ACT News

Unneccessary duplication in foster-care adoptions, taskforce finds

Foster parents looking to adopt their long-term charges are being forced to recount their stories over and over again in a system overburdened by child welfare complaints, a taskforce has been told.

Submissions from parents to the Review of the Domestic Adoption Process in the ACT, tabled in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, showed their frustration at a system described as "prolonged, repetitive and underpinned by duplication and inconsistent levels of support".

"The process has involved unnecessarily writing up, again our life story and history," one foster parent wrote.

"The process to become a foster parent was rigorous and we continue to be monitored while we provide ongoing care."

"Foster parents who have been approved and granted a specific parenting authority to care for a child on 18 year orders should not have to undergo additional interviews, panels, applications, unnecessary questions, like how has your life changed since the child came into your care, how has your relationship changed. These things are observed and spoken about over the months and years the child is placed in their care through review of arrangements, meetings and linking panel," another wrote.

There were only four adoptions in the ACT last financial year, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found.

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As at January 1 this year, there were 11 adoptions underway in the ACT, ranging from the first to final stages. 

The Domestic Adoption Taskforce was established in August last year to look at the time blow outs in the adoption process.

What it found was a system that was overbearing in some cases and grossly unsupportive in others.

Parents reported being told adoption was "not a priority in a heavy caseload" and found caseworkers often misplaced or forgot their paperwork.

"I submitted the application in January 2015, and was informed that the agency was so under resourced they did not have capacity to even consider or commence my application in 2015," one parent said.

"Because of the many changes in caseworkers, it was later discovered that a referral to the Government Solicitor's Office had been forgotten or misplaced and nobody had noticed for a length of time."

From January 2014 to June 2016, there was a 123 per cent increase in the number of child concern reports made to authorities due to the prevalence of mandatory reporting and two royal commissions into child protection.

The report said the overall impact of increasing referrals to child protection services was that "less urgent work" was likely to be delayed, "including long-term permanency planning and domestic adoptions".

The taskforce recommended the government look at ways to reduce duplication in the assessment process without compromising quality.

The ACT's minister for children, Rachel Stephen-Smith said the directorate was already working on implementing some of the recommendations around improving communication with prospective parents.

The government is due to respond to the report's findings and recommendations by the end of March.

But Adopt Change chief executive Renee Carter said the ACT needed to look at setting up "dual authorisation" for foster carers. 

She said the current adoption process in the ACT was  "quite complex" and had a "lot of unnecessary red tape".

"Dual authorisation would mean when you go through the process initially as a foster carer you're actually approved for the possibility of adoption down the track, so you're just going through that process once," Ms Carter said.

"It's a very rigorous process to be approved as a foster carer and the child has been living with you for quite a while at that adoption point, you're regularly monitored at different check in points so to go through the whole process again is a huge amount of resources.

"As well as that it's an intrusion for the family who has formed a bond by that point so really dual authorisation would be the ideal."