1970s and retain the kind of housing mix that makes Millers Point so successful,” Mr Shoebridge said

Media Contact:

Jan Barham 0447 853 891

David Shoebridge 9230 3030

The Greens NSW Parliamentary update on Disability Services

Check out this report from Jan for a round-up of Parliamentary activity in the Disability Services portfolio. It provides an update relating to Disability Services, including the NDIS and the recent enabling legislation. It also includes Parliamentary questions regarding some of the concerns regarding the Hunter trial / launch and the implementation of the NDIS, including the transfer of assets and staff to the NGO sector.

An open letter to Samantha Connor, disability advocate

Dear Samantha,

I appreciate your concern about the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities that has prompted you to write this open letter.

The Greens NSW support the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including the rights of persons with disabilities to equality of participation in all aspects of life, including through participation in the community and access to housing. At the moment the principles in our policy on disabilities include a number of statements about people’s rights and the need to remove barriers to inclusion; however our policies are currently under review and we are working to include even stronger recognition of the importance of these rights. Large residential centres (LRCs), as they are called now, are inconsistent with those rights. As the 2010 Ombudsman’s report that you mentioned in your letter states, they are incompatible with our commitment to the rights of people with disabilities, despite any improvements that have been made over past conditions.

Having made clear that position, I note that the issues regarding the Stockton Centre and the forum to be held in Newcastle have been complicated by the fact that there are several different changes involved, and it is important to separate them out. Along with the closure of LRCs, at the moment the Stockton Centre is affected by the move to a person-centred service model under the NDIS, as well as the NSW Government’s plan to transfer assets and services to the private sector and to no longer deliver government-run services.

The decision to close LRCs through a process of devolution and/or partial redevelopment was first announced in 1998 and has been a commitment of successive NSW Governments, but it is only recently that an announcement was made about the Stockton Centre closure and discussions with residents and families have only just begun. This has prompted concern among some of the residents and their families – as well as staff and members of the community – about what the announced changes mean, what choices and future living arrangements the residents will have access to, and how the current uncertainty will be resolved. As a Member of Parliament I have attempted to listen and respect these concerns and work to gain clarity from the Government.

I have visited the Stockton Centre and met with families who are concerned about the process and wish to remain in place. We are attempting to ensure that as families engage in the assessment and planning process that their choices – including in some cases the wish to remain at Stockton – will be respected while ensuring they have access to all necessary and appropriate services. The Minister has provided assurances that there will be some redevelopment on the site to develop appropriate accommodation for those who wish to remain in place, and we will continue to ask questions and seek further information to ensure that this process produces the right results for everyone. We have also heard concerns about the role that some services (e.g., dental care) provided at the Centre to the broader community and are attempting to seek clarification about the continuity of those services.

Unfortunately the issue of moving from LRCs to appropriate, individually-chosen housing models has become confused with some other issues where there are reasons for concern. Because these centres are within the area for the Hunter launch (or trial) of the NDIS, this process is taking place at the same time as questions are being raised about the adequacy of the funding model. Also, the NSW Government last year passed legislation that allows it to transfer assets and personnel to the private sector, and by 2018 there will be no state-delivered disability services. There are a range of industrial relations and workforce issues involved in this, and we are again working to ensure that the concerns of those who are affected will be addressed. My office is also raising questions about how the Government will address issues such as services that the non-government sector might be unable or unwilling to provide, such as in regional areas, and whether a workforce strategy is in place to meet the sector’s future demand.

I hope that this message clarifies our position and that the Greens are committed to respecting the rights of people with disabilities and ensuring the best outcomes in accommodation and services for all people with disabilities. I will include some links below to questions I have asked in the Parliament as part of this process of seeking to ensure that the processes taking place are being monitored and producing the best possible outcomes.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any further issues you would like to discuss.

Regards,
Jan Barham, the Greens NSW spokesperson on Disability Services

See also Senator Rachel Siewert’s open letter.

Concerns regarding adoption provisions in the Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill

The Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 introduces a set of permanent placement principles (proposed section 10A) which would see adoption considered whenever a child or young person (other than children and young persons identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) cannot realistically be restored to his or her parents or placed in the guardianship of a relative, kin or suitable other.

Also, a proposed change to section 83(4) would require that the Director-General must consider whether adoption is appropriate any time it has been determined that restoration to the child’s parents is not realistic.

Concerns about this proposed approach to including adoption, which permanently severs the legal relationship between parents and child, include that:

Evidence does not establish that adoption produces better outcomes – instead, stability and quality of placements are important, which needs to be addressed by improving the management and resourcing of foster care placements:

“As Lahti found, the well-being of children in adoptive homes, in foster care or returned home was related to their sense of permanence in the placement, not to their legal status.” – A/Prof. Judy Cashmore, What can we learn from the US experience on permanency planning?, (2001) 15 Australian Journal of Family Law 215-229.

“NCOSS notes that data shows that children under the care of the Minister are more likely to have multiple placements and therefore poorer wellbeing outcomes than their peers. NCOSS does not support the argument that this is an inherent feature of such care and would argue that effort can, and should, be made to improve stability in placement in such care arrangements. In other words, NCOSS advocates that across all forms of care, steps must be taken to improve stability of placements. NCOSS is therefore not convinced that the proposed hierarchy of placement is necessary and that decisions should be made based on the best interests of the child or young person in their particular circumstances and context.” – NCOSS Submission on the Child Protection Discussion Paper.

Adoption in conjunction with legislative timeframes for decision-making about permanency risks unjustly terminating parents’ relationship with their children:

“There is a real risk that the proposed implementation of adoption will lead to poorer outcomes for children and/or unjust outcomes for their families. The following examples illustrate this point [see section 6.10 for detailed examples of unjust and permanent adoption outcomes]” – Bar Association Submission on the Child Protection Discussion Paper.

Adoption placements, particularly with children affected by a history of abuse and neglect, can break down in the same way as other placements, despite the supposed legal certainty and finality adoption provides:

“[Adoption] is not a panacea and is likely to be appropriate in only a small number of cases. It needs to be carefully considered because, as noted earlier, adoptions can also break down, and at rates that are not markedly different from long-term foster care when the age at which children are placed is taken into account.” – A/Prof. Judy Cashmore, What can we learn from the US experience on permanency planning?, (2001) 15 Australian Journal of Family Law 215-229.

Including adoption in a standard decision-making hierarchy risks leaving children cleared for adoption but without adoptive parents available:

“One such consequence is the possible creation of a pool of “adoption orphans” – children who have adoption orders but do not have any prospective adoptive parents. A review of research from the US by Judy Cashmore in 2001 describes the likely negative psychological impact of being an “adoption orphan”:

Being ‘freed’ for adoption but ‘not chosen’ is perhaps one of the worst possible outcomes for children; it leaves them in limbo without a legal parent and is more likely to undermine rather than increase any sense of permanence or security for these children.


– UnitingCare CYPF Submission on the Child Protection Discussion Paper.

Adoption of children from out-of-home care will require additional resources that are not built into the current system, for both the organisations working in the sector as well as adoptive families:

“The amount of hours of casework and administration that is required to process adoption orders is significant and currently there is no funding to cover the costs of additional work.

“While there are only a few agencies in NSW that are accredited to do adoption work for children and young people in OOHC, more training will be required for agencies that will now have to do this work as a result of this proposed hierarchy being accepted.” – Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) Submission on the Child Protection Discussion Paper.

“In relation to long-term guardianship orders and adoption, it is essential that ongoing financial and practical supports are available so that children and young people have access to opportunities that promote their social and emotional development as well as services to address the often complex needs.

“If the proposed hierarchy is adopted, the elevation of adoption means that non-government out-of-home care service providers will increasingly play a role in adoption. To do so they must be trained and resourced accordingly, including being able to access legal advice.” – Benevolent Society Submission on the Child Protection Discussion Paper.

If placement in out-of-home care creates a clear and direct risk that adoption could be pursued in relatively short timeframes, parents will have a disincentive to engage with child protection and support services and may be more likely to dispute placement in care:

“The privileging of adoption in the hierarchy … may lead to an increase in contested matters and longer court delays. Parents are more likely to contest the grounds for the orders and resist their children being placed in care if they are aware that this could result in their adoption, especially without their consent.” – A/Prof. Judy Cashmore’s Submission on the Child Protection Discussion Paper.

“There are other impacts of including adoption in the hierarchy that concern Legal Aid NSW. We are concerned that it would lead to an increase in contested matters. Presently few matters proportionally are litigated to the conclusion of a defended hearing. Many parents consent to a final order, advised that they still have open to them the option of returning to court by way of a section 90 Application some time in the future. A parent is unlikely to concede to a finding that there is no realistic possibility of restoration knowing that an adoption will result.” – Legal Aid NSW Submission on the Child Protection Discussion Paper.

Although labelled “open” adoption, limits and thresholds on contact arrangements risk undermining children’s opportunity to maintain connections with their family:

“The proposal that final contact orders will only be made for a period of 12 months is highly concerning. While flexibility may be important, a child has a right to maintain relationships and have contact with their family unless it is contrary to their best interests … The threshold test of ‘a significant change in any relevant circumstances’ is the current threshold to bring a section 90 application to rescind or vary court orders … It would be a significant denial of access to justice to impose such a high threshold on access to court regarding an issue of such a basic human right as the ability to maintain a relationship with one’s parents.” – Community Legal Centres NSW Issues Paper on the Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 2013.

For more information about the Bill and what you can do, see:

National Parks at risk from tourism activities

The recommendations of an inquiry into the impacts of tourism would leave NSW National Parks at risk from development and fossicking, warns Greens MP and Tourism spokesperson Jan Barham.

“I’m alarmed that the inquiry has recommended allowing the development of tourist accommodation and supporting fossicking within parks. This is a missed opportunity to recognise the importance of reserving pristine natural areas, and the value it contributes to the state’s tourism appeal,” Ms Barham said.

“The NSW Visitor Economy Taskforce’s Action Plan documented that nature and wildlife experiences are a key drawcard for the tourism industry in NSW. We need to maintain the state’s reputation for protecting the natural appeal of NSW.”

Ms Barham noted that building structures in National Parks was unnecessary and undermined the commercial tourism potential for local landholders.

“Aside from the impact of development on the park environment, landowners who are adjacent or near to these protected areas will miss out on opportunities to develop accommodation on private land.”

Ms Barham called on the Government to reject any activity that would undermine the quality of National Parks and erode the state’s tourism appeal.

“There is an unfortunate trend for governments, including this NSW Government, to remove protections from our most precious natural areas. I hope the Government sees that this would damage a major source of appeal for visitors, affecting communities and tourist operators across the state,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Visitor Economy Taskforce Final Report 2012 p. 34:

“It is the natural, unspoilt locations which most appeal to potential intrastate and interstate visitors to NSW. Wildlife, beach and coastal experiences are also highly appealing to potential visitors…”

Tourism Inquiry Report and Recommendations

Notice of Motion – Biennale of Sydney

Notice of Motion given 5 March 2014:

1. That this House notes that:
(a) The Biennale of Sydney is a popular cultural event that adds value to the lives of the people of NSW,
(b) The Biennale of Sydney was established in 1973 by Franco Belgiorno-Nettis and Transfield,
(c) The 19th Biennale, from 21 March – 9 June 2014, with free entry, will take place at a variety of venues around Sydney with more than 85 artists, including many from overseas and many up and coming Australian artists as well as more established ones,
(d) The 19th Biennale of Sydney, with a budget of some $10 million, has received financial support from many sources including $1.4 million from the NSW government, and substantial funding from the Australia Council as well as benefactors and supporters including some $600,000 from Transfield interests,
(e) Deloitte Access Economics reported that the 18th Biennale of Sydney in 2012 added $56 million to the NSW economy, and that
(f) The 18th Biennale was a free event and attracted some 665,000 visitors making it one of the premier cultural events in NSW.

2. That this House notes that:
(a) Art presents an opportunity for a range of diverse opinions to be expressed publicly
(b) Many artists participating in this year’s Biennale of Sydney, on 19 February 2014, wrote an open letter to the Board of the Biennale expressing concern that Transfield; including Transfield Services which has secured contracts with the Australian Government to provide services to detention centres in Manus and Nauru Islands; will receive value adding from their support of the Biennale and want the Board to cut ties with Transfield due to the mandatory detention of refugees on those two islands,
(c) These artists wanted “to extend this discussion to a range of people and organisations” and requested an urgent response from the Board and invited them “into this process of engagement”,
(d) Following a meeting on the 21 February, The Board of the Biennale of Sydney on 22 February 2014, responded to this open letter from the artists expressing empathy for their concerns but maintained that “The only certainty is that without our Founding Partner, the Biennale will no longer exist” and then encouraged the artists to express their concerns through their art,
(e) The five artists who withdrew from the Biennale on 26 February 2014, Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Charlie Sofo, Gabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt, have done so with financial loss to themselves .

3. That this House encourages artists to freely express their concerns through their art to bring matters of importance to the attention of audiences;

4. That this house congratulates the artists who withdrew from the 19th Biennale of Sydney for taking a stand on Australia’s position on the treatment of refugees.