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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 10 Hansard (29 August) . . Page.. 3077 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

I question the lack of support for a youth legal centre or a focus on real youth crime prevention.

MS TUCKER (5.17): I will speak to family services and child protection. We still have in the ACT a situation which was current several years ago when the Assembly looked at services for children at risk. We do not have adequate accommodation for services dealing with those children. This is a very serious issue for our community.

Recently the Commonwealth government made a statement about trying to introduce some form of mutual obligation by having people receiving parenting benefits undertake some kind of parent training. That is offensive, because it targets a particular group of people. The assumption is that because they are receiving benefits they are incompetent and need to have training. I can assure you that there are very well off people who could do with some assistance in parent training.

Let us have the discussion about what is happening to children in our society and what support exists for people in the very challenging work of raising children. I have no problem with that. We need to talk about ways we can support families. Benefits and so on are federal responsibilities. Poverty is a big issue, particularly for single parents. A lot of people in part-time and casual work are experiencing poverty. That has to do with the employment policy of the federal government and trends by employers to try to reduce their costs by having casual and part-time work. Social implications result from that.

There has been a continual plea from foster parents. I remind members of key findings of a report from the Australian Foster Care Association in 2001. The foster care system faces important challenges, with the bulk of children in the system being cared for by a relatively small number of carers and too few new carers. The nature of foster care has been changing, with a higher level of behaviour problems in children in care and the need for more sophisticated parenting. In this environment, there is the need to review recruitment processes, training and ongoing support to ensure children are receiving good-quality care. Collaborative approaches involving all levels of government and parts of the sector offer the potential for better outcomes for children.

A significant proportion of foster carers would like greater support, particularly from state authorities. Greater support could also be provided through foster care associations. More broadly, foster carers feel that the low status and respect they feel is accorded them do not match the importance of the task they are undertaking in raising children.

Processes to deal with allegations of abuse from foster children can be improved to provide greater support to carers without jeopardising the safety of children. In this context it would be worth trialling approaches used in Alberta, Canada and in Australia. If anyone is interested, they can see what those approaches are.

When you look at the statistics on what happens to kids when they go into foster care and on how many of them have several placements within a very short period, you have to be concerned. Continuity of care is seen to be important in any area, but for children who have been traumatised to this degree to be further traumatised by the system that is supposed to protect them is totally unacceptable. That needs to be given greater attention by government.

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