Bad parents given 12 month deadline under new vulnerable child protection rules

vulnerable children
vulnerable children Photo: Getty

Parents of children who have been removed from abusive homes will have 12 months to turn their life around or their children will be placed in permanent care, under new Napthine government rules.

The state government will introduce legislation into Parliament on Tuesday to give more stability to vulnerable children in care, who often spend many years being shifted between relatives, foster care and residential carers.

The reforms were recommended by the Cummins inquiry into the state's child protection system, which revealed children waited an average of five years for a permanent care order after their first report.

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge said too many children were spending long, uncertain periods of time in care, which caused further trauma.

"Our first priority is to keep a child with a parent, but when parents cannot address the areas of concern, such as deal with their drug addiction or provide a safe environment, removing the children is the only option," she said.

Ms Wooldridge said the legislation gave parents 12 months to fix issues that led to their children being removed so that they could resume care. When parents need more time to address these issues - but have shown "good progress" - another 12 months may be granted. If issues are then still not resolved, a decision will be made to seek permanent care for the child, which is similar to adoption.  

A permanent care order is made in the Children's Court and gives long-term carers guardianship and custody over children in their care.

Moves to fast-track vulnerable children into permanent care follow reports that children in Department of Human Services residential care were being sexually exploited by paedophile gangs. 

Commissioner for Children and Young People Bernie Geary welcomed the reforms, saying they gave children certainty about their future and put their rights "at the centre". 


"Children have to have an adult in their life who sees them as special, and if they are living at a range of places with different carers, it is very difficult for them to work out who they are special to, and whether they are special at all," he said.

Mr Geary did not think the changes would punish birth parents, and said he was hopeful they encouraged more people to become foster carers.

MacKillop Family Services chief executive Micaela Cronin said the reforms would give children in care a better chance of a good, stable childhood.

"Multiple placements can lead to further trauma for children. Having some stability and a good start in life, both within a family and educationally, sets you up for the rest of your life," she said.

Nigel, 23, knows first hand what it is like to be shifted between carers. The university student, who was placed into care when he was three, estimates he had at least 25 placements. He said the instability impacted his education, identity and relationships. A permanent care order was eventually made when he was six.

"Once I had stability and felt safe, I was able to learn my alphabet, then I started to excel at school and I got scholarships for high school," Nigel said.

Unfortunately, the long-term placement broke down when Nigel was 13, but he said he still has a good relationship with his carers and calls them mum and dad.

The state government changes will also require case plans to be developed sooner and align with the child’s court orders.

Aboriginal children in out-of-home care will be given a cultural plan to maintain and develop their identity.