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Supporting families in best interests of children

Two new Anglicare research reports recommend ways to advance the wellbeing of Tasmanian children by better supporting at-risk families.

Teresa and Lindsey with the new research reports“Acting in the best interests of the child means addressing the long-term welfare of their family,” said Breaking the Cycle researcher Teresa Hinton. “What makes a difference is supporting families when they most need it”.

The research by Anglicare’s Social Action and Research Centre contributes to the current redesign of the state’s child protection system by highlighting effective measures in use elsewhere in Australia and overseas. It found that with appropriate support, repeat child removals could be averted and families reunified more quickly.

“Child removal is traumatic for children and parents, with overwhelming grief and loss, reductions in income and threats to housing stability,” said Ms Hinton. “At the same time, parents are required to deal with legal processes, maintain positive access to their children, and meet any conditions imposed to address safety concerns”.

“Workers tell us there’s an expectation that parents will just ‘fix themselves’, understand what went wrong and get their children back,” she said. “They say that’s a huge and unrealistic expectation – which is why the right support for families is so important”.

Repeat child removal is a significant issue in Tasmania. At present, one fifth of birth mothers who have a child removed by the Child Safety Service will experience further removals, usually of babies and infants. Younger mothers are most at risk. “These mothers need support to end the cycle of misery caused by repeat removals,” said Ms Hinton.

The latest figures (from March this year) showed there were 1260 children in out-of-home-care in the state.

Tasmania has the highest levels of poverty in Australia, and child poverty rates are higher than the national average. A third of Tasmanian households rely on income support payments.  

The new research showed most families who have a child removed and placed in out-of-home-care experience a dramatic reduction in income. “Families can suddenly lose between half and two-thirds of their former household income,” said In Limbo researcher Lindsey Fidler. As a result, many can no longer afford the family home.

“The drop in income and loss of housing often stalls family reunification – extending the trauma for everyone involved,” said Ms Fidler. “The current system results in children being unnecessarily kept from their families by poverty”. The research found families that had met all other safety requirements could have their child’s return halted because the drop in income made it difficult to afford appropriate housing, food, clothing, car-seats and children’s activities. “Yet the best interests of the child are served by strengthening and supporting families to reunify as quickly as possible,” said Ms Fidler.

The research set out a range of measures to overcome these practical barriers, including recommending that families undergoing reunification be prioritised for social and public housing. “By better supporting families, we give children a more stable base to return to,” she said.

The research recommended an expansion of support services for at-risk families. Anglicare provides the Pathway Home program in the North and North West which works with reunifying families to increase parenting skills and improve children’s sense of connection and attachment.

Anglicare said it was vital to support parents to have a healthy relationship with their children wherever possible – even when children remained in out-of-home-care. Around 50% of children in out-of-home-care return to their family of origin during adolescence.

Monday September 10, 2018

The reports can be viewed here