Carers are struggling to access critical medical information about their foster children due to legal and bureaucratic barriers, a family support agency has said.
Barnardos Australia's general manager of operations, Melissa Bell, made the comments during evidence on Tuesday to the ACT Legislative Assembly's inquiry into the territory's care and protection system.
The public hearing also heard from representatives from Beryl's Women's Refuge, who said "systemic unconscious bias" influenced how the government's child protection services handled cases involving Aboriginal families.
The inquiry was triggered by a case involving the ACT government's wrongful removal of five Aboriginal children from their mother in 2013. The case was settled early last year, ending the mother's five-year battle to have her children returned to her.
The Legislative Assembly probe has been split into two parts.
In the first part, the assembly's cross-party health, ageing and community services committee is examining the circumstances surrounding the mother's case.
In the second, the committee is taking a wider look at information sharing in the territory's care and protection system.
Ms Bell, whose organisation supports about 15,000 children and families in the ACT and NSW each year, said the territory's information sharing laws appeared to be "framed to protect adults more than children".
She said carers were frustrated by how difficult it was to obtain critical health records for their children, including information about their previous medical treatment.
Ms Bell said discharge summaries for newborns were provided to carers, although they weren't written in a way that was easy for them to understand.
"Even if the carer ultimately does receive the information that they need, there is a frustration around that and it undermines their confidence in their role as a carer," she told the inquiry.
"You asked me to quantify it. I can't quantify it in terms of how often it happens, but in terms of quantifying carer's frustration levels about this .... they are now extremely high."
Committee member Vicki Dunne said she was aware of foster carers who had resorted to passing on information about children directly to other carers, such was their frustration with the formal information-sharing channels.
"We'd all agree that that is unsatisfactory, but it has been brought about by a sense of desperation," she said.
Ms Bell was also aware of the practice.
In her evidence to the hearing, Beryl Women's Refuge manager Robyn Martin described the experiences of Aboriginal families dealing with the ACT's child youth and protective services [CYPS].
"Aboriginal children are over-represented across the child protection system," she said.
"Systemic unconscious bias seems to play a part when CYPS are working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Decisions are made without the family or the client involved.
"Women are held accountable for men's violence, even though she has no control over his behaviour. She is re-victimized by the system and her children are removed as a result."