SHINE for Kids welcomes the efforts of the NSW Government to improve future outcomes for children and young people in care through proposed amendments to child protection laws, but remains concerned that the implications of such significant changes for children with a parent incarcerated.

Children whose parents are incarcerated are over-represented in the out of home care system. SHINE doesn’t want to see children languish in unstable short-term foster placements during their parent’s incarceration. SHINE for Kids believes the best form of permanency for children is supporting families to stay together and maintain the child-parent bond. It was pleasing to see the proposed legislative amendments place a priority on restoring children and young people to their families where possible.

By placing an arbitrary time limit of two years on family restoration, this Bill restricts the flexibility of the Courts to make decisions in the best interests of children on a case-by-case basis. Under current laws, the NSW Children’s Court can already make orders that support a stable placement while still allowing for important judicial and Government supervision, and safeguarding contact between a child and their birth parent who is incarcerated.

For parents in custody and leaving custody, two years simply may not be enough time to get the assistance they require to be in a position to welcome their children home again. This is especially so given the chronic under-funding of support services and notoriously long wait times for housing, drug and alcohol rehabilitation. As the NSW Government increasingly outsources adoption and foster care to private agencies, there is a danger that market incentives can intrude on decision-making. The incentive to cycle children into permanent arrangements, regardless of their suitability, to meet performance indicators and targets is particularly concerning. SHINE for Kids and international research refers to children of prisoners as ‘invisible victims’ of crime. Under these proposed changes once children are placed on guardianship orders or adopted, they are on their own, with no further review or oversight. They are no longer counted in the out-of-home care statistics and are further rendered invisible.

Many of the clients SHINE works with are dealing with a legacy of poverty and inter-generational trauma and require significant support to ensure that they can be reunited with their children. These include insecure housing, drug and alcohol addiction, family violence, and mental health and behavioural problems. There needs to be a greater emphasis on, and investment in, early intervention. Programs aimed at keeping families together can be very cost effective both in the short term and long term.

We need to place a clear legislative obligation on FACS to support families prior to the removal of children, consistent with international best practice and strengthen our investment in early support for parents leaving custody to reduce the number of children in care.

For more information, contact SHINE for Kids on 02 9714 3000 or email [email protected]