Community Leaders criticise Amendments to Child Protection Legislation in Australia

In a recent blog post for The Power to Persuade, Sharynne Hamilton criticised changes made late in 2018 by the NSW government to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act and the Adoption Act.

The relevant changes expand the powers of family and community services to permanently remove children from their families. This legislation fast-tracks the adoption process, mandating that a judgement about the permanent placement of a child has to be made within two years[1], and allowing the children’s court to dismiss applications by parents to the court to stall the adoption process.[2] This is a one-size-fits-all approach that puts pressure on authorities to make irreversible decisions quickly. It does not take into account that individual family and child situations differ widely.

To many commentators, Sharynne included, the new legislation contains echoes of Stolen Generation policies, and forcible removal. The suffering caused by the break-up of Aboriginal families is still being felt, as set out in the Bringing them Home report. Aside from the rupturing of kinship structures, language, culture and community that took place during that time, Sharynne warns that, ‘if governments continue to remove children from their networks of love and care […] fostering healing and reconciling past harms is not possible.’

In an opinion article on the same new laws, Tim Ireland, the CEO of AbSec (Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat) argues the new policy will disproportionately affect Aboriginal children.[3] He says: ‘The statutory system removes Aboriginal children and young people from their families at about 10 times the rate of non-Aboriginal children. About 38% of all children removed into statutory care are Aboriginal.’

Tim also emphasises ‘[w]e know that the support of family and kin is vital in keeping Aboriginal kids safely at home and connected with their community and culture. These connections are critical to the safety and lifelong wellbeing of Aboriginal children. Not only do permanent orders like adoption fail the best interests of Aboriginal children, but may also put them at risk.’

In Sharynne’s opinion, legislation creating a permanent solution for children for the sake of permanency is wrong. She attributes the NSW government’s desire for permanency to the difficulties they have faced in creating stable foster care services. According to Sharynne, ‘it is manifestly unreasonable to punish families for the failures of government to provide stability to the children it removes from their families.’

The legislation was legalised in late November 2018, in the face of fierce criticism from Aboriginal leaders and community members.

Sharynne’s initial blog post is available on The Power to Persuade.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/23/new-adoption-laws-threaten-to-sever-another-generation-of-aboriginal-children-from-their-families

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/nov/23/adoption-without-parental-consent-legalised-in-nsw

[3] See above, footnote 1.