As a foster child, adoptee, kinship carer, parent and newly-minted grandparent, AnglicareSA CEO The Reverend Peter Sandeman says protecting children and helping families is all of our business in an article published in The Advertiser.
The recent tragic examples of child abuse and neglect have reminded us all just how vulnerable children are and the importance of good parenting.
All families need help from time to time. As a foster child, adoptee, kinship carer, parent and newly-minted grandparent, I’ve certainly appreciated great support along the way. A good family is a great gift but it’s hard graft at times.
Sometimes as friends, family, neighbours and workers, we fail to notice the signs and sometimes we don’t think it’s our business to interfere.
Protecting children and supporting families struggling to cope is all of our business, and that’s why the integrity of the child protection system is so important and why we have all been shocked and worried about recent events.
But it’s not just an issue for Families SA; they simply can’t be everywhere at once. Protective support systems begin with all of us. The death of a child through abuse or neglect is a collective failure of the whole community.
In prioritising those families that need help and children in danger, Families SA relies on the quality and frequency of our reports. We must help them make more informed interventions by being better at making those difficult phone calls, even if we’re not completely sure.
In some of the cases I am aware of, Families SA has attempted to both support the family to function better, and determine whether the child should be removed.
These functions are clearly incompatible, as the family needing support will not easily trust workers from the agency that has the power to remove their child.
The key focus of Families SA has to be the capacity to make the right call about removing or returning a child.
And when a child has to be removed from their biological family, we need to support those wonderful people who open their homes as foster and kinship carers.
Ensuring more permanent placement of children – once it is clear removal is required and reunion is not an option – is absolutely critical to enabling these children to flourish.
We need more carers and better support systems to allow them to exercise the same parental rights and responsibilities as biological families.
AnglicareSA is privileged to support about 400 carers, and their role needs to be clarified, as well as better recognised, for the great contribution that they make.
We need to improve our family support and child protection functions, and the Select Committee and the Royal Commission may just be the circuit-breakers required to halt the usual political pattern of attack and defence; to have the deep conversation to enable a fundamental recasting of the way we work together as a community to support families and protect children.