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Community Affairs References Committee
17/04/2015
Out-of-home care

FUSI, Ms Karen May, Member Spokesperson, Brisbane Sovereign Grannies Group

McPHERSON, Ms Toni Susan, Member Spokesperson, Brisbane Sovereign Grannies Group

MOORE Ms Mary, Convenor, Alliance for Family Preservation and Restoration

WILLIAMS, Mrs Cephia Maria, Member Spokesperson, Brisbane Sovereign Grannies Group

WILLIAMS, Mr Sonny, Member Spokesperson, Brisbane Sovereign Grannies Group

[12:07]

CHAIR: Welcome. I have to do some official bits. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to everybody. Do you have anything to say about the capacity in which you appear today?

Ms Moore : I work in collaboration with the Brisbane Sovereign Grannies Group.

CHAIR: I would like to invite whoever wants to make an opening statement to make an opening statement, and then we will ask you some questions.

Ms McPherson : I would like to thank you for the invitation to be heard by the Senate inquiry. The Brisbane Sovereign Grannies Group is a group of parents, grandparents and family members who have had dealings with child removals. The Brisbane Sovereign Grannies Group formed in 2013 and has since continued to grow due to the exponential increase in child removals. We are working collectively to encourage parents and family members to never give up hope or fighting to have their children returned. We believe that there are no good or bad parents, because parenting in this sociopolitical system is one of the hardest jobs to do.

We are members of Aboriginal families, mostly women, and believe that we are doing women's work in the community, as is the role of women in Aboriginal societies. Grandmothers in Aboriginal societies hold a high level of status, and we assert that, in accordance with this status, we know what is best for our children, families and community. We operate from a non-judgemental viewpoint within a family support framework and reject the punitive model currently in practice in Queensland and the rest of Australia. We are totally non-government funded and operate out of our own pockets and with community support. We offer support to any family willing to work respectfully with us.

We offer the government the opportunity to create a respectful working relationship to redress the dramatically increasing child removal rates. We view the problem of the current approach of child rescue as feeding the exponential growth of child removals. In addition, the risk-of-harm notion is very fluid and deems children to be in need of state intervention because they have substandard parents and families. Furthermore, there is an abundance of evidence that demonstrates that child removals are significantly harmful to children and their families and to the community. We also argue that child removal is the wrong approach, and it is time to invest in the family support model and to fund it appropriately and adequately. What we are seeing now is a contemporary version of the stolen generations and forced adoptions practices. Thank you.

Ms Fusi : I am a mother, grandmother and auntie and also a foster parent. I experienced my granddaughter being removed from her mother on 27 April 2010. I thought it was okay regarding the safety of the child, aged one day old. The child was removed from the mother, while breastfeeding, by the security guard. The mother was very traumatised by the impact of the ordeal. Two years later, the mother of the child committed suicide. I would like to see a better outcome for other mothers in the near future, with more support put in place to help.

And then there is another one, as a foster mother. There have been allegations placed on my husband by the department of child safety Alderley office and also Fortitude Valley matters. There have been false allegations. One allegation is still now pending, and it has been going on for about four months now. My granddaughter is now on the streets and is homeless. Child Safety is not even protecting her safety at home. I was told by the caseworker that they cannot do anything to support this child. She is 13 years old and on the streets. My concern is that this child has not been to school for three or four months. I would have liked the department to sit at the table with me and my husband, with that allegation, and not just remove her. Now they are finding difficulty in finding a placement for her. They rang me yesterday. She has run away from a safe house. It is very traumatising because I am still caring for her brother. The police come to my home, and the little boy is being traumatised by getting questioned by police. Thank you very much.

Mrs Williams : I and my husband had five children removed from us by the department because of allegations, and we were also homeless, so they took our home plus our children. For one of our grandsons, who made the allegations, the only stable home he lived in was our home for five years. He had 15 placements before he came to me, and then after that he had another 10. I was charged and taken to court, and it was all thrown out. I and my husband never had much support from the department or the Aboriginal workers.

What we want is our children back. We have support and help out in the community. We also had our towns thing done and everything. We did everything the department wanted us to do and still, going on to 2½ years now, our children are not back with us. Thank you.

Ms McPherson : My granddaughter was removed in 2011 from St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, on the day she was born, from my son and his partner. That week, there were four other Aboriginal babies removed from that hospital. My son and his partner were not given any resources. The family was not supported. We went to the Recognised Entity. They did not give us any support. I created a legal team and had the child returned to me. She lived with us for a few months. The orders were taken off. She went back to Sydney. She went back on the streets with the mum and was returned to care. She is now with my brother. It has created family conflict. I am trying to have the child, who is now three, returned to me. I am finding that, even though I have had support from the former Queensland minister for child safety to have her returned, due to the processes in place in the department the child is not being returned, and her cultural safety is not being considered. Thank you.

Ms Moore : I just want to briefly describe the Alliance for Family Preservation and Restoration. My background is that I am a forgotten Australian. I am a registered intensive care nurse. I have worked for 30 years as a nurse, with 10 years in paediatrics. I also took a couple of years out from nursing and worked as a community visitor in Queensland for the commission for children. The formation of the alliance only occurred towards the end of last year. All the people at the alliance are parents and grandparents that have had children removed, so they have the lived experience. We provide assistance to children in care and any families that are affected by the child protection system, so basically we are working at the front line the entire time, day in and day out.

If it is okay with the inquiry, Toni and I would like to raise some general issues that are happening right at the coalface that are impacting on why there are so many children in care. First of all, I will just briefly cover the lack of accountability in the system. I work nationally, and I work with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The lack of accountability in the child protection system is really impacting, and I believe it is responsible for a number of the failures. They have far too much power. When I say 'lack of accountability', this is what I mean. For example, I am a registered nurse, so I am governed by AHPRA, which is an independent body, as are all health professionals. Child protection workers are not registered in Australia. There is no independent body that you can go to as a family or as a child in care if you have been treated poorly. I attend meetings as a support person with children in care and families affected, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Also I have attended with foster carers and workers with NGOs. The most common comment to me when I leave the meeting is: 'That's the nicest I've ever been spoken to by Child Safety.' That is a common theme that comes across.

We have nowhere to go in terms of reporting misconduct. If I treated my patients, their families and significant others in the same way that I have witnessed child protection staff treat children and their families, I would be disciplined; I could be deregistered; I could be prosecuted. There is absolutely no accountability for caseworkers. In every single state and territory, there is an internal complaints system but no external complaints system. You can—and I do, from the alliance, on behalf of parents—raise matters with the levels all the way to the top. What I mean by that is the caseworkers, the managers, the regional directors, the directors-general or secretary for the states and territories, the ministers involved. I then take it further to the respective child guardians. I contact the Ombudsman.

At every single level, either we are not heard or you do not get a response. You get fobbed off back to the minister. And, all the way down the line, nothing is ever achieved. There is just no accountability. No-one is ever held accountable. I have in my office boxes of letters that have come back where we have made complaints about abuses of children in care. We have made complaints about the conduct or even crimes that have been committed by child protection workers, and it just does not go anywhere. So there is nowhere for us to go.

In that regard, we would like you to consider mandatory national registration for child protection workers. We would also like to see mandatory CCTV for every contact that child protection have with children and families, like the police have, so that there is evidence on board and we do not have to deal with what the department of child safety are saying—and they are believed in court—when families disagree or object or have been treated in a way that is completely different.

We believe the only way—and I know you were just talking about how achieving things on a national level is a problem, but we have to have a national independent complaints mechanism that has not just investigatory powers but prosecutorial powers. You would be aware that, for most of the commissioners for children and children's guardians, the legislation does not allow them to investigate. There is no chance for taking any prosecutorial action. We currently have matters with ICAC in New South Wales and the crimes and misconduct commission in Queensland, and we are not even getting responses, or the responses come back saying, 'There's nothing that we can do about it.'

The next matter we would like to raise is the parental legal disadvantage in terms of the lack of representation. Legal aid, first of all, is now underfunded, or the funding has been reduced at a federal level. But, even if you qualify for funding for legal aid in a care and protection matter, what is happening increasingly at the moment is that they deem that the case does not have merit and therefore they drop funding. They can do that on the very first day that you are to appear in court, so all of a sudden you are in court and you have no solicitor. The other common trend that is happening is that they do it just before trial for final orders, so you have traumatised parents and they are in the legal situation, and all of a sudden they have no legal representative. That is an absolute violation, as far as I am concerned, of human rights, because they have no equality before the law and no chance of defending themselves.

With the legal aid solicitors, you have a situation where the vast majority say they are underfunded. I have been told by some solicitors: 'Look, I only get $400 to defend your matter, so don't call me. Don't email me. We haven't got time to do an affidavit.' Realistically, what solicitor is going to do much for you for $400? In addition to that, because there is no money in defending parents, and also it is extremely hard to find, in the years that I have been involved in support, I can count on my hand, probably, the number of solicitors that have actually gone out and fought for parents. In the vast majority of cases, they pressure parents into consenting to the orders of the department on the basis that it is the department and you just cannot win. Unfortunately, that is the way the system is. Toni is just going to speak a little bit about Aboriginal legal aid because there are similar problems there.

Ms McPherson : I would like to make the point that most of the families that come into contact with Child Safety are poor, and they absolutely do not have the means to represent themselves legally. They cannot engage the services of qualified legal representatives. Basically, it is up to them to represent themselves, and most of them do not understand the processes. The processes are overwhelming. You are already traumatised. It is very difficult to create a case that can defend your position when you have already been separated from your child. Many of these parents are separated from their children just from the hospital. They go into hospital, have no idea that the baby is going to be removed and find that they do not leave the hospital with their baby.

Aboriginal legal aid are so underfunded that they just will not help families. They will not go into a court, a legal battle, unless they are going to win and, as Mary said, unless they are doing final orders or consent orders. So most parents go in unrepresented. They do not understand, and there is a historical trauma from an intergenerational experience, as we know, from the stolen generations, which was evidenced through the Bringing them home report. You have parents that go in, and it is like a re-enactment of what has happened to their parents and their grandparents and aunties and uncles and themselves. They lose all hope and so they do not know that they can fight to have their children returned. There is a really punitive framework; the processes are constructed to separate families, particularly newborns. There has been a cooption of other departments in the vilification of parents and the facilitation of removal. For example, notifications are sent through to the hospital without the knowledge of the parents so that, in the case of a newborn baby, the hospital has already formed an opinion of a couple and treats the couple as though they are criminals who are going to harm their baby. In a lot of cases they are not afforded the respect that would go to other couples who have just had a baby; they are treated very differently.

There are also risk-adverse removals that are out of control with no crime having been committed against the children. In the case of my son and his daughter; it was their first baby and they had not had an opportunity even to try to parent, but a notification was put in prior to the birth, because the parents were homeless and they had had two instances of domestic violence, which flagged the couple. The system is such that, when that flag comes up and the woman goes in to have that baby, a notification is automatically sent through to DOCS and the child is removed out of the hospital. I would like to hand over to Mary to talk about mandatory reporting.

Ms Moore : I will make one final point on legal aid. I sent through a case that I wrote up yesterday—one of my latest cases. I do not know whether you have had a chance to read that, but hopefully in time you will. It happened over the Easter long weekend and it takes up a couple of these points. To give you another example: a couple of months ago we had a situation where four Indigenous children were removed on a Friday night by police. It was extremely traumatic, as is a common occurrence. In this case the parents actually had not harmed their children; it was a possible future risk of harm not from the parents but someone who lived nearby. They qualified for legal aid and the day before they were to attend court, legal aid was dropped. They contacted me, and I then worked on their case. I subpoenaed all the evidence; I wrote their affidavits; I attended all the department meetings and attended court with them. I cannot speak for the parents. I am not a solicitor and that is problematic in itself: when you have no legal aid, you cannot even get an advocate to speak for you. In that case we were successful in having those four children returned. That case did have merit. You have someone in a legal aid office who is judge, jury and decision maker on whether a case has merit or not, whether you have a chance of winning. That case was an example of getting the children home, because I assisted the family in doing that.

CHAIR: Was that Aboriginal legal aid?

Ms Moore : No. The father was non-Indigenous, the mother and the children were Indigenous. It was general legal aid they went to, because Indigenous legal aid refused to represent them. They would not even give them a grant, and so it was general legal aid.

CHAIR: You said their decision is based on the ability to win the case. Does their decision also depend on where to allocate scarce resources?

Ms Moore : Legal aid and Indigenous legal aid, as far as I understand, have a set budget and so they have decide: 'Are we going to invest in this case? We don't think they've got a chance of winning and therefore we aren't going to invest in it.' What I am saying is: in the cases I take on, and particularly the cases at that level—because it is all in my own time and out of my own pocket—I look at the case and the evidence and I spend time with that family, which is something that the department does not do and no-one else does. I am actually in their home and with them for a long period of time and I can see what is not shown in the paper assessments that are done. It is just happening all the time. That is just one case example. I have got a number of other kids home the same way because I put in the time. I am not a solicitor, I am just a volunteer person who happens to have some knowledge of the system and how to fight it. Most parents are not educated enough to even write an affidavit of response.

What I am saying is kids are being lost to the care system because of injustice in the way that the system is run. It is not fair to have your child taken, to be traumatised and to have no concept of a court, particularly with Indigenous people. I have had calls from grandmothers at 11 o'clock at night, and they are heading to the final orders and there has never even been a solicitor involved in the case. They do not understand the system. They do not understand any of it except that this department has taken their children. They might have had one or two phone calls or something from the department over a period of months, but they are not really engaged or involved in the process. No-one has advised them to go and see a solicitor, so all of a sudden I have this situation where I have to try to do something about a case that is one month off from final orders and they have no legal support and nothing has been done. And the children get lost ultimately because there is not even time to get help and support. And this is very common, this is happening 24/7 in the area where we are.

Ms McPherson : What we have also been doing with the sovereign grannies group is looking for lawyers within the community. We approach lawyers ourselves and we advise parents about getting their own lawyers. We have found that if we have put lawyers off who were working against us and gone with a lawyer who has the capacity or who believes in the case, then we are actually getting excellent results and we are getting kids back.

Senator LINES: I am not a full-time member of this committee—this is my first day—but I am hearing from Aboriginal groups across the country that increasing numbers of Aboriginal children are being taken. Last week I attended an Aboriginal medical service conference on prison health in WA, up in Geraldton, and this issue was a key feature of that. Apart from you suggesting the licensing of these caseworkers, which I think has some merit, what are the steps that we need to put in place that protect children who need protecting but do not unfairly impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? What are the solutions? What I have been hearing across Australia is that the number of children being taken from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is at an all-time high. It is not just in Queensland; I am hearing it across the country. What needs to happen? What are the steps that need to be put in place that give people the appropriate support, stop people like Ms Moore having to spend hours and hours of her time at a critical time to try to prevent children being taken? What is the change that we need to make?

Ms McPherson : The first change we need to make is the idea that there are good parents and bad parents, because it is very easy, when you start digging around in anybody's background, to find fault with their parenting. There is a structural change there in the whole concept about who is better at parenting and who is not. That is the first thing. You have to stop targeting vulnerable groups, like Aboriginal people, refugees, the poor, people with mental health issues—domestic violence victims routinely have their children removed just for being domestic violence victims.

Ms Moore : I have worked in some of the leading paediatric hospitals, so 10 years in paediatrics, and I can tell you that child abuse spans all classes of society and yet it is only the poor, the marginalised, the disadvantaged, the Indigenous and the mentally ill who have their children taken. You have to ask as a society: what is happening here? Why is it the poor and the marginalised and the Indigenous who are actually having their children taken? Why is it that the wealthier classes, where you also have physical, mental and sexual abuse—you have neglect. I have seen a lot of wealthy kids who end up neglected because they are left with a nanny while the parents are off doing their work, so there is emotional neglect there. I guess it is the way that we look at child protection. I have seen the worst abuse of children as a paediatric nurse.

However, I am seeing an extremely risk-averse environment, particularly over the last decade. The case that I wrote up and sent to you last night is a very good example. We have a white father and an Indigenous mother. The father has had no child protection history whatsoever. The mum is Indigenous and she has a juvenile justice history—and I am talking about history. They are now 21 years of age. In her juvenile justice history, from the age of 12 she got into drugs and so that led to some crimes, the worst of which was involvement with a gang in an armed robbery. No-one was hurt during that armed robbery. You have a situation where these parents have been not just judged by child safety but also flagged to Queensland Health as being abusive, violent criminals who are a risk. Once you flag someone's file in that way, they have no hope. In this case particularly, I went to this area, which is five hours from my home, and spent days with this couple. I saw nothing to justify these labels. They are certainly not on drugs; they are 21; mum learnt from her past. I give full credit to these young people, who have absolutely done great things with their lives, considering the mother had no support.

In this situation, they were flagged from the New South Wales FACS to Queensland. Queensland did not even meet with these people or have anything to do with them at all, and this baby was stolen in the most horrific way. Even the Indigenous liaison officer is traumatised by what she witnessed. In 40 seconds, this baby was roughly grabbed out of its mother's arms as mum was about to breastfeed. I have been there from the very beginning. In the meeting with child safety, they justified that by saying, 'You know, we were concerned that they might be a flight risk and that we might have a baby out there that we don't know anything about.' To me, it is unjustifiable to do what they have done to this young couple. What I am saying with that is that, even now, the only time that child safety spent with these parents was during the two hours of interrogation when I was with them on the Tuesday after the baby was taken and in supervised visits. It has been a different person to supervise the visits, yet we have what is called an assessment officer sitting at her desk, and her entire assessment about taking long-term orders on this baby is based on all this written material, which is the history from another state.

What I have found in practice all the time is that child safety will tell you it is about lack of resources, and that is all I am hearing from every department I go to, but I disagree because, every time I call these managers, I get straight through on the phone. So they are in the office all the time, but they are not actually spending time with families. Everything is being done on a risk assessment template. They do not just look at the history of the people; it is, 'Oh, her mother was a drug addict. Let's go right back and find everything we possibly can.' The philosophy is supposed to be to look at a strength approach in dealing with people, but they are not; they are looking at every bit of weakness that they can find and every label they can find—and that just accumulates on paper. Then they justify that by saying, 'Oh, well, this is just so terrible. There's absolutely no way; we're just going to have to go and take that baby.'

Senator LINES: How do we get back, then, to that philosophy? Is a strength based approach the right approach? Ms McPherson made the point about not judging parents into those categories of good and bad. How do we take that step back?

Ms Moore : Before every newborn child is taken, it is my belief that there should be a hearing before a magistrate where both sides get to put their evidence forward and have proper, physical, face-to-face assessments done. The baby I was referring to was taken under what is called a section 18, and they only have eight hours to get an order—in this case it did not happen. I do not believe that an unregistered caseworker has the right to just fill out a form, go in and take a baby based on that. I think there has to be proper, face-to-face assessments done by professionals.

Senator LINES: Yes. I guess I am trying to work out how we do not even get to that step because somebody already made an assessment before there is a hearing.

Ms McPherson : There are two other points. We have the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, and that has institutionalised the whole child removal process so that you can facilitate removal more—

Senator LINES: Rapidly.

Ms McPherson : rapidly. The other point is that one of the recommendations that have been implemented generally around the country is that there must be consultation with the Aboriginal community. We as a group are saying that in every community there are many grandparents like us, who know the community, who know the families, who know who is having a baby, who is being born, who is caring well and who is struggling, and we need to develop a more respectful dialogue between all of these groups in each community. It is about working with that community, not involving government funded entities like recognised entities, who are tightly controlled by the departments that fund them and who do not actually work very well, or even well, with families in these situations.

In my case, for instance, it took 10 weeks from the day that I contacted them—I contacted them the day my granddaughter was born—before they would speak to me on the phone, and I actually had the minister on the other line, listening to me. I had to tell them that I needed a response from them as to whether or not they were going to help me because I had the minister on the line, demanding an answer then and there as to whether or not they were going to do what they were supposed to do as part of their role in the community.

So there are groups like us who work with Ms Moore and who do all of this on our own, not just advising other parents but supporting them from our own experiences, informing them of who we know they can go to in the community and, at times, advocating on their behalf; we go with the families. You can see that, with adequate support from the state, the families can care for their kids adequately.

Ms Moore : The problem is the help and support; from the cases I have been involved with, there is virtually none. Even for this young couple who have just had their babies ripped away from them, there has not been one offer, not even an offer, of help and support. I have had to run around, in this country town, to see what help and support I can get. I am ringing them every day. I am there when I can be. What I am saying is that, before they just go and rip these kids from their mother's arms on the day they are born, depriving them of colostrum and the whole lot, there needs to be an assessment. This case is a typical example: why rip the baby out of the mother's arms when there were no problems? Why couldn't the baby have stayed at the hospital? When they did get an order, the order was that they could have contact with the baby at the hospital. But there was no communication from child safety services. They did not even tell the parents why the baby was taken. If a family is identified as posing a risk, fine, let's work with that family and get support in to prevent the children being taken in the first place. This is where the whole system breaks down.

I would like to make a very quick point about mandatory reporting, because I believe it is killing children. You would know already, from your own experience, that there are hundreds of thousands of reports of risk going to child protection services, and they cannot look at even half of them. New South Wales throw 73 per cent in the shredder; they do not even look at them. In Queensland, thanks to the Carmody inquiry, we have a modified system. As a registered nurse I was a mandatory reporter. Now, under the new system, since that legislation came in and was ratified, I do not have to report a case to the department of child safety unless there is a very significant risk of harm. I can look at a family, assess where the needs are and not so much report them as refer them to the services they need to build the strengths in that family.

I think that model should be put out nationwide. We all want to protect children, and I think that the Queensland model does that. Yes, it has lots of teething problems, let me tell you, and we certainly need a definition of 'significant risk of harm' so that we know exactly when to contact child safety services and, then, when we can go on to the rest of it. But the idea is that there be a hub of knowledge that we can refer people to. I think too that that system is starting to become one which is far superior to the one we have now.

Senator LINES: Thank you.

Senator SESELJA: Briefly, Ms McPherson, I wanted to come back to your comment about not talking about 'good parents' and 'bad parents'. Isn't that part of the problem?

Surely, in many cases child protection workers have to make those kinds of judgements. We have seen some pretty shocking cases where I think it is fair to say that they are bad or unfit parents, or however you want to describe them, where we see violence or kids in serious harm or even facing death. Surely that attitude of being nonjudgemental towards some of these parents is wrong. Surely we have to be able to make judgements that there are some parents who simply are not up to the task, either because they simply do not have the capacity or, in some cases, have violent intent towards their own children.

Ms McPherson : I would like to clarify firstly. I am a constructivist social scientist. I am a PhD candidate with the AVID study, which is Aboriginal Voice Integration and Diffusion, a public health collaborative study out of the University of Newcastle. Mary will contribute to this as well. I am not God. I am not prepared to make judgements like that. I think all people make all manner of mistakes because parenting is really difficult. Yes, things occur, but, when we focus on individual responses, stresses and what have you, we forget about the other structural issues that can lead to parents behaving like that. I am not saying that parents do not do these things; I am saying that, with the current approach, we are focusing on certain groups in society and we fall back into certain judgements about those groups instead of concentrating resources into the areas of need so that we can do preventative measures before we get to the point where parents are stressed or perform inhuman acts or perpetrate abuse upon their children. The current economic rationalist approach, where everything has to be justified by dollars without looking at the human cost and the costs in the long run of not funding preventative and other services, leads to the situation that we have at the moment. I do not have all of the answers, and I cannot possibly be expected to produce all of the answers, but what I am saying is that those who are in power and have the resources need to have a look at what is actually happening to people and be more responsive.

Senator SESELJA: What about the human costs? In the case of Chloe Valentine, we had a situation where it seemed that the child protection workers were doing everything to support the mother. In fact, they were ignoring some of the serious failures and we saw that child die. What about that human cost? Surely, in that case, the better course would have been for those child protection workers to have made a judgement that the child had to be removed. No-one is God here, but surely these human beings have to be able to make those decisions in the best interests of children.

Ms McPherson : If they are making those decisions and they are making incorrect decisions, clearly there is a problem with the whole system. It is not only Chloe Valentine; many other children who go into care die while they are in care at the hands of carers or the neglect of carers. It is a very imperfect system. That is what I am pushing here at the moment: the needs to be a complete overhaul, beginning with the ideas that we have about good parents and bad parents and just saying that parenting is very difficult. We need to start supporting people from the beginning and resourcing people adequately and maybe redressing some of the structural issues such as poverty and disempowerment and starting at the beginning.

Ms Moore : I would like to say two things in response to that. Firstly, the Chloe Valentine case has been in the media for five months and there is not one person who would disagree with the fact that that child should have been taken. That child should have been taken and placed with the grandmother. That is the way that the evidence panned out. What I am saying is: so many children are being taken into care because there is no chance given at all. We hear from the Chloe Valentine case that there is a huge focus in terms of the department just letting the parents continue harming their children. That is a horrific case which has got in the headlines and everybody knows about it. What about young Braxton? He was 22 months old, was taken into care illegally and died within three weeks of being in child protection and care, at the neglect of a foster parent. I can tell you that, for every death that you know about of a child in the care of their parents, I can double it for children who have died in care. The media do not know about that.

Senator SESELJA: No-one is saying that we should be having those situations. In fact, that is another reason the system is broken, when we are putting them into abusive situations or from one abusive situation to another abusive situation, but that is not an excuse to start saying, 'Judgements cannot be made.' Judgements should have been made, in both those cases, such that they never should have been put with an inappropriate foster family.

Ms Moore : Absolutely. Where the system breaks down is I do not think a child should be taken on a paper assessment. You should have your children, and there have to be hands-on physical assessments done. If the time had been spent—in that case, they made poor judgements. They did not take Chloe away. What I am not seeing is child protection engaging with families, spending time with them and knowing what is going on in the home. When I see things go bad it is because they have not been in there, in the home, to see what is going on. When I see children taken without even any visits—I see children taken where there has not even been any visit with the home.

This is part of the problem and why we need national registration for child-protection workers. Then we will have national standards that are governed. They will have to have mandatory minimum requirements for education, qualifications and training. I have to do a minimum of 20 hours professional development every year. Everyone is putting the blame at the coalface on these child-protection workers—'Do we or don't we?' If you have national registration with national standards—nursing is clear-cut because we are so well governed. Child protection is not. In situations like that, my response is: let us get national registration, let us get national standards of education and let us get national standards of the way child protection should be carried out. There will always be the human factor, but do not take children without a physical assessment of the family and do not leave a child to suffer and be abused in a situation. But you cannot do that from an office desk. You must be in there, involved and engaged with families, to do it.

Senator SESELJA: A number of those are reasonable points. What I am addressing here is if you take an approach that Ms McPherson has argued, which is that child-protection workers have to take a completely non-judgemental approach, I do not see that as feasible, because they do have to make judgements. And they should. Where they get those judgements wrong, sometimes that is tragic. But, clearly, they have to make judgements that are in the best interests of children. Sometimes that will be to take those children away for their own good. Where they get that wrong, we should be addressing that. Where there is not a proper process—as you have identified, Ms Moore—we should be improving those processes. That is quite a separate point from not making those judgements at all, which I think are critical.

Ms McPherson : To make one last point, the system is not broken; it is working superefficiently. How else do you account for the increasing rates of child removals, other than the system is working very effectively at removing children? There are already processes in place to look at—when you are coming up and you have a case before you, when a family comes to the attention of the state—where you can work with family conferencing. That is what they are supposed to do in New South Wales. When they get notification of a problematic family they are supposed to call a family conference with the extended family and work out a care plan for what will happen to that child. This does not happen.

From the grannies-group perspective, we come in as non-judgemental. We are there to offer support. I believe there is always somebody in a child's family who can come in and advocate on that child's behalf and can become part of it. I am not saying that is perfect. I do not have all the answers. I am saying we need to start engaging with the families more broadly—and with the community—who know what is going on, so it is not just people who have no connection, no relationship and no understanding whatsoever of the parents and their families—or of the communities or of the context—who are making judgement calls.

Ms Moore : Which brings up the recognised-entity situation. I do not know whether you are au fait with that, with Indigenous—I will tell you about the case I am dealing with right now. I had to learn about the recognised entity in a big way in the last couple of weeks. You have a situation with Indigenous people where they have different countries. This particular mother and baby were from country down in the Ballina area of Bundjalung. The recognised entity was put in place after the Bringing Them Home report. Their role and purpose was to know the child, to know the family and to know the community, and to work with the department—between the family and the department—to make a decision in the best interests of the child. What happens in reality—and I have seen it in case after case, but this is a startling case here—is that you have a mother from Bundjalung, you have a recognised entity that was called the Murri Country, which does not have any connection with the family and does not know them at all. They did not even meet with them, and, yet, legally you cannot take an Indigenous child without the tick from a recognised entity.

We have a situation where these recognised entities are being paid millions and millions in funding and someone from Child Protection rings the recognised entity and says, 'We are going to take this Indigenous baby,' and they say, 'Yeah, sure, that is fine.' That is where the system is breaking down in the Indigenous community, from what I see. That recognised entity should be a person who knows the child and the family, and they are the go-between. That is in the legislation, from the Bringing Them Home report. Instead of that we have someone sitting in an office and saying, 'Yes, you can take that Indigenous baby,' when they do not know anything about them. It would be like Germany—getting paid to tick a box to take a child from China. That is how different it is.

CHAIR: Is this New South Wales legislation?

Ms Moore : No, Queensland. We are talking about Queensland. But it is national.

Ms Fusi : My daughter was removed because of her situation. But the thing is there should be a better way of doing it. She was sitting on the hospital bed feeding the child from her breast and then she walked downstairs and they grabbed the baby from the breast and put it in the room. She walked out to a phone, 'Mum, come and get the baby. I am walking out.' I asked why and she said, 'Because Welfare has walked in.' Welfare was named many years ago when my mother was a child. Today it is the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, not Welfare. Those little children are looked after, as a foster mother. They went to school one day and came home crying because the kids at school called them welfare children. So we are still marked with the name of welfare. I am happy I got the child. The mother committed suicide. But I was the lucky one. My family was not red-tagged. So I went to the Federal Court and I won custody of my grandchildren and I still have them.

The thing is that false allegations come in. They still want to send the police in. My husband and I do not take alcohol or drugs. We have a home. I have been married since 1962 to a Tongan man. But the name has still marked us. The stolen generation is still going on. We admit that our children have to be removed, but we are saying that you have to find the grandmother or the aunty, because they are parents in the communities.

Ms Moore : That is what the recognised entities need to be doing. I think that needs to be looked at. In the Indigenous cases I work with the recognised entity does not have contact with the family and does not know them, and yet they are still ticking the box and saying to go ahead and do that. If that were operation correctly—and they are getting paid millions in funding to do the job they are doing—then we would not have the high number. In a civil way, as volunteers, we are trying to do what the recognised entities are being paid millions of dollars to do, and that is to know the family, the community, the weakness, the strengths and to advise where that child should be placed, for example. Instead of that, they do not even know the family or the community, but they are a recognised entity and as such they can give approval. What I have seen is the departments go and seek a recognised entity that will tick the box. I am seeing that in practice, and it is appalling.

CHAIR: We have flagged that and we will check into it. Thank you for your evidence today. Ms Moore with the additional information you have sent, we have to check through it and put it through our usual committee processes.

Ms McPherson : We have statements we have received from people—stories.

CHAIR: Can you give those to the secretariat and we will also put them through the committee process.