Young Family Homelessness
Vulnerable Children & Young People
Deep and decent debate needed about children at risk
Last night (Tuesday March 6), the SBS Insight program aired a child protection special, looking at the difficult question of if and when to remove vulnerable children and young people from their families. It was a deep and thoughtful discussion. Burnside’s Acting Director of Operations, Linda Mondy, was present for the filming of the show. Linda has written about her experiences in taking part in the show, and why this important issue needs the type of discussion that the Insight program provided.
Last night’s compelling episode of the SBS program, Insight, continued the important conversation about the complexities of child protection and supporting families where children are at risk.
It was a deep and decent debate, the kind of debate often missing in today’s 24 hour news cycle. The main thrust of the debate revolved around what happens when we remove children – do we leave them too long in abusive families? Should we remove early? How do we know the best move to make?
These are all challenging questions, and the four Insight panel members – each with their own direct experience of out of home care – shed an amazing amount of light to inform the debate. We heard one young person say they wished they’d been taken earlier, while another said with equal vehemence they had been removed but put in a worse situation in care. A father from UnitingCare Burnside’s Newpin program shared
his experience of having his children taken away, but spoke of the joy of getting them back after nine months of hard work and huge life changes, which proved to the authorities he could care safely for his children.
We didn’t rush to solutions, more so we were deeply engaged, listening to their experiences. It sent an important reminder that when we’re talking about child protection and removal, we’re dealing with people’s lives – and in doing so, we need the wisdom of Solomon.
As one of Australia’s foremost experts in child protection, Professor Dorothy Scott, once said; it’s not rocket science – it’s much harder than that.
Vulnerable families facing breakdown and child removal need the support of experienced helpers. Children and families need to be understood individually, with decisions relating to each child, tailor-made for them and their circumstances. The goal must always be that children are safe, well cared for and heard. When keeping a family together cannot be achieved despite best efforts, then removal to a high quality care placement with extended family or trained foster carers is required.
The crisis of having a child removed may create momentum for change. It can prompt families to really assess what they need to be doing differently for their children to be restored home safely, as was the case for the Newpin father. Our experience, backed by evidence, shows children mostly want and need to be with their families, so we need to throw everything behind them to give them the best chance of success or move quickly to help children find an alternative, permanent home.
If reunification doesn’t work, making sure children know who they are and having a meaningful connection to their family and history is so important. Hearing the young people on Insight share their experiences reminded me of the primal need for belonging and understanding of identity.
It was easy to become absorbed in the conversation that took place on Insight. It was so refreshing to have the complexity of this area discussed so thoughtfully and productively.
We know there are no quick fixes, no simple answers. We know we must better support children and young people, and we must better support vulnerable families.
Here in NSW we are grappling with the hard questions. We know providing quality out of home care and supporting adoption is critical. Reform in this area is underway, but without investing in better support for vulnerable families, we risk not learning from history, and we must do better than that for our children.
You can read Linda’s story about working with vulnerable families here.
To read a personal story from one of our Newpin Dad’s, click here