Calls for ACT government to implement trauma-informed counselling when children removed from home

Advocates for children in the ACT are calling on the government to implement a system whereby children removed from their parents are given immediate counselling.

Independent children's lawyer Lessli Strong said she was astounded to find out children who were removed from their families in child protection matters did not receive mandatory counselling.

"You have the police come in and remove the children and the mum and dad are screaming and it's a terrible situation, and the kids are just delivered to this home of strangers," Ms Strong said.

"The case worker has time to say some words, but they then fall into the household of strangers. I was astounded to find out they're not then taken to a counsellor, the next morning in an ideal world, to sit them down and go, 'well that was awful last night'."

Ms Strong said that was left up to the foster carers to explain and assist the child with that trauma.

"That's the greatest travesty in my view, even if they are restored a whole rupture to their security has occurred."

When a child is removed from home, the ACT system does not provide immediate trauma-informed counselling.

When a child is removed from home, the ACT system does not provide immediate trauma-informed counselling.

Ms Strong said it was also concerning that there was no review of how the child was removed.

"If you're removing with police and the parent is screaming and ranting, that might not have to happen. It could've happened another way. Or maybe that was essential, but they're the things that need to be reviewed."

"When someone has to justify it, it also makes them calm down. Of course if someone is beating up a child that would be necessary, there is no question about it. But psychological abuse, does that need removal straight away? It depends."

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Chrystina Stanford said while children might be considered physically safe following their removal, they were traumatised by the process.

"It would be so much better to be able to work with children at the time of the trauma," Ms Stanford said.

"It's the compounded effect of untreated trauma that affects people across a whole lifetime."

She said it's "enormous" work, but if they were reached as children it wouldn't take years of help like it did in adulthood.

"The first instance, where the damage is done, that's where there doesn't seem to be much authority. Right at the damage level, hence the damage being fixed later. If that level was done appropriately we would have far less damage," she said.

"If you take a child out of their environment and put them in a different one, it's really traumatic. So what happens is they respond to the trauma and behave in the way they best know how to do which brings them to the attention of the next family. Moving kids around is not only a cost burden, it doesn't actually solve the problem."

Ms Stanford said it was just as important to have ongoing counselling for children who were severely traumatised.

She said they didn't start to get better until they're safe, and they didn't fall apart, and then put things back together, until the crisis was over.

"When the family unit is safe, whoever that is, it's absolutely appropriate to intervene then and provide a broader health and wellbeing response. We don't have investment in that."

Ms Stanford said there was nothing to address the trauma on a systemic level, and that needed to change.