Budget falls short on investment to break the cycle of disadvantage

The NSW Budget has attempted to manage the crisis facing vulnerable people and families but lacks the vision to break the generational cycle, warns Greens MP and spokesperson on Family and Community Services and Housing, Jan Barham.

“If this Government trumpeted investments in support for disadvantaged people and families like it does for roads, we could secure long-term reductions in risk, harm and homelessness. Investing in prevention and early support services will deliver long-term savings and reduce the need for crisis services in the years and decades to come,” Ms Barham said.

“The Budget includes some new funding to address the crisis in child protection and homelessness services, but the Government’s own projections show they aren’t expecting reductions in the number of people who need those services.

“The Government has again failed to display the long-term vision required to deliver what the evidence shows is required – a major investment in prevention and early supports for vulnerable families, combined with secure and affordable housing to address the massive social housing waiting list.”

Ms Barham noted that despite announcements of additional support for Community Services caseworkers, the number of risk reports and number of children in out-of-home care are expected to remain high in 2014-15.

“Improvements to casework, record-keeping and data systems are much needed, but they help to manage the crisis and don’t ensure that the next generation won’t be exposed to risk of harm. The budget for targeted earlier interventions has only risen by a few per cent, and the Government doesn’t expect these services to be accessed by many more people in the coming year than they have currently served.

Ms Barham also noted the relatively small capital investment in generating new social housing.

“Social housing accounts for around 2.5% of the Government’s proposed capital expenditure, while tens of thousands wait for social housing. If we are serious about preventing homelessness and helping vulnerable people, who are already being hit hard by the Federal Budget, we need to make delivering shelter to people in need a priority for capital investment,” Ms Barham concluded.

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

Background: NSW Budget 2014/15 Family and Community Services Cluster

NB: Real expenditure changes based on 2.25% 2014/15 CPI as forecast in the NSW Budget

Targeted Earlier Intervention

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Community Builders – unchanged at 224,000
  • Staying Home, Leaving Violence – increase from 4,660 to 4,700
  • Child, Youth & Families services – unchanged at 54,000
  • Calls to DV line – unchanged at 22,000
  • Families in Brighter Futures – increase from 2,700 to 2,800

Budget for Targeted Earlier Intervention:
2013/14 (revised): $246.2 million
2014/15 (budget): $257.7 million (real increase of 2.4%)

Statutory Child Protection

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Child & young person concern reports – increase from 267,800 to 284,300
  • Children & young people involved in a concern report – increase from 111,800 to 116,400
  • Children & young people reported at ROSH – increase from 70,400 to 75,000
  • Children & young people with ROSH reports receiving face-to-face assessment – increase from 36.9% to 37.5%

Budget for Statutory Child Protection:
2013/14 (revised): $444.0 million
2014/15 (budget): $451.1 million (real decrease of 0.6%)

Out-of-Home Care

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Children in OOHC – unchanged at 18,900 (NB: revised figure up from forecast 18,400)
  • NGO placements – increase from 52% to 61%
  • Average cost, all children – increase from $43,000 to $45,000

Budget for Out-of-Home Care:
2013/14 (revised): $817.3 million
2014/15 (budget): $852.0 million (real increase of 2.0%)

Social Housing Assistance and Tenancy Support

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Households assisted in social housing – unchanged at 140,500
  • Households assisted to rent privately – increase from 19,000 to 20,000

Budget for Social Housing Assistance and Tenancy Support:
2013/14 (revised): $810.0 million
2014/15 (budget): $811.1 million (real decrease of 2.1%)

Homelessness Services

Changes in service measures 2013/14 Revised vs 2014/15 Forecast

  • Households assisted with temporary accommodation – unchanged at 14,300
  • People receiving assistance from a Specialist Homelessness Service – increase from 52,000 to 54,000

Budget for Homelessness Services:
2013/14 (revised): $250.0 million
2014/15 (budget): $265.4 million (real increase of 3.8%)

Premier Baird must stand up for the vulnerable harmed by a cruel Federal Budget

Premier Mike Baird must use Sunday’s meeting of chief ministers to raise the harms the Federal Budget would cause for disadvantaged groups and the pressures it would place on NSW services and programs, says Greens MP Jan Barham.

“The Federal Budget has cut enormous holes in this country’s safety net and is set to put already vulnerable people at risk of poverty, homelessness and deep disadvantage.

“The biggest impacts in this budget will be felt by the people who are least equipped to deal with further challenges,” warned Ms Barham, the Greens NSW spokesperson for Ageing, Disability Services, Aboriginal Affairs, Housing, and Family and Community Services.

Ms Barham’s call comes ahead of Sunday’s meeting of state and territory government leaders in Sydney to discuss how they will deal with cuts to Commonwealth funding.

“The cost-shifting in health and education are obvious concerns for the state and territory governments, including NSW. But the cuts and changes to programs that support younger people, older people, people with disabilities, Aboriginal communities, the homeless and those at risk of homelessness will see the state government faced with increasing numbers of people in crisis,” said Ms Barham.

“Changes to pension eligibility and indexation will push people deeper into poverty. Removal of housing investment and support will drive people further into housing stress. The withdrawal of funding to Aboriginal services and programs will widen the gap. This is a budget that promotes inequality, and the unfair burden will fall on those who can least withstand it,” Ms Barham said.

“Instead of providing people with support and opportunity, this Budget is going to leave vulnerable people under greater pressure to overcome the challenges they face, while they receive far less assistance and support.

“The Premier needs to make the case that investment in that support is crucial to securing people’s wellbeing and preventing them from suffering harm,” Ms Barham concluded.

Adjournment speech on the Federal Budget from the NSW Legislative Council, 14 May 2014:

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

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.

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:

Child Protection Forum: Setting Families up to Succeed

When: Tuesday, 4th March 2014, 1pm-2:30pm
Where: Parliament House Theatrette, Macquarie St, Sydney

More than five years after the Wood Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services and despite policy reforms and action plans at state and federal levels, the number of children in out-of-home care has continued to rise. With new child protection legislation before the Parliament, it is essential to consider the direction NSW can take to provide the support families need and to prevent the risk of harm to children and young people.

Child's painting of four faces showing emotions

A panel of presenters will discuss the need for early action and targeted, appropriate support services for parents and children. How can we transform our early intervention and child protection systems to better support family preservation and restoration? What strategies, services and funding are required? What can we learn from the experiences of those currently involved in child protection and out-of-home care? What are the long-term benefits of improvements in child welfare and wellbeing?

Please join us to discuss these important concerns.

Hosted by Jan Barham MLC, Greens spokesperson on Family and Community Services.

Panel of speakers includes:

  • Brad Delaney, PACT Program Manager, and Noel Walker, Workforce Development Officer, AbSec
  • Danielle Schmid, NSW State Coordinator, and a young consultant, CREATE Foundation
  • Alison Peters, CEO, Council of Social Service of NSW (NCOSS)
  • Dr Wendy Foote, Deputy CEO and Director Policy and Membership, Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA)
  • Anne Hollonds, CEO, Benevolent Society
  • Liz Snell, Law Reform and Policy Coordinator, Women’s Legal Services NSW

All are welcome. Please RSVP to Jan Barham’s office, jan.barham@parliament.nsw.gov.au or (02) 9230 2603.

Fact sheet: Troubling proposals in new child protection legislation

Have you heard about the Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill?

The NSW Government has introduced proposed changes to the child protection system that the Premier himself labelled as “radical”. These changes were initially outlined in a discussion paper released in late 2012 and have caused concern among many stakeholders.

Read the Bill

What are the key changes in the Bill?

  • New agreements and court orders for early interventions that aim to improve parenting capacity in at-risk families, including before a child is born. [Sections 38A-38E]
  • Fixed timeframes to make a decision about whether children who have been removed from their family have a realistic chance of being restored. [Section 83]
  • A hierarchy of preferred ‘permanency’ options which considers adoption whenever a non-Aboriginal child cannot be in the care of a family member. [Section 10A and related sections]

What should you be concerned about if these proposals become law?

  • Although some additional funding has been promised for early intervention services, a much greater focus on investment in targeted supports for vulnerable families is required. Agreements and orders put requirements and risk of removal onto parents without any guarantee that appropriate services and assistance will be available.
  • The timeframes are unrealistic and don’t reflect the time needed to help people change their lives. As Minister Goward herself said, “You can’t say to somebody with drug and alcohol addiction, ‘Right, you’ve got three months to sort yourself out’, because you are setting them up to fail.”
  • Adoption is not a solution to the high number of children in out-of-home care, does not guarantee more stability or better outcomes compared to well-managed and supported foster care. Adoption severs the existing family connections and although it is called “open adoption”, parents have no input and limited capacity for contact with their children once the process has been finalised.
  • Although the Government states that the Aboriginal placement principles remain in place, the other amendments to promote adoption risk weakening these principles and could result in culturally inappropriate orders for adoption of Aboriginal children.

Where can you find out more?

What can you do about these proposals?

Write to Minister Goward about your concerns and ask her to reconsider. Write to your local MP and the members of the Legislative Council raising your concerns and asking them to ensure any legislation supports families with early action. Send copies to my office.

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Child Protection: Adjournment Speech, 26 November 2013

The Hon. JAN BARHAM [11.18 p.m.]: On Thursday 21 November 2013 the Minister for Family and Community Services introduced the Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. Like many members of Parliament I will be taking a very detailed look at what the Premier termed “radical” legislation in a press conference last Thursday. I will be consulting with a broad cross-section of stakeholders and talking with parents, grandparents, foster carers and children who have experience with the crisis-driven New South Wales child protection system. Prior to the formal introduction of the legislation a large number of non-government organisations, including Community Legal Centres NSW, Domestic Violence NSW, and Australian Lawyers for Human Rights sent an open letter dated 7 November 2013 to Minister Goward which, in relation to the reforms proposed in the Child Protection Legislative Reform Discussion Paper, stated:

We believe these changes, in large part, take child protection public policy in a direction that is contrary to international best practice which demonstrates the benefits of serious commitment to early intervention, particularly where mothers have experienced domestic violence; or where disability, trauma, social exclusion and poverty are the causes of child protection concerns.

To increase the focus on adoption as a child protection strategy suggests we have not learnt from the past and are set to repeat mistakes that will necessitate another apology in the future.

While this is neither the time nor the place to deal with the bill in detail I will say that some of the tough love rhetoric and dysfunctional family horror stories thrown across media broadsheets in the lead-up to the release of the bill is unfortunate. The Minister’s argument that the legal stability inherent in adoption is enough to improve the life outcomes for children in out-of-home care is simplistic. It ignores the complexity of providing environments in which children and young people who have been subject to abuse and neglect can thrive.

No-one wants a child to experience a revolving door of care placements. While adoption seems like an alluring answer to achieving permanency for children, the jury is still out on whether it is a superior option to foster care that is appropriately managed and supported. I believe we have to start with a much more sophisticated understanding of child protection and adopt a more holistic approach to understanding family resilience, as Justice Wood sagely recommended in his 2008 special commission of inquiry. My private member’s bill, the Children and Young Person (Care and Protection) Amendment (Reporting Requirements) Bill 2013, proposes to establish a more stringent and comprehensive reporting framework for child protection. The aim of the bill is to give all communities, families and stakeholders enough information about what is happening within the child protection system to hold mature and empirically informed dialogue. Without such information we are left with little more than ideology and prejudice to shape our discussion of best-practice child protection.

Open adoption is an alluring and easy solution for armchair commentators who cast dysfunctional families as the architects of their own deep and persistent disadvantage. The parents are identified as the root cause of dysfunction and the solution is placing a child with a financially well-off couple in one of Sydney’s more affluent suburbs. This mentality ignores the longer-term anguish that children are likely to feel as a result of being permanently removed from their biological parents. A much more difficult and undoubtedly long-term vision would be to examine and investigate the root causes of family dysfunction and resilience. What are the urban planning, trade and investment, transport, local government, education and training, housing and health policy decisions that may indirectly or directly affect child safety and family resilience?

The Department of Community Services completed an excellent report in 2009 entitled, “Resilient Communities: Socio-demographic factors associated with lower than expected rates of child protection reporting in small areas in NSW”, which considered local government areas that had lower than expected child protection engagement rates. The report highlighted the importance of service provision to family and community resilience. This State cannot collectively throw up its hands and disown the alarming result in the past financial year, during which 64,470 children and young people were the subject of 104,817 risk of significant harm [ROSH] reports. We must investigate the geographically specific social and economic causes of family dysfunction and child neglect for communities with disproportionately high numbers of risk of significant harm reports and child protection orders.

We must ask: What is the liquor licence or poker machine licence intensity per square kilometre for these regions; how long are the waiting lists for social housing; what is the regional unemployment rate; what is the scale of infrastructure deficit; and how accessible are critical social services, education and training opportunities, moderately priced fresh food and transport? Asking those sorts of questions, transparently reporting the relevant data and then targeting the provision of supports and services toward the identified problems is essential to genuinely addressing the intergenerational cycle of harm that is at the source of our child protection crisis.

Source: Legislative Council Hansard, 26 November 2013

Radical child protection reform needs a cautious approach

Greens MP and Community Services spokesperson Jan Barham is encouraging all communities to participate in the debate around new NSW adoption and child protection reform.

“As the Premier suggested at today’s press conference, we are seeing a radical change to child protection and adoption laws. If we don’t get this right, then some of the state’s most vulnerable families face intergenerational displacement and dysfunction,” says Ms Barham.

“While the Minister’s $35 million dollar commitment to early intervention support for families is laudable, there are some serious elements of the adoption and child protection reform that need very careful consideration.”

“Despite tough love rhetoric and dysfunctional family horror stories offered by Minister Goward, fast tracking the adoption of children from out of home care is not the answer.”

“The Minister’s argument that the legal stability inherent in adoption is enough to improve the life outcomes for children in out of home care is simplistic. It ignores the complexity of providing environments in which children and young people who have been subject to abuse and neglect can thrive.”

“No one wants a child to experience a revolving door of care placements. While adoption seems like an alluring answer to achieving permanency for children, the jury is still out on whether it is a superior option to foster care.”

“It is very easy for us to pass judgement on mothers who have substance abuse issues during pregnancy and fathers who physically abuse young children. While no one wants a child to grow up in an environment of abuse and neglect, that child will always have a biological bond and connection with their family,” Ms Barham concluded.

Promoting Wellbeing for Children and Young People: The Challenge of Child Poverty

Wednesday, 7 August 2013, 2pm-4:30pm
Jubilee Room
NSW Parliament House
Macquarie Street, Sydney

Recent debates about the adequacy of parenting payments and issues of child welfare have highlighted just some of the challenges to enhancing children’s wellbeing. This forum will bring together the experience and insights of representatives from the social service and child welfare sectors, along with representatives of children and young people, to discuss the crucial issues of enhancing wellbeing and eliminating poverty for children and young people. Members of the public as well as stakeholders from other organisations are invited to attend and to participate in the discussion about the causes and impacts of child and youth poverty, and the way forward in improving social and economic circumstances for our children and young people.

Metiria Turei

With special guest Metiria Turei, co-leader of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand and spokesperson for Social Equity (http://www.greens.org.nz/endchildpoverty)
Panel of speakers and discussants includes:

  • Alison Peters, Director, Council of Social Service of NSW (NCOSS)
  • Andrew McCallum, CEO, Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA)
  • Vicki Curran, Wollongong City Councillor and social justice advocate
  • Madeleine Read, CREATE Foundation
  • Chris, a young person in care

Hosted by Jan Barham, Greens MLC and spokesperson on Family and Community Services

RSVP to Jan Barham’s office, jan.barham@parliament.nsw.gov.au, (02) 9230 2603.

Children at risk must be our highest priority: Goward must clarify casework figures

Staffing and funding for child protection and targeted early intervention services must be urgently increased if the current levels are unable to meet the demand for support, says Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson for Family and Community Services.

Her comments follow the release of figures indicating that only around one-quarter of children reported at risk of significant harm were interviewed by a caseworker and given a safety check: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/44899-children-unchecked-20130709-2pofc.html

“Identifying families where children are at risk and delivering appropriate action, including early intervention services and assessment of whether a child is in need of care and protection, must be urgent priorities,” Ms Barham said.

“I’m concerned that the recent NSW Budget doesn’t show a funding commitment to prioritise the support for vulnerable children. Recent reports have highlighted that child protection caseworkers aren’t able to keep up with the number of reports received and concerns have been raised about the time spent on paperwork rather than face-to-face visits and checks.

“The budget only allocated a 2.8 percent funding increase to statutory child protection and even worse, funding for targeted early intervention to support vulnerable families has been cut by more than 8 percent.

“A Government Discussion Paper on child protection released last year recognised the need for targeted action to prevent harm to children, including early intervention and parenting programs.

Ms Barham noted that the foster care system was already under strain, with more than 18,000 children currently in out-of-home care.

“Foster carers play a vital role caring for the 18,000 children who are unable to live with their own families. But more support is needed to increase the number of carers.

“The Government must clarify the current situation with caseworkers and how reports of risk of significant harm are handled. There also must be enough caseworkers so that reports of significant risk can be assessed, and early intervention and prevention services have to be expanded Children at risk must be the highest priority in NSW,” Ms Barham said.

For Further Comment, please contact: Jan Barham 0407 065 061; David Mallard 0432 881 448

Background

Budget 2013/14:

Statutory Child Protection
Risk of significant harm (ROSH) reports: 61,000 in 12/13; 59,500 in 13/14
ROSH reports receiving a face-to-face assessment or service: 37,000 in 12/13; 38,000 in 13/14

Budget for Statutory Child Protection:
2012/13 (revised): $423.0 million
2013/14 (budget): $445.6 million – real increase of 2.8% (5.3% nominal increase)

Targeted Earlier Intervention (incl. domestic violence services, etc., as well as children)
Budget for Targeted Earlier Intervention:
2012/13 (revised): $262.2 million
2013/14 (budget): $245.8 million – real decrease of 8.5% (6.3% nominal decrease)

Out-of-Home Care
Children in OOHC: 18,400 in 12/13; 18,400 in 13/14
NGO statutory OOHC placements: 38% in 12/13; 58% in 13/14

Budget for Out-of-Home Care:
2012/13 (revised): $776.8 million
2013/14 (budget): $798.9 million – real increase of 0.3% (2.8% nominal increase)

Community Services Expenditure on Consultancies (FACS 2011/12 Annual Report):

Ernst & Young, Child Protection Caseload Review Phase 2: $363,619
KPMG, Community Services NSW Organisational Review: $342,223
Ernst & Young, Review of Subsidies and Grants Program: $ 81,565

DoCS/FACS Annual Reports:

 

2008/9

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

CP reports

309,676

256,088

215,272

228,821

Rate per 1 000 population in ROSH

Reports (further assessment)

71.1

55.4

37.3

38.3

ROSH reports

226,946

163,200

98,845

99,283

JIRT team referrals accepted

3,436

3,877

4,249

4,070

Numbers in OOHC

16,524

17,400

17,896

18,169

Numbers of caseworkers

2,187

2,212

2,320

2,229

Budget Estimates 2012/13 – discussion of casework/assessment:

The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD: Of the assessments that were made of risk of significant harm, how many children received a face-to-face assessment by a caseworker in the past six months?
Ms PRU GOWARD: I am very pleased you asked that question because we have put an enormous effort into improving the baseline. As you know, in August 2011 the Ombudsman observed that 24 per cent of children had their cases closed without assessment. We have introduced a number of measures. Of course, the safety assessment, risk assessment [SARA] tool is working much more effectively. That has enabled us to increase the number of face-to-face assessments by 27 per cent since last year. In fact, 25,684 assessments were completed in 2011-12 compared with 20,204 in the previous year. That is almost 30 per cent more children and young people benefiting from improved services.

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