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Wednesday, 19 August 2015
Page: 5795

Senator LINDGREN (Queensland) (16:43): I rise to speak to the Community Affairs References Committee report on the inquiry into out-of-home care. One cannot speak of this issue without being affected emotionally. Clearly, when looking at children in out-of-home care, in the long term there needs to be a more viable option. On that note, I would like to thank those people who gave evidence and made submissions to the committee.

There is a bias against adoption as an option for children in out-of-home care. Adoption should always be a viable option to create a safe, stable home for children. One thought is clear, and that is that children should always come first. All children need stability and certainty. Children in care are unfortunately in care because they have already had a tough time one way or another. Let us facilitate this stability. Let us give them a loving, stable home. Let them be woken up by the same person who put them to bed. And let us examine the issues that currently surround adoption in Australia—in particular, removing the barriers so that safe, permanent care arrangements can be opened up.

Ms Maree Walk from the New South Wales Department of Families and Communities presented evidence of some of the most moving applications and discussion points. They were submissions from children who grew up in the system who voiced that they had wished their care families had adopted them. These children have also been the most vocal pro-adoption people. Permanency for children in out-of-home care can be achieved.

Currently, the Queensland figures linger at 170 to 190 people who are assessed and approved to adopt a child. However, only eight to 10 adoptions happened within the year. This then leaves young children in residential care.

The New South Wales model incorporates a preferred hierarchy of permanency with the family perseveration/restoration as the first priority, but when this cannot be achieved it uses further mechanisms to achieve stability for children. These include long-term guardianship with a relative or kin, or adoption. As a last measure, parental responsibility to the minister should only happen when the long-term guardianship and adoption have been considered inappropriate to ensure that time frames are legislated regarding the feasibility of restoration so as to provide stability and permanency for the child.

The Carmody recommendations of the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry, similar to that of the New South Wales methodology, were agreed to in a bipartisan approach. Children should always come first. The main aim is to offer stability for children and young people. This improvement can be achieved in out-of-home care for children with the opening up of adoption. This is not to say that adoption is the right or the only path for an out-of-home care child, but the choice and ability needs to be there. We need to be able to offer our next generation a chance at stability. At all levels, a child-first approach should apply to all decisions.

The issues in regard to front-line services to support children to stay at home should be seen as separate to that of the decisions about the immediate and long-term safety and wellbeing of any child at risk. This can be seen in the very sad case of Chloe Valentine from South Australia, who died after Families SA failed to remove her from her drug-addicted parents. The coroner's report into Chloe's death stated, 'It seemed Chloe's interests had been forgotten while the focus was on Ashlee—Chloe's mother—and her demands.'

There is a greater need for parents to take seriously the responsibility of raising a child and if this responsibility is not undertaken and a child is placed at risk then they need to be held accountable. A larger focus needs to be placed on meeting the child's needs first. These needs in out-of-home care for at-risk children should always be front and centre of decisions. By placing decisions in the forefront of the out-of-home care, a child's welfare can be considered with a first approach to reunification with the family but also an acknowledgement for the removal of bias in regard to the adoption of children when reunification is not the best option.

Stability is needed for the child and a child's needs should always come first. An approach to make adoption a more acceptable and realistic option for children left in limbo in a system of out-of-home care should be seriously considered as there are many childless couples wanting to adopt and provide loving, stable homes.

Lastly, I would like to thank the committee for the work undertaken and for those who made submissions in the interest of putting children first. Ultimately, I would like to see the removal any bias against the adoption of children in the out-of-home care system. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.