Thursday 19 November 2009
THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN IN CARE
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, we all saw it on Monday - the emotion surrounding the issue of children in care in previous decades when the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition said sorry. The apology could be seen as the end of a sorry era. But is it? The apology was really about loveless childhoods. Food and shelter was provided for orphans and children without parents for one reason or another but the organisers of that otherwise caring system had forgotten about love. The Age newspaper reported the 'sorry' occasion rather well, Madam President, and I would like to quote from the paper:
'The eyes told you all you needed to know and suggested much that you might hope never to know.
Pools of pain. Repositories of images that would not - never will - go away. Here was a great hall of adult lives damaged and defined by loveless childhoods.
So many heads bowed. So many handkerchiefs held to mouths. An old man's knee jiggled uncontrollably, seeking to relieve anxiety that may never ease. Hands reached out to pat heaving shoulders. Women clutch children the way they might have wished to have been held, just once.
Here and there, men and women held aloft old pictures. Of mothers, sisters, brothers; whole family groups torn apart and lost.
And yet, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull walked on to the stage of the Great Hall of Parliament House, scores of those same hurting people stood and applauded, cheering and whistling.
Here were the Forgotten Australians, rediscovered.
Here were the representatives of multitudes who never thought anyone would believe them, told now by the nation's leaders that what happened to them had to be known, believed and acknowledged by all.'
What a terrible mistake was made, Madam President, just by leaving love out of the equation, but that is the past. 'Sorry' helps, but it is not the complete solution to past pain and although it alerts us to future problems, we need to go much further. We must constantly be alert to the effects that policies and procedures might have on our communities' most precious possession, the next generation.
I would like to talk about Errol Rossiter from my electorate of Rosevears who has been involved with fostering children in need and he is involved, constantly, in helping families and children. He welcomed Monday's apology, but says we must make sure that the same thing does not happen again. Mr Rossiter says money alone is not the solution. He advocates careful monitoring of the care of orphans and he says present day social workers should place more emphasis on family reunification. That was an obvious deficiency in the 'sorry' period, Madam President. Mr Rossiter says there needs to be a complete review of the system and many believe he is right. I will quote a few points that Mr Rossiter has raised with me:
'We haven't moved on in Tasmania. A lot of the recommendations of the Community Development Committee on grandparents have not been taken up. Foster carers are given children without their case history in regards to problems they have to deal with which may be mental or social. There is not enough communication between the Department of Parenting, Child and Family Services, and carers are treated as second-class citizens.'
Madam President, a number of things are happening in Tasmania to make sure this 'sorry' situation is not repeated. Tasmania's Commissioner for Children, Paul Mason, is embarking on a ground-breaking project to support kids in long-term State care. Ten volunteer children's visitors are to participate in a 12-month trial so that 20 selected children, aged 8 to 12, have a regular but informal visit once every month. Mr Mason says the children chosen have all been abused or neglected in the past and often have limited avenues to talk to someone about the good and the bad and what might be happening in their lives. He says child protection workers and foster homes change and the instability plays a big part in how children in State care get on in later life. Having someone visiting on a regular basis and being listened to about problems should help the children feel less unsettled and improve their future prospects. What a good idea, Madam President.
Other initiatives by the Commissioner for Children are under way in Tasmania. A report on child protection reforms was prepared a few years ago. The Kids Come First steering committee is working on a framework to evaluate the health and wellbeing of children and young people in Tasmania. While there are many reports that try to provide an overview of the wellbeing of children, most are on the basis of what adults think is important. There has been very little research into what children believe is important for their wellbeing. Perhaps one of the most important reforms in children's wellbeing is being considered now, about the replacement of Ashley with a more community-based approach.
Ashley has greatly improved in recent years and I believe that the staff are dedicated and professional, but it is still surrounded by intimidating security. I would say that it is nearly impossible to provide loving care in such an environment. Saying sorry on Monday was an important step, but in some ways it is just the beginning.