Prevalent attitudes towards child protection, including the “taboo” status of adoption, were failing vulnerable children in the most dysfunctional of circumstances, the author of a new book on the subject claimed at its launch in Sydney recently.
Dr Jeremy Sammut, author of The Madness of Australian Child Protection: Why adoption will rescue Australia’s underclass children, said that an over-emphasis on ‘family preservation’ had become a major stumbling block and was functionally no different to ignoring abuse in the first place.
“There is a major problem with child welfare and that is the basis of my conviction that there won’t be any meaningful change, and no end to the cycle of inter-generational dysfunction until the taboo on adoption is broken,” Dr Sammut told the audience at the sold-out Catholic Institute of Sydney (CIS)event.
“We keep employing the same flawed strategies that basically mean that children are harmed by the system that’s meant to protect them because we put an overemphasis on family preservation, which prolongs the time that children are kept with highly dysfunctional families.
“When we finally remove them as a final result, we then churn them through very unstable foster care and then return them to their families where the re-unifications are likely to break down.
“That process can basically consume the whole of children’s childhoods. And what it means for many children is that they spend all of their adolescence in care and they never get a permanent, safe family for life.”
The issue gained particular prominence under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who initiated wide-ranging reforms to the adoption system, including the establishment of Intercountry Adoption Australia which helps parents navigate overseas adoptions.
More than 43,000 children were living in care in Australia in 2014, but in the same year only 89 children were adopted, 84 of them in NSW where a new law took effect requiring that children first be considered for adoption before being placed in foster care.
(The law applies only to children for whom courts have issued orders that they cannot be returned to their families.)
Dr Sammut, a research fellow at CIS, a free market think-tank, said he acknowledged that the suspicion that surrounded adoption largely stemmed from the gross malpractice of the past.
That included, especially, the forcible seizure and adoption of Aboriginal children and of children born to unwed mothers.
“A major barrier to breaking the taboo is a worthy sentiment desire to not repeat past mistakes … (but) what I think also needs to be better understood is what the consequences are of taking a risk-adverse attitude to adoption, because what in practice the taboo means is taking a risk blind attitude towards the protection of children.
It means ignoring the harm that the current system is doing to many children.”
Dr Sammut was introduced at the launch by adoption advocate Deborra-Lee Furness and News Corp columnist Miranda Devine.
Ms Devine said it was a sad reality that “child abuse and neglect were our bread and butter” when she was working as a young police reporter in Western Sydney.
“It seemed to me the only moral actors were the police because they could see clearly what was wrong with these dysfunctional families. And yet, the police would take the children away and the social workers would put them back in,” Ms Devine said.
“I never really understood why until I read Jeremy’s book.”
The Madness of Australian Child Protection is published by Connor Court.