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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 11 Hansard (19 October) . . Page.. 3298 ..

MR WOOD (continuing):

aspect that tells us how difficult it can sometimes be. I will not mention names, but I raise the case with the consent of the family. I was in contact regularly with the Minister's office at the time. I might say that I appreciate the assistance I got from the Minister's office then and I get on other occasions because there are difficulties - there is some reference to this in the Bill - in that there are very significant privacy concerns. I do not believe that I should be told chapter and verse all the background of the families concerned, so the Minister's office and I tread in difficult areas as I seek briefings and assistance in pursuing cases. I think all members find themselves in these circumstances from time to time.

One day after school, this family found people at their doorstep, including, I believe, a policeman, who told them that two of their children had been taken into care and that had occurred earlier in the day, so this was some hours after the event. It followed an altercation in the house in the morning - an altercation that, on the best information I could glean, was not excessive. The daughter went to school and told teachers that she was afraid to go home as her father might punish her.

Action followed, but the action was pretty drastic. It remains a concern to me that there was no contact with the parents during the day to get their account of the incident and to get their account of how they had cared for their children in the past and might well do so in the future. There was no contact. In this case, the daughter's account was taken as gospel. I still believe that there should have been some balance to that, that the parents ought to have been afforded the opportunity to present their side of the story. But the authorities made the judgment that things were so serious that there had to be rapid and total removal of the daughter - and, as it subsequently turned out, of the son because he went with the daughter - from that house. Relationships have not been the same since.

There was, in fact, long evidence of care by the parents. Both children, in relation to health for one and sporting achievements for the other, had had a very considerable amount of support from their parents. Whilst there had been that altercation and a physical blow in the morning, the parents could point to their dedication to their children. But they were never able immediately to present their case. The parents believe to this day that the fact that the children were taken away with no chance to come back and mediate, no talking to the parents, was the reason that it went from bad to worse, that the children became less and less likely to want a reconciliation because the gap simply grew.

As it was, the two children went, let us say, to a youth refuge. The boy was dismissed subsequently because he was found to have alcohol in his possession - I think he was aged about 11 or 12 - at a place of care. I think that was acknowledged and that there were some drugs involved as well in a place of care. So, when the parents say to me, "Our home provided better care than this institution", I have to agree with them. But it was this matter of continuing estrangement that was the problem. Eventually, the boy came back home, but problems continued and he does run away from time to time.

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