CHILDREN’S NEEDS COME FIRST IN ANY DECENT ADOPTION POLICY
Aboriginal Australians have suffered most in misguided attempts to adhere to custom
NSW finally moved this month to liberalise adoption laws. This coincides with a federal parliamentary report into adoption released on December 3 that provides much-needed national leadership on child protection.
The report Breaking Barriers: A National Adoption Framework for Australian Children rightly recognises that the best interests of children need to be at the centre of child protection systems.
There are 47,915 Australian children living in out-of-home care, 41.2 per cent of them for more than five years.
The aim of the NSW legislation and the federal report is to facilitate adoption for children to prevent them being trapped in the fostering mill, moving from one placement to another, often taken back to live with natural parents only to be removed again. It is also a turnaround from the “support the family at all costs” principle — since the cost is usually the child.
Fostering is meant to be a short-term answer but it often becomes a long-term one with no security for the child or the foster parents. Long-term security is very important for a child.
My experience of this is through my youngest brother, David, who came to my family as a foster child aged 18 months.
Because of the anti-adoption mentality, my parents were not permitted to adopt him until he was 14, and my parents often clashed with the case officers, who were all for reuniting him with his non-existent family and four siblings in multiple-care placements.
However, my parents were determined that David not suffer any sense of insecurity. He belonged to us, and there were eight of us, and he even used our family name from the beginning. David’s life has confirmed the importance of stability. He now is married with two children, owns his home and has a highly paid job.
Of course, there are some bad stories about adoption in the past when it was almost impossible for unmarried women and girls to keep their children. But adoption is very different now. Open adoption is the rule rather than in the past, when it was always closed, and I suspect that overwhelmingly the stories are better now.
The principle that more secure placements with a view to adoption for abused children would ensure a better outcome for their future seems a no-brainer. However, it has been a hard road to get to this point because, for more than 40 years, adoption gradually became a bad word and rates fell dramatically. This was not simply because single motherhood became more acceptable and more doable. It was because the philosophy of child welfare was skewed to one of the most durable views of the Left: that child abuse was caused by poverty, which in turn put families under stress and caused children to suffer.
The guiding philosophy was fix the family and you could fix the abuse, with returning children to their families of origin the ultimate aim. This is simplistic because poverty is only a part of a larger picture with child abuse.
Most abusive parents also are riddled with all sorts of pathologies that are almost impossible to root out long term, and the children suffer. What is more, in one of the wealthiest countries, where that wealth is more evenly distributed across the population than in many other countries, it is hard to believe that poverty alone accounts for the startling increase in numbers of children in care.
However, there is one group of Australians that suffers both poverty and terrible social and health pathologies, resulting in disproportionate levels of child abuse and neglect: Aboriginal Australians. Indigenous children are nine times as likely as nonindigenous children to be admitted to care, but mention removing indigenous children from dysfunction and neglect, and the spectre of more “stolen children” is always raised.
The Aboriginal child placement principle that states children must be housed with indigenous family members, other kin or with an indigenous foster carer is an insurmountable barrier to change in child welfare for Aboriginal children. For nearly 40 years this principle has governed Aboriginal child welfare. It is traditional custom but it has sacrificed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal children by preventing them finding permanent homes with non-indigenous families.
And it hasn’t worked. The rate of placement with kin is declining. The rate at which indigenous children were removed from their families increased by 80 per cent between 2007 and last year. However, according to the most recent report by the Productivity Commission, the proportion of children placed in accordance with the Aboriginal child placement principle fell from 74 per cent to 67.6 per cent last year. Why? Because kin families are overburdened trying to look after multiple children, their own and others’.
This a national tragedy and emergency. Yet still we hear “stolen children” and “intergenerational trauma” rolled out whenever there is any suggestion Aboriginal children should be treated in terms of placement like other children. But who really believes the “intergenerational trauma-stolen children” mantra as the reason for today’s terrible abuse and neglect of Aboriginal children, and how can any of that be “healed” anyway? The number of indigenous children in out-ofhome care has doubled in the decade since the apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008.
For too long the Stolen Generations have been used to push an ideological race-based agenda that has nothing to do with the present welfare of Aboriginal children. Ironically, the casualties of this ideology are the Aboriginal children it is meant to protect. They are left living in squalor and misery in so-called communities where all the pathologies are rife and they are prey to every one of them, or they are transferred to live with kin who are already overburdened and often as dysfunctional as the original family.
Irrationally, we allow overseas adoptions of children who have no cultural connection with Australia yet a large segment of our own children is allowed to suffer because of a misguided emphasis on “culture” rather than basic needs and security.
Sadly, it will be a long time before Australian governments have the moral fortitude necessary to take off the blinkers, stand up to the ideological bullies and confront the dire situation of our Aboriginal children.