Adopting or adapting: past mistakes vs new possibilities for child protection in Australia

Image from  Eureka Street  article ‘Don’t let the Apology’s great hope die’

Image from Eureka Street article ‘Don’t let the Apology’s great hope die’

A scathing critique of the NSW government's push for the adoption of children in out-of-home care and a call for positive alternatives from Sharynne Hamilton, Ngunnawal woman and UWA doctoral candidate

I was stunned to see a headline in the Guardian Australia "Aboriginal groups beg NSW to back down on adoption changes". No community in Australia should have to beg or plea with Governments for fair and equitable treatment of its citizens. Given the Stolen Generations policies and the well know harm which traverses generations of families, Aboriginal communities particularly should not have to beg and plea with governments when it comes to keeping their families together. Our children, families and communities are fragmented and still suffering; suffering as a result of the transfer of trauma and disadvantage of past removal practices – stolen generation policies resulted in a decimation of the kinship structures, language, culture and community as Is well documented in the Bringing them Home Report

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Yet the NSW government forges ahead with total disregard for this past. Oblivious to the harm. Intent on repeating the harm. Intent on forcing an unnecessary intrusion into the private life of family. And they forge ahead with no acknowledgement or intent to implement recommendations from the Bringing them Home Report, or listen to its own bipartisan support messages for all the apologies.

Fast-tracking adoption for children who have been removed from their families should alarm all Australians. This one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate. Families require individual responses for individual circumstances. If governments continue to remove children from their networks of love and care, no matter the 'perceived' risks which may lurk within them, fostering healing and reconciling past harms is not possible.

Research has shown the need, and I have long advocated for better treatment and support for parents involved with the child protection system in Australia. The rights of parents who have their children removed to support to understand this complex statutory system around the country is critically absent. The consequences for parents, siblings and extended family members when a child is removed from their care is devastating; the Bringing them Home Report provides account after account of this devastation. The oral histories and experiences provided by the Forgotten Australians and the victims of Forced Adoptions policies provide account after account of this devastation. 

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Adoption is done in the name of ‘permanency’. And why is permanency valued? Because the NSW government has been unable to provide stable foster care services for close to a century. It is manifestly unreasonable to punish families for the failures of government to provide stability to the children it removes from their families.

Government officials need to consider very carefully the future care of these families. At the very least they have a moral obligation to do things differently. Removing children permanently from family networks reduces harm of one kind, while inflicting harm of another kind. The lost love of a parent is no small thing. Whether adopted from birth or living in temporary out-of-home care, children return to their families, seeking answers. The 'lost love' of parents and children haunts for a lifetime as a sense of abandonment. 

If the NSW government chooses this path, then let’s roll forward to 2040 and we will have another harmed generation of our precious children! And we can be guaranteed there will be much head scratching, and asking why Aboriginal people are over-represented in out-of-home care, in jails, in mental health facilities, in suicide statistics, in deaths in custody. Just as they are today! Questions will be asked; why we can't 'close the gap' in these disparities? And then another bucket load of money will be poured into inquiries, and apologies and research. Insanity. 

Change is well overdue. 

Grateful acknowledgement to  upsplash  for images, unless otherwise captioned

Grateful acknowledgement to upsplash for images, unless otherwise captioned

In the Guardian Australia article, Tim Ireland, Chief Executive of AbSec is quoted: “We welcome new ideas and initiatives to repair the failing child protection system – no one is saying that the status quo can be allowed to continue. But returning to failed old policies is not a solution – it’s forcing Aboriginal communities to relive a nightmare.”  

We, too, welcome this idea. Our child protection website will be offering a space for a short period of time, for people to send us new, innovative, even utopian ‘ways to do child protection’. Let's create dreams, not nightmares. If you'd like to submit an idea get in touch through