James Woods, who is heading an Inquiry into child protection, at Lismore yesterday.
James Woods, who is heading an Inquiry into child protection, at Lismore yesterday.

ANOTHER STOLEN GENERATION

By HELEN JACK helen.jack@northernstar.com.au

THE Department of Community Services is creating a another stolen generation.

That's what one woman told a Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection at Lismore yesterday.

More than 100 people came to the forum at the Lismore Worker's Club with stories of pain and loss. Men and women. Parents and Grandparents. It was their first chance ever to tell someone in charge how they felt about their treatment by DoCS.

The commissioner in charge of the inquiry, the Hon. James Wood, is travelling around the state to decide if the Child Protection laws are working and whether DoCS is doing its job properly.

During the Lismore meeting, he heard heartbreaking stories from individuals caring for children placed in their care and parents who have had their children taken from them by DoCS.

Some described how, once 'in the system', their needs were ignored by DoCS and they were instead treated in a generic manner which fitted better with the bureaucracy's Monday to Friday work week and its regulations.

Managers of non-government organisations (NGOs) who provided crisis accommodation, counselling for drugs and alcohol and relationships, as well as support for carers agreed the constant creation of new services and new NGOs was confusing, scattered funding and diluting effective support for those in crisis.

They described how more and more of their client referrals were coming from community organisations rather than from DoCS and how clients were already in crisis when they presented. They recommended to Mr Woods that early intervention be a priority.

One woman explained how her children were taken away from her at time when she was a drug addict and unable to cope.

She said how, years later, she had stopped taking drugs and had found stable accommodation but had not received her children back because she did not pass a test conducted by DoCS.

Another woman described how access to her children was timed to fit within the Monday to Friday working week, stopping her from being with her child to celebrate his birthday on a weekend. She had to wait for five days to say happy birthday.

Grandparents who cared for their children's children also told their stories.

Some spoke of how difficult it was to get reliable information from DoCS workers and how many were caring for children on a pension and without financial support from DoCS because they did not know they could get financial help.

Some worried what would happen to the children when they died.

Some pointed out many indigenous grandparents and great-grandparents were often caring for children from two generations and often for as many as seven children at one time, and they were worn out and fearful about who would care for the children when they couldn't.

The stories kept coming. One woman had her two-year-old daughter was taken away by DoCS and handed into the care of the child's father only to be sexually abused by him.

She said the incident was reported to DoCS but was not forwarded to the police for investigation.

One grandmother, close to tears, told how her granddaughters were taken from their parents and placed into care.

"Dysfunction breeds dysfunction," she said. "They will become young mums who cannot look after their own children.

"It's now too late for them."

The public forums will continue until the end of May and visit major regional centres throughout NSW.

For more information call 1800 442 819 or email cps_inquiry@agd.nsw.gov.au



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