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Child Services Problems in Australia - A case for your consideration.

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Child Services Problems in Australia - A case for your consideration.

Post by dianeh on Mon Dec 15, 2008 12:16 am


Agony of deciding who will look after young
Email Printer friendly version Normal font Large font December 15, 2008

An Aboriginal mother has reclaimed her children, but the foster parents are furious, writes Adele Horin.

SALLY was a 15-year-old street child with a drug habit when she gave birth to a son, Daniel. Not surprisingly, he was taken into foster care. Two years later, she gave birth to a daughter, Janelle, who was placed with a different carer.

Now 21, Sally has won a court battle for the return of the two children. They will soon join their mother and her partner in the early 30s - who is not their father - in a home that already holds seven children under 13. Sally has three babies with her partner and her partner has four primary-school-aged children all living together.

"It's been a long battle to get these children returned," Sally says. " No one gets a child back after 5 years unless you have really proved yourself. I have turned my life around. I am young, energetic and I have so many children, another two doesn't matter. It's just another bath, another feed."

But the foster carers of Daniel and Janelle are distraught. They say the children are settled, stable and doing well. They cannot fathom a decision to remove them from the homes they have known since they were babies to put them in a household where they will be one of nine under the care of such a young mother.

"We are heartbroken," says Bev. With her husband, Alan, she has cared for Daniel since he was 13 months. She is also foster carer to her young grandson who has the same father as Daniel (but a different mother).

"He doesn't want to go. I'm the only mum he's known. The half-brothers sit in each other's arms crying about it. He has to go on contact visits now and he's tied himself to the bed with ropes so he won't have to go. Now he's blaming me for sending him back."

"It's devastating," says Darlene, who with her husband, Peter, has cared for Janelle since she was seven months old. "She's like my daughter. I've done my crying and when the time gets closer I will start all again. I just hope the court has made the right decision."

The case highlights the exquisite dilemmas children's court magistrates and Department of Community Services workers face in decisions about children's care.

When is the right time - if ever - to restore children to their biological parents? How is it possible to weigh up children's stability and their attachment to their long-term foster carers against the potential enduring benefits of growing up in their biological family, knowing their siblings and their culture?

And in this case, how must the age of Daniel's foster mother - who is in her 60s - be weighed against the enormous challenges facing the young biological mother?

"These decisions are not easy ones," says Judy Cashmore, of the University of NSW, an expert on out-of-home care. "And it's more of a dilemma for children who have been in one place almost from birth."

To their mother, the removal of the children was another case of "stolen generation". From an Aboriginal family, Sally was in foster care at the age of 11 and on the streets by 14. "DOCS workers have known me since I was a child and they've never liked me," Sally says. Now self-confident and articulate, she says she turned her life around after meeting her partner four years ago. He had won custody of his own children. "He said to me, 'You can be a mother or you can do your own thing.' It really hit me," Sally says. "My kids are more important than anyone else in this world."

The Department of Community Services originally opposed the restoration of the children to their mother. It told the children's court it was in the best interests of the two children for them to remain with their carers.

But the children's court magistrate, Anthony Murray, ordered an independent assessment by the children's court clinic, which supported the restoration. The court ordered DOCS to prepare a care plan.

Now, after a staged process lasting two months, Daniel will be living full time with his mother from early next month, and Janelle, at a later date.

Sally says Daniel is "so happy and grateful to be with us" on the contact visits. There is another child of a similar age in the family and the pair are known as "the twins". According to his mother, Daniel "suffered more in DOCS's hands than in my hands".

But an Aboriginal elder, who sat on the original panel that approved Bev and Alan as foster carers, says: "This little boy will be destroyed if he is removed. He is doing excellently in school, he plays sport, he swims. He is given responsibility.

"Bev and Alan are not Aboriginal but Bev's first husband was and she had two daughters to him. She is very knowledgeable about our culture."

Darlene says she had supported contact between Janelle and her mother every two months for the past 3 years though no overnight visits had occurred. "Janelle calls me 'Mum' and her 'Mummy Sally'. In the end I want what is best for her, and I don't think this is. I'm not saying Sally is not a good mum. But to Janelle, we are family."

Sally says promised support from DOCS - a new fridge, a bigger car - might not now eventuate. "People who don't like me still see me as Sally the child, not Sally the mother," she says. "They don't realise I've changed."

Paul Delfabbro, associate professor of psychology from the University of Adelaide, says a study he conducted showed children who entered foster care at a young age and enjoyed long-term stability with their carers were likely to turn into well-adjusted teenagers.

But children who experienced repeated failed attempts at restoration with their families were troubled teenagers. "But there are pluses and negatives," Professor Delfabbro says. "If the new partner is a good carer, that is a plus. But if there are too many children the same age, that is a negative. All I can say is 'good luck to them'."

* Family names have been changed

This broke my heart. How can the take these children from the only homes they have known to live in a home where there will be 9 other children. When even one of the Aboriginal Elders says it is wrong, then it is definitely wrong.

There children will believe they have been abandoned by the only family they know, and probably will not be able to maintain contact with them. These children are not possessions. I believe they will never recover from this.

This is how stupid the system is here in Australia. I have a friend who has two young aboriginal foster children (very young, one is 3 and the other a bit older) which she has had for about 2 years. She is in fear they will be taken from her (being that she is white). The children are just lovely and they love her so much. If they were taken from their loving home and given to people who they dont know, to live with a heap of other kids, in far less nice conditions, she says they would be hurt beyond healing.

You are not the mother just because you give birth. You are the mother because you raise the child. The rights of the biological mother cannot outweigh the rights of the children, and in this case they are. I would like to see this case go further in court, and the idea that at all costs the children should be returned to their biological parents should be treated with the contempt it deserves. I am not saying that the children shouldnt see their biological parents, I believe they should, and have a lot of contact, but always to return to their home and the mothers that they love. When they are older, if they wish, they can then go and live with their mother.

Why punish the children by removing them from the only mother they know? Because it is punishment, it doesnt matter how loving or clean, or safe the new home is. The children will no longer be with their mothers, therefore they are being punished.

For god sake, the little boy ties himself to his bed because he doesnt want to go, he wants to stay with his brother (a real live half brother). How can any child welfare worker think that this is the right thing for the boy, to be removed from his loving nana and his brother, to live with someone he doesnt even like.

This has upset me so much. I knew it happened, my friend had told me, but I just didnt think that DOCS (dept of Community Services) could be so bloody stupid, or uncaring.

I say again, the rights of the biological mother cannot be allowed to outweigh the rights of the child.
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Re: Child Services Problems in Australia - A case for your consideration.

Post by maria on Thu Jan 08, 2009 9:31 am

No, Diane, the right of any adult cannot outweight the right of any child. IMHO.
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Re: Child Services Problems in Australia - A case for your consideration.

Post by clairesy on Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:13 am

This is really sad..soo sad. The families of these children must be heartbroken and the children to.

Imo the children should remain where they are.It is in their best interest to stay in the loving family surroundings they have been a part of since they were babies.

Taking those children from their families at this stage would be like someone walking into my home(or your home) and telling my little girl that she now as to go and live with someone else!!It would be devastating to us..My daughter knows I am her mammy...she knows our family and our friends to............to take my little one suddenly out of that would truly mess her little head up.And also destruct a whole lot of other lives at the same time.

my daughter is my own of course. But it would be exactly the same to those little ones as it would be to my child.You cannot just take a child from their families,up root them and tell them they have to start all over again.IMO if a person makes mistakes in their lives...then so be it...but if you make a mistake and bring a child into that....then expect the worst.........you cannot go running to your child in later years and expect them to accept you as their mummy.It just don't work like that.They are people in themselves and have feelings and needs..

A relative of mine had a baby girl and when she was born the father left them.Didnt want nothing to do with them.He lost contact and didn't want to see his daughter ....my relative then met a lovely man....after a few years they had another child together and they all live together happily....one day she got a letter from a solicitor explaining she was to go to court etc as the real father was back on the scene and wanted to see his child.....this child was now 6 years old and he suddenly wanted to walk into her life???She had been brought up with a father she knew as her daddy from being about 6 months old...After a while my cousin was also told to it was in the child's best interest that she was told that the father she knew was not her real dad, and that the guy she was going to be visiting was infact her daddy.They advised her this because they told her that he would deffinitly get access to the child.

The child was told that her daddy was not her real dad....she was obviously very upset about it ...but soon got to grips with it(or so it seemed)about 9 months after the real dad got access my cousin got another letter from her solicitor saying that he had received a letter from the real dads solicitor stating that he no longer wanted to pursue the matter and that he was not going to be fighting for access to the little girl.

they were devastated that they had told their daughter the truth..only to have to tell her again that her real daddy now doesn't want to be a part of her life.

I know that is totally different from the case you have posted here diane...but it gives the same sort of example of how irresponsible some poeple are.And also how irresponsible our courts treat our children's rights and needs.

IMO..if you chose to p/ss about with a child expect someone else to take care of them.They are not toys...they are real people with real feelings. You cannot walk in and out of their lives.And like this women you have reported about here.............you cannot pop them out like candy then come back into their lives years later expecting to get whats 'rightfully yours' children are not our property.........they are our responsibility.Look after them,or someone else will.
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