Changes to Child Protection law
Significant changes to child protection laws started on 29 October 2014.
WLS is very concerned that the amendments, which passed through NSW Parliament late on 26 March 2014, fail to adequately support mothers experiencing domestic violence and will lead to many children being fast-tracked into adoption, despite the child’s best interests.
The Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) released the Child Protection and Legislative Reform Discussion Paper in November 2012. The Discussion Paper proposed to introduce set timeframes for decisions about whether a child should be returned to their parents. After that arbitrary time period options for permanency, such as adoption, will be implemented. The current proposal is 6 months if the child is under 2 years and 12 months if the child is over 2 years.
While there is some discretion we are very concerned that these timeframes fail to acknowledge the time it takes to recover from trauma, particularly intergenerational trauma. Parents do not have an enforceable right to support services. In regional, rural and remote areas there are limited services available to assist parents. Where services are available, there can be long waiting lists or lack of transport and child-care options for parents on low incomes.
There needs to be greater emphasis on, and investment in, early intervention. Programs aimed at keeping families together can be very cost effective, for example, studies in the United States have shown that an initial investment of just over US$15,000 per child in early intervention programs for parents and their preschoolers could bring an economic return of over US$244,000 per child into adulthood. A similar intensive early intervention program in Australia costs $10,500 a year per family. These programs have the potential to save the State significant costs arising from court proceedings, out-of-home-care, homelessness and contact with the criminal justice system.
Except in extreme cases, early intervention services must be available to parents before children are removed. Decisions about whether to restore children to their parent’s care must be culturally appropriate, respond to individual needs and be in the best interests of the child.
Women’s Legal Service NSW raised this issue and several others in its submission in response to the Discussion Paper. We have also joined over 20 community, women’s, legal, youth and human rights organisations outlining concerns in an Open Letter to Minister Goward.
Community Legal Centres NSW media releases:
- 27 March 2014: New child protection laws will see some children suffer
- 25 November 2013: New child protection legislation should be changed
- 11 November 2013: Community and legal organisations concerned about child protection changes
- Open Letter to Minister Goward about Child Protection Legislative Reform (7 November 2013)
- WLS NSW letter to the editor in response to SMH opinion piece (8 November 2013)
- WLS NSW submission in response to NSW Department of Family and Community Services on the Child Protection Legislative Reform Discussion Paper (18 March 2013)
- CLC NSW have compiled other organisations’ submissions in response to NSW Department of Family and Community Services on the Child Protection Legislative Reform Discussion Paper
- FaCS Consultation Report “A Safe Home For Life” (November 2013)
- FaCS Child Protection Legislative Reform Discussion Paper (November 2012)
Reports from Anglicare Tasmania:
- Research report: Parents in the Child Protection System
- A Necessary Engagement: an international review of parent and family engagement in child protection
In the news:
- “Radical new laws to raise adoption rate dramatically”
Sun Herald, 30 March 2014
- “Child protection measures too strict for domestic violence women”
The World Today, ABC Radio National, 20 March 2014
- “NSW child protection to fast-track adoption for vulnerable kids”
AM, ABC News Radio, 20 March 2014
- “History must not repeat in adoption laws”
Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 2013
- “New laws to take vulnerable babies”
Radio National, 18 November 2013 (click audio link to hear the full programme)
- “Wards of the state: the foster care crisis, Background Briefing”
Radio National (17 November 2013)
- “Baby seizure plan”
ABC News, 17 November 2013
- “Fears for new ‘stolen generation’ with easier adoption”
Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 2013