Call for adoption targets and fewer family support services in Australia

Thinktank says authorities need to take more frequent legal action to have abused and neglected children adopted, Tuesday 15 April 2014 15.00 BST

The report says large numbers of children have been ‘severely damaged, disturbed and distressed’ by family preservation practices. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP
The Centre for Independent Studies has called for targets for adoption in Australia, saying increased spending on family support services is a “red herring” and family preservation policies are flawed.

The rightwing thinktank releases Still Damaging and Disturbing: Australian Child Protection Data and the Need for National Adoption Targets on Wednesday with a call for Australia to create targets for adoption.

CIS calls on the inter-departmental committee on adoption, which is due to report in May on adoption in Australia, to debunk the “fallacies” underpinning the policy debate.

“Australian child protection policy continues to resemble Einstein’s definition of madness – doing the same thing and expecting a different result,” the report says.

“The inter-departmental committee needs to be aware that flawed family preservation policies and practices are the root cause of the systemic problems in the child protection system, lest it be misled by red herrings about the need for higher spending on family support services. Instead, it should recommend the Abbott government direct the states and territories to take more timely statutory action to permanently remove children from unsafe homes and provide them with safe and stable homes by adoption by suitable families.”

The institute criticises states and territories for rarely taking legal action to put children up for adoption after they have been taken out of their homes by authorities because of abuse or neglect.

The report says it is a myth that children are moved too quickly into care. Instead, it says state and territory governments are routinely given “orthodox” policy advice that child protection services need to be structured away from intervention and towards prevention.

“The Abbott government should provide national leadership and take adoption out of the too-hard basket by setting national child protection performance targets, including boosting the number of local adoptions from care to the equivalent of more adoption-friendly countries within the next 10 years,” the report says.

It notes that if Australia had similar adoption rates per capita as the US there would be 5000 adoptions a year instead of about 200.

It recommends the federal government look at the US incentive-based system introduced by Bill Clinton in the 1990s, which saw states get financial assistance based on how many children were adopted.

Spending on recurrent national out-of-home care increased from $630m in the 2000-01 financial year to more than $1.7bn in 2009-10. Since then, expenditure on out-of-home care has increased by about $200m a year and reached $2bn in the 2012-12 financial year, according to the report.

The rate of children in care per 1,000 population rose from 3.9 children in 2000–01 to 7.7 in 2012–13.

The report says large numbers of children have been “severely damaged, disturbed and distressed” by family preservation practices.

“By the time these damaged ‘high-needs’ children reach adolescence they can no longer live safely with their parents or in normal foster or kinship homes because of their uncontrollable, threatening, violent and self-destructive behaviour,” the report says.

“Residential care (including ‘secure facilities’ for the most anti-social children) is the only suitable option for ‘unfosterable’ children.”

It says residential care for children is being revived because of the influx of children who cannot live at home or with their foster parents.

The report criticises the 2013 Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry report – known as the Carmody report – which recommended increased spending on prevention and early intervention.

It says the report was “contradictory and confusing” and influenced by orthodox thinking on childcare.

The report praised the New South Wales family minister, Pru Goward, for undertaking a reform process designed to increase adoption.

The CIS says it supports setting mandatory timelines for deciding whether children should be taken away from their families permanently, and then applying to the supreme court for an order to legally free them for adoption.