Hello Australia. If you don’t already know me, I’m Charles McGavin. For the last 6 years I have advocated for families who have had their children removed by child protection authorities. Last week journalist Katri Uibu and the ABC began publishing a series of stories as part of a major investigation into Australia’s failing child protection system. These stories have come from over 700 submissions to the ABC from people both inside and outside of the system. If you have not already read what the ABC has published then I urge you to do so. It is raw, shocking and honest and something we rarely see from our mainstream media.
Since the ABC investigation began, I understand they have been inundated with hundreds more families wanting to be heard. I want to throw my support behind what Katri and the ABC are doing to expose the shocking abuses that have been taking place in Australia’s child protection system for decades, and which the state undeniably knows continue to occur to this day.
The level of abuse that is taking place in Australia is astounding, yet that abuse is coming from the very place most Australians least expect it to come from; Government authorities. These authorities have turned abusing vulnerable Australians into a business, and a very profitable one at that for some sectors. The concept of a department that is set up to supposedly protect children is where it begins, but it is certainly not where it ends. It continues with Departments of Health, Education, the police both federal and state, the entire judicial system including the courts, magistrates and judges, and the lawyers who work within it. Many Australians have lost faith in the judicial system and I don’t blame them.
I have also been working recently with advocates for family members who are incarcerated, and the same abuses continue within the Corrections system. The abuses that begin in the child protection system never end for many Australians.
And of course this is not news to our first nations people who have continued to be abused by Australian authorities for over 200 years. The official apology to stolen generations given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on February 13, 2008 means nothing because indigenous families continue to be torn apart in greater numbers than ever before. But don’t take my word for it, this is what the Government’s own data shows.
The Productivity Commission presents a wealth of evidential data yet nothing is being done to correct these abominable situations.
“Young people leaving out of home care are more likely to have contact with the health system, and the juvenile and criminal justice systems, to require public housing, and to have children who are placed into out of home care. The life trajectories of these vulnerable people also have significant, ongoing cost to government. Significant disruption of the system is needed to achieve the fundamental level of change required”.
This was the conclusion of David Tune AO PSM who delivered his Independent Review into Out of Home Care in New South Wales, to the NSW government in March 2016. The government was so embarrassed by David Tune’s report they suppressed if for over two years with its ultimate release in June 2018. And still nothing has changed. This report while being prepared for the NSW Government is equally applicable to every other jurisdiction in Australia. Children continue to be removed at ever increasing rates while effective interventions and supports for families fail to be offered.
The authorities claim that removal of children only occurs as a last resort. This is simply not true. Removal of children from the family is often the first resort and the court battle becomes a means for the Department to justify the removal while using psychological techniques of control, manipulation, and even torture to damage the family and get them to submit into agreeing that their children were at risk of harm in their care, whether or not there is any truth to their claims. An example of this is that legal aid is provided to the family but if the family disagrees with the views of the Department and wishes to take the case to contested hearing, legal aid is withdrawn and the family are left to defend themselves unrepresented. I have attended such proceedings and they are often a trainwreck because parents are unfamiliar with court processes and are literally like a lamb in a slaughterhouse, and left completely defenceless.
I would like to read you some extracts that were written to me this week by a mother and a grandmother. What you often don’t hear about is the damage that removing a child from a family causes to the entire family. I have seen parent’s health dramatically deteriorate to the point where they will likely be unable to ever work again. The stress is enormous and beyond comprehension.
To provide some context, this mother was in court this week. Her daughter was removed from her care by the Department at a time when she sought grief counselling due to a major loss in her life. Her daughter is on interim orders and the court was making a decision on where this girl was to be placed. The reason for her removal was given by the Department as “emotional neglect”.
The mother states, “my character has been destroyed by the Department. Not a question was asked [in court] if they have supporting documents, or investigations. I have never been asked a question. This is a crime of the highest degree. I have been robbed of all human rights. They have destroyed all I have worked for. All my success and achievements in life now tainted. They are pure evil. I am nothing to them now they have taken my child”.
This is one mother’s view but it is not isolated. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have heard the same from other families.
A grandmother also wrote to me this week. The context around this case is that the Department refused to listen to the family about concerns they were placing a child with a paedophile. In fact they actively ignored and minimised what the family told them.
The grandmother, in her submission said, “we were trying to save a four month old child from a paedophile and a Department office behaving with clear bias and conflict of interest, while still trying to remain engaged with the Department. The Department however created an alternative narrative by committing perjury, telling the court that [the child’s mother] had never parented either child, that she had tested positive for methamphetamines, and that we had somehow made [another woman] we will call T, make up a story about the constant childhood rape she experienced at the hands of the same alleged perpetrator. All statements [made by the Department] were lies. I have since discovered that T was threatened by her family to retract her story, and allegedly never told the Department that we had induced her to ‘make up a story’. This was another lie by the Department to create a narrative”.
While both of these small snippets are from much larger and more complex stories, they reflect what I hear every day, and have been doing so for the last 6 years. I find it hard to suggest that Departments of Child Protection and are not malicious in their actions, and are doing these things on purpose.
Now is the time for change. Please support the ABC in their endeavours to expose a system in crisis. Although I am also inundated, and have been for several years, please do reach out to me. I can’t promise that I will respond, but I will do my best. However just the sheer numbers of emails will lend weight to forcing change to occur. And of course I will absolutely respect your confidentiality as I always have done.
Tune Report – Independent Review into Out of Home Care in NSW