Having worked for many years in the child protection sector, both as a case worker and a foster carer, I am more than privy to the complex issues involving this decision.
The Age revealed that tough new laws will come in to effect in March 2016, giving parents two years to get their act together before permanently losing custody of their children. Keep in mind, at this point, that these children have already been removed and are in foster care situations.
The motivation behind such a strategy is to open the door for these children to be placed up for adoption rather than face years of moving from placement to placement in the foster care system.
The concern is that two years is enough time for parents to access support to turn their lives around.
I am finding myself somewhat conflicted in my response to this. In my experience, for a child to be removed, the situation has to be absolutely dire. It is never a hasty decision to take a child from their parents. In saying that I have also met parents who try desperately, sometimes in vain, to get their lives back on track.
The motivating question is and, always should be, what is in the best interests of the child? Complex again. Nearly every child I have come across over the years would rather be with their parents, no matter what treatment they have endured. Furthermore, a large number of children I have had in my care have been abused while in foster care and often on more than one occasion. I am not suggesting for a second that there aren’t amazing carers out there; I am simply stating fact.
There has to be a line drawn in the sand around the amount of time children are left floating around in foster care with no opportunity for permanent placement.
On average, a foster child will have eight different placements in their time in care. The damage this lack of belonging creates is beyond measure.
If I am to be honest, I think each case needs to be looked at on an individual basis but I am in support of the two year deadline. There are over 80,000 children in foster care at present, many of whom have no clarity around any sense of pending permanency. There are also thousands of Australian families wishing to adopt; inhibited by an archaic bureaucracy.
If these so called “tough” new measures open the way for a child to find a sense of permanency in a loving home then I’m all for it. I have witnessed, far too often, the damage done to a child stuck in the system.
In saying that, I don’t think a child should ever be denied contact with their birth parents, even if they have been adopted. Where possible and with the safety of the child kept in the forefront, children need to have a knowledge of their roots and the understanding of who they are in connection with this. As hard as this can be as a carer, I have witnessed time and time again the benefit of this.
There is only one certainty here; the dramatic increase in addiction and mental health issues will lead to a huge increase in the amount of children coming in to care.
Complexities aside, these children need care and the most effective care requires a sense of permanency, stability and a sense of belonging.