13 March, 2015
Improved checks for a new foster carers register in New South Wales could make things worse for some Aboriginal children, a highly respected veteran of the child welfare sector says.
Barnardos Australia chief executive Louise Voight has given her assessment of out-of-home care to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The inquiry heard vulnerable children had endured nine to 15 placements by their 10th birthday, and a significant percentage had gone into care before they turned one.
Ms Voight said she was worried changes to improve the assessment and checking process for potential carers could make things worse for some children.
She said that aside from police checks on violence and sexual matters, even a 10-year-old driving offence could mark a potential carer as unsuitable.
"(It) means that we will be in a position where there will be almost nobody who's Aboriginal and lives in a country town who won't have these sorts of things," she said.
Ms Voight said she got more worried when she raised her concerns strongly with the NSW Children's Guardian.
She was told the state's roughly 60 out-of-home care agencies would be able to decide whether to apply the provisions.
"This means agencies of varying quality and qualifications will be making the judgment about whether a carer, who is really desperately needed, is OK on the basis of stuff like that," she said.
Barnados supports carers adopting children
Ms Voight said Barnardos supported legislation in NSW to make it easier for carers to adopt.
She said there was a shortage of suitable carers and that movements between foster homes in the non-government sector had increased.
"It is a serious problem if you are a child because what it means it that your whole attachment process is constantly disrupted," she said.
"This means that we take children in who are traumatised and we re-traumatise them over and over again."
Ms Voight is due to retire in July after being honoured with a lifetime achievement award by her professional association last year.
(This article was first published on abc.net.au on 13 March, 2015 and was written by Michelle Brown.)