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Child’s play

23 January 2016

9:00 AM

23 January 2016

9:00 AM

The Madness of Australian Child Protection: Why Adoption Will Rescue Australia’s Underclass Children Jeremy Sammut

Connor Court, pp.329, $29.95

In Australia there are tens of thousands of emotionally stable, financially secure but medically infertile people. As much as they may want biological children of their own, genetics, illness or injury render them incapable. Yet there are thousands of dregs at the bottom of the social teacup who seemingly breed like rabbits. No-hopers, drug-addicts, and the unemployable, for whom squalor is normality, who believe welfare is a God-given right and that fornication is not only time-passing relief from their miserable lot, but a passport to being able to dip their hands deeper into the public welfare and housing purse.

If you thought SBS’s reality series Struggle Street unfairly depicted welfare-fuelled life in underclass communities, think again. If anything it was too mild. I chief-of-staffed to a state community services minister a few years ago, and cases I saw were truly shocking. They shocked not only because of their facts – awful cases of domestic violence, sexual and emotional abuse and even incest – but because in the warped world in which these people lived they were routine, almost normal, events.

I still seethe with fury over one particular case, of incest in a Victorian country town. Confronted by child protection workers, this pustule of a man insisted he was only asserting his rights as a father. ‘She’s mine, I can do what I want’, he said without any hint of comprehending his vileness, or contrition. That excrescence forfeited any claims to parenthood, yet the community services system still wanted to respect his parental rights as a father. While the abused little girl was taken into care, child protection workers still, absurdly, hoped the family could be brought back together.

Most parents love and care for their children, even in the poorest communities. But while child abuse and neglect is a pestilence across society it is the underclass, where poverty, unemployment, crime, welfare dependency and substance abuse are rife, that the deepest problems lie.

As respected Centre for Independent Studies social policy thinker, Jeremy Sammut, demonstrates in this book, The Madness of Australian Child Protection, an entrenched policy mentality keeps failed families together wherever possible. Removal is a last resort. Sammut demonstrates, persuasively, how in the last forty years the pendulum has swung so far against adoption that too many kids are trapped hopelessly in destructive, dysfunctional family relationships or doomed to living in institutions and unsuitable foster homes without any chance of a permanent, loving family to call their own.

Trendy lefty social theorists have done incalculable damage, but conservative politicians holding the family unit as sacrosanct have let them get away with it. As far as I’m concerned, when ideology – Left or Right – gives misguided succour to utterly incompetent and abusive parents, whose unspeakable actions and substance-addled minds expose children to great neglect and physical and mental harm, it must be shoved aside for the children’s good. Just get those kids out of there!

Sammut rightly advocates child protection policies and practices that take children away from such brutal lives, and promotes re-normalised adoption as key to rescuing underclass children from desperate and dangerous ongoing situations. Making adoption work, however, requires two things: instilling a child-first prevailing mindset amongst caseworkers and policy-makers, and society’s reacceptance that children being permanently adopted into loving homes is far better than unwanted or at-risk children in dangerously dysfunctional family units.

Citing case after awful case of a system gone badly wrong, the essence of Sammut’s message is ‘preserve the family at all costs’ child protection needs dumping for a willingness to remove children from unfit parents, and offer them hope of love and security through permanent adoption by competent adults genuinely wanting them. Surely that is indeed the right way to go.

To achieve this, adoption process itself needs fixing. While it takes years, has so many hurdles and seems purpose-designed to subject potential adoptive parents to deliberate humiliation, the local adoption rate is unsurprisingly shameful. In 2014-15 there were just 56 local adoptions across Australia. Fifty-six kids out of thousands deserving and needing a better life than the no-hopers they’re now with can ever give them.

Successive Labor and Coalition federal and state governments and oppositions should hang their heads in shame at what decades of destructive social theory, applied by them, has wrought.

But don’t expect fashionable social experiments like same-sex adoptions to change things. Same-sex adoption is about gay couples demanding, and getting, the same rights as straight ones: it’s not about promoting the best interests of at-risk and damaged children. Having the right to adopt doesn’t guarantee actual adoptions: in New South Wales, where same-sex adoption has been legal for years, only nine children were locally adopted in 2014-15. If such miserable figures improve as more states allow same-sex adoption, I’ll eat my hat.

Last year former Labor minister and Speccie columnist Gary Johns caused chattering class outrage by suggesting welfare dependants should take contraceptives in return for benefits. Johns was far too charitable: those doing unspeakable things to vulnerable children deserve forced sterilisation over and above any criminal penalties. They don’t deserve to be parents, let alone procreate. At minimum, child protection authorities should presume that children removed from these pathetic excuses for parents are available for permanent adoption, not temporarily removed only to return into danger. That policy shift not only would offer lasting hope to endangered children: it may save lives.

Sammut’s back to the future take on adoption, and making it easier, offers an enlightened way forward. Taking his path, however, will take a big change of heart not only from elected politicians, but from a wider community that wrings its hands over the cesspit of child abuse and neglect, rather than actually take responsibility for doing something.

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