This Forum, held on May 3, 2018 was chaired by May Hu JP OAM, Coordinator of NCWV Standing Committees, with the Moderator being Elida Brereton, Executive NCWV and Board Member of Hester Hornbrook Academy, who also introduced each guest speaker.
Anne McLeish, CEO Grandparents Victoria. ‘Family Rights are being forgotten and need protection.’ Anne stated the importance of grandparents having their voices heard. Grandparents Vic is a member of NCWV.
Grandparents Vic didn’t commence until they worked out what they wanted to say about families. They have become more militant about family rights after spending years listening to family stories. They familiarised themselves with the United Nations Rights of the Child and taught families about their right to be treated with respect and that the rights are for ALL children and families on our shores.
In 2013 Kinship Carers Vic hosted a meeting in London, UK. It was attended by 15 representatives from seven organisations and countries. The Rights of the Child was breached in all of those countries, particularly in relation to poverty. E.g. Grandparents using super funds to raise grandchildren. Poverty is far worse in other countries. E.g. Foundation in New York to address poverty in African Kinship Caring.
In Victoria there is insufficient representation for children. E.g. children less than 10 years of age lost the right to representation in court. When Grandparents Victoria protested they were advised that DHS would do this. Research by a lawyer found that this isn’t happening. Furthermore, parents are being separated from children ‘too bluntly’. There is insufficient support to keep families together. This is a breach of family rights.
There are Federal and State campaigns to stop the use of cashless welfare as Anne believes it’s flawed.
60% of out of home care is kinship caring. DHS closes cases too early. Liana Buchanan added that adoption should not be rushed into from out of home care. Adoption needs much more information for parents and the rights of the child must be central.
Dr Allison Cox, child psychotherapist and occupational therapist. Berry St Director of Take 2 Program for traumatised children. Berry St began in 1877, initiated by women who decided that young, pregnant women needed support. The majority left Berry St with their babies. Nonetheless, Berry St did also promote adoption, especially in the 1960s-70s.
Take 2 was established in 2004 to provide therapeutic services for abused children. Its aim is to achieve physical and emotional safety for children via work on attachment. This is because trauma is most often caused by primary carers. In 2015/16 there were 13,000 children in out of home care across Australia. 36% of them were indigenous. Intergenerational trauma is very difficult to stop.
48.8% of children referred to Berry St are impacted by family violence. It increases in likelihood with the age of the child. Nevertheless, decision makers have great difficulty believing that babies are violated and affected by it. Trauma occurs when a person is overwhelmed by experience(s) so that internal and external resources are insufficient to cope. Children are impacted by lack of buffers, e.g., having to change schools. The younger the onset of trauma, the longer it lasts. Normal responses to threat are fight, flight and freeze. These are not available to repeatedly traumatised children. Berry St works with children to buffer adversity. It provides resources such as being a part of a community, an extended family and playing sport.
Liana Buchanan, Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People: ‘Human Rights in the home: Children’s rights to safety, care and protection.’ Australia ratified the UN Rights of the Child 28 years ago. Liana’s role is as an oversight to children’s services. This includes enquiries about individual children and systemic issues. This is automatic when a child involved with DHS dies. But what happens for children in need of protection? In 5 years there has been a 60% increase in the number of reports, but insufficient resources. This results in a crisis system, and being reactive rather than proactive, where referrals to voluntary services may not be acted on. It’s imperative that early intervention occurs.
There is a massive underestimation of danger to children in family violence. Mothers are often held accountable for keeping children safe when they can’t keep themselves safe. Some kids who are removed get the care they need. Many don’t. Children tell the Commission that they don’t know who to go to if they don’t like their care. They know how hard they can be to live with. In many cases they share concerns for the welfare of their carers and that carers don’t get the support they need. Lots worry that care finishes at 18 years of age. Conditions in residential care are ‘dismaying’, e.g., 400 reports of sexual exploitation of kids out of 420 places, lack of access to clothes, electricity turned off in rooms as punishment. 20% of kids in care are aboriginal when they are only 1% of the general population.
All three speakers were very open in stating the facts. Anne McLeish recommended a statewide symposium, with all relevant organisations and politicians included, to come up with positive recommendations. This was supported by Liana. NCWV plan for this symposium to be linked to other NCWV Respect projects, particularly troubled youth.