Former judge fails to meet children in preparing care report

Caroline Overington | November 21, 2008

Article from:  The Australian

FORMER judge James Wood QC is preparing to hand down a landmark report on child welfare without having met any of the 12,800 children in statecare.

The Australian understands that Justice Wood did meet four young people at his city offices who were once in care, but none was a state ward.

He has not visited any foster homes or foster children as part of his investigation into child welfare.

Indeed, it is not clear that he has met any young children caught in the welfare system, or visited any of the motels, caravan parks, foster homes, and group homes where they live.

The meeting with the young people, aged between 17 and 25 years, was organised by the Create Foundation. It took place last April and lasted two hours.

State co-ordinator Danielle Domanski, who was there, said the young people had stressed the importance of stability in their foster care placements.

They also appreciated ongoing contact with their birth parents.

"They talked about feeling valued and feeling secure," Ms Domanski said.

"Afterwards, they said they felt quite privileged to be heard at such a high level."

There are close to 13,000 children in state care in NSW, and the numbers are rising rapidly.

There are also 3000 foster parents, some of whom have six or more children in their care.

Foster parents provide a varying standard of care.

An increasing number of foster homes are being managed by private corporations, which have stormed into NSW as tens of millions of dollars become available for those providing child welfare services.

The Australian spent several weeks visiting foster children in their homes, some of which were overcrowded and dirty.

This newspaper asked staff at the Wood inquiry -- which has been described by NSW Community Services Minister Linda Burney as a "seminal" event -- whether the commissioner had met any children in out-of-home care, and if so, how he found them.

The counsel assisting, Gail Furness, said in a statement: "The inquiry has met with a number of children who are or were in out-of-home care, including foster care.

"The meeting was organised by a non-government organisation, Create Foundation."

The Create Foundation is a highly regarded advocate for young people in care.

It believes that children are removed too readily, and that 28,000 children in care is too many.

It is the only organisation in Australia established specifically for the tens of thousands of children who aren't living with their parents.

The Wood inquiry is examining all parts of the child welfare system, including out-of-home care, and mandatory reporting.

It was due to report on New Year's Eve but cynicism about that date has seen the release brought forward, possibly to next Monday.

The inquiry has not answered questions about the early release of the report.

The inquiry has received more than 600 submissions from the public but is keeping 90per cent of them secret.

It argues that the information contained in the submissions should be kept confidential.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24683687-2702,00.html

 

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