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Teen pregnancy highlights parents struggling with rogue children PRINT FRIENDLY EMAIL STORY

The World Today - Tuesday, 16 June , 2009 12:18:00

Reporter: Emily Bourke

PETER CAVE: The case of a pre-teen pregnancy in regional New South Wales has sparked a furious of
debate over whether more could have been done to intervene and by whom.

While police say their hands were tied, the Department of Community Services - or DoCS - has
admitted that it could have done more.

Child welfare experts have rushed to the defence of DoCS saying that other supports should be there
to help similarly troubled families.

And the local MP who has made the case public says that families with "out of control" children
need more support even if that means changing laws.

Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: The story of a 12-year-old girl falling pregnant to her 15-year-old boyfriend might
have made front page news and induced moral panic but the case has also highlighted what happens to
families who have run out of options.

The NSW MP for Dubbo is Dawn Fardell and she's taken up the cause of a desperate father.

DAWN FARDELL: Well, he was calm but very disturbed and he was, he came to see me after speaking to
local police, one of whom is a friend of his, whose hands are tied with the 12 to 16 age group and
he came to tell me his story and that we need to do something to bring into line, to care better
for this group who are running riot and leaving home and the situation that happened to his
daughter.

EMILY BOURKE: What did he think could have been done?

DAWN FARDELL: She should have been removed from that environment. Taken from her mother or
something put in place by DoCS to make sure she had stronger care and he was just asking DoCS to
intervene.

EMILY BOURKE: The New South Wales Minister for Community Services Linda Burney concedes more could
have been done by the Department of Community Services.

LINDA BURNEY: As I understand it, when the father reported this to Community Services in early
March, the young girl was interviewed by police, health and Community Services in a joint response.
At that stage the young girl did not want the father charged. In fact, as I understand it, she
wouldn't provide the name of the young man that was involved.

The other thing that I would say is that under the reforms that are coming in or have already
started to come in to child protection in New South Wales, this case actually underlines why those
reforms are really necessary.

EMILY BOURKE: Independent MP Dawn Fardell says families with "out of control" children don't have
enough support and laws might need to be changed.

DAWN FARDELL: Some form of legislation or something has to get into place. A lot of the things we
are not talking about hardened criminals or anything here. We are speaking about young people who
have no direction, who don't like authority and many of these are children and this father is a
good, caring father. Many of these situations do come from good homes, besides those who are really
struggling to, parents are struggling to look after themselves.

We do need something in place and I guess, speaking in Parliament of late on this issue was a plea
on my part as from the father, "What has happened to my daughter has now happened. I have to deal
with this but how can we stop it happening again?"

I'm getting foster carers coming to me, parents coming to me where if they are in a new
relationship with a partner, they're then seeking... you know if he uses authority and tells them
you have to come home now or puts his hand on their arm, they're taking out an AVO against him. I
mean it's really spiralling out of control and I would have had in the last couple of months about
10 parents come to me pleading for help to change the system and they are good parents.

EMILY BOURKE: But experts say such intervention doesn't mean taking away troubled children.

Andrew McCallum is the CEO of the Association of Children's' Welfare Agencies.

ANDREW MCCULLUM: We can actually have moral outrage about a mother at 12 or we can actually say
what do we do as a society to make sure that these families have the support that they need?

EMILY BOURKE: What are those supports look like? What are we talking about?

ANDREW MCCULLUM: Look, it's when, you know, we don't want DoCS to be there at the front door to all
family support services, so under the new regime it would be actually how do we actually put these
families in touch with non-government or government services that can actually work with them on
parenting issues, work with some of the issues around this child out of control?

But just thinking that actual removal of the child is going to be a solution to the problem only
lays the foundations for further problems. So I think we really need to look at what are the
supports that can go into the family, what other counselling can be provided for the parents so
they actually feel they can parent better, how do we support the kid when they are in the school,
how do we support the kid when they are actually at home, how do we actually make sure that they
are safe in their contact with the opposite sex.

EMILY BOURKE: And the responsibility shouldn't just fall to Community Services.

Professor Julie Quinlivan is from Notre Dame University in Western Australia and an expert in the
area of teenage pregnancy.

JULIE QUINLIVAN: All the evidence shows that you are better off to put all these interventions into
health rather than into social services because as soon as you knock on the door and you say, "I'm
from social services" many people feel threatened but if you knock on the door and you say, "Hi,
I'm a nurse from Health here to help you" it is much easier for people to engage and trust.

PETER CAVE: Professor Julie Quinlivan from Notre Dame University ending Emily Bourke's report.