Bad parents to lose kids for 18 years under new Government plan
BAD parents will have their children taken from them for up to 18 years under a controversial Barnett Government plan.
By Joe Spagnolo
January 2, 2010 / perthnow.com
Abusive, drug-addicted and dysfunctional parents will get two years to prove to authorities they have beaten their problems before children are handed to guardians.
Child Protection Minister Robyn McSweeney told The Sunday Times a detailed submission would go before Cabinet in the coming weeks, and, if adopted, legislation would be introduced into parliament this year.
Under the radical plan, which stems from an election commitment, courts will be given powers to issue special guardianship orders giving recipients the legal right to care for someone else's child until the child turns 18.
Unlike foster parents, who are under the control of the Department for Child Protection and are checked on every few months, guardians won't have the same constraints when bringing up children under their care.
Though birth parents would likely have some access to children, day-to-day decisions involving the child would be made by the guardians, including where they go to school and where they live.
Ms McSweeney made no apologies for separating children from troubled parents, saying the initiative would give children a stable upbringing, rather than being shunted around foster homes.
"I don't think I am doing anything outrageous," Ms McSweeney said. "These children will always know who they belong to; who their (birth) parents are. They will be able to still see their parents.
"It's not an easy thing to take a child away - (but) kids deserve the best. That's what I want for everyone's children. A child deserves to be loved and hugged and cuddled and held. A child doesn't deserve to be kicked, hit and abused.
"This will shock parents into knowing they need to kick their addictions, knowing they don't want their children brought up by someone else."
But the proposed laws have outraged civil libertarians, while Aboriginal leaders fear indigenous families would be picked on unfairly.
WA Aboriginal leader Peter Yu labelled the laws "drastic and draconian".
Mr Yu, who headed a review into the Howard government's intervention into Northern Territory indigenous communities, said he was stunned by the plan.
"To take away a child would cause a lot of angst in the natural family," he said.
"Of course there is the need to ensure the safety and security of children, but my concern overall is that there needs to be some clear articulation of what the natural justice issues are as they relate to parents as well.
"The fundamental rights of individuals need to be included. We know that a lot of this is targeted towards Aboriginal kids. Most Aboriginal people are already totally disempowered in relation to the legal processes and the justice system. This just compounds what is an already complex and confusing situation where some parents already have very little knowledge of their rights."
Australian Lawyers Alliance's WA president Tom Percy said the new laws had to include provision for parents to be able to appeal against decisions to take their children away.
Figures released by the DCP show there are more than 3000 children in the care of the state.
Five-hundred Aboriginal children and 600 non-Aboriginal children under the age of six are in foster care. On average, two to three neglected or abused children are removed from their homes every day.
DCP director-general Terry Murphy said the increase in child abuse and neglect was driven by more severe drug and alcohol abuse, increased mental health problems, better responses to domestic violence and homelessness.
Foster Care Association WA president Fay Alford said the guardianship orders would give children stability and remove the stigma of being a foster child.