Foster care payments used to feed pokies

FOSTER carers are taking in abused children to get hundreds of dollars worth of tax-free allowances, much of which is spent at the pub or the pokies.

By:  Caroline Overington

February 27, 2009 / The Australian

In one case, a foster mother was reported to welfare authorities for locking four foster children outside all day, until she got home at night.

Neighbours complained that she was at the local club.

The NSW Department of Community Services, which is responsible for keeping an eye on the children in its care, may not lay eyes on them for years once they have been placed with a foster carer.

Dawn Fardell, the independent member for Dubbo, reported "numerous instances" of foster children being neglected by their carers to the NSW Government's inquiry into child welfare last November.

Only now have her complaints been made public.

Ms Fardell, whose electorate has huge numbers of children in state care, many of them indigenous, has been swamped by complaints about the "approval of carers who are unfit to take on the responsibility of children".

"I'm aware of a girl who is now 14 and was molested while she was in foster care," she told The Australian.

"I know of a case where as soon as the money comes in, (the foster mother) is off to the RSL, and (the) teenagers can't get in until she gets home again."

In her submission to the Wood inquiry into child welfare, Ms Fardell said: "The Dubbo office has been alerted to numerous instances where foster children are neglected and clearly not benefiting from the allowances paid to their carers.

"Carers have told me there is little contact with the department. Sometimes staff might not even sight the child."

Ms Fardell's complaints are among a slew of submissions suddenly released by the Wood inquiry. The submissions were kept secret before retired NSW Supreme Court judge James Wood released his report in November, and DOCS argued with The Australian for a year about the need to keep the information private.

It is not clear why the submissions have been released. The NSW Government is considering the Wood report, and its 111 recommendations.

Many of the submissions made public were by DOCS workers, foster parents and parents who have lost their children to the welfare state. They lay bare the problems of the system.

Children's Court guardian Frank Ainsworth's submission says caseworkers go to court with "inaccurate material, and material that is often rumour. Some caseworkers tell lies, even in sworn affidavits."

A child protection worker, who wanted anonymity because of the "punitive culture within the department", said "huge numbers" of cases were closed because of a lack of resources.

"Some children have been the subject of over 100 reports. It is too late for such children as they are too damaged," the worker said.

Another worker said "caseworkers write endless court affidavits about families, barely laying eyes on said families.

"We are faced every day with having to make life-changing decisions about children that we barely know".

Judge John Nicholson was concerned at the "very substantial infant and toddler death toll occurring in families where notification has previously been made to the DOCS".

He said DOCS failed to "appreciate the danger level each of the deceased children were facing in the period post-notification but prior to death".

Mark Rowles, a senior caseworker in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, said caseworkers "spend the majority of their time feeding the 'machine' (or doing administrative tasks), instead of protecting children".


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