The Commission has been researching the issues faced by families relinquishing children with disability into state care and has produced a report: Desperate measures: The relinquishment of children with disability into state care in Victoria. This follows concerns raised by the Commission’s Disability Reference Group, warning that families may be surrendering their children because they are not given enough support to continue full-time caring.
Desperate measures: The relinquishment of children with disability into state care in Victoria is a report that shines a light on what has been a hidden problem in our disability system for many years. It results from our research looking at the nature, extent and causes of relinquishment, focusing on children under 18 with disability.
We have heard from parents, organisations that support parents, disability and parent advocates, service providers and practitioners. Through this research we have tried to understand the factors that lead to a family or parent feeling they have no choice but to surrender the day-to-day care of their child to the state.
Read the report
Desperate measures: The relinquishment of children with disability into state care in Victoria was released in May 2012 and is available to download in Word or PDF format.
Along with sixteen case studies, the report discusses vital issues relating to relinquishment, including:
- risk factors
- system response
- legal and policy context.
The report makes 28 recommendations. These range from understanding the problem better and improving recording of instances of relinquishment and their causes, through to early identification of families at risk and prevention strategies.
Relinquishment caused by the failure to deliver adequate support denies the human rights of children and families under both Australian and international law. Until now, there has been no detailed study on what drives relinquishment and what might be done to prevent it. Our research addresses that information gap, focusing on the relinquishment into state care of children under 18 with disability.
The project followed concerns raised by the Commission’s Disability Reference Group and subsequent discussion in the Commission’s submission to the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry.
Our research has found that 50 or more Victorian families each year are surrendering the day-to-day care of children with disability to the state. The impacts of relinquishment are profound – children experience trauma, grief, fear and confusion. It also places an additional, unplanned and preventable burden on the child protection and disability systems – systems that already struggle to meet demand.
Parents in difficult situations need support that is timely, easy to access, flexible and gives them the capacity to continue to care for children with disabilities that can be complex and challenging. We understand that the enormity of the decision to relinquish and the impact on the future of the family and the child cannot be overstated.
Seventeen families and carers took part in confidential case study interviews and another 17 families completed an online survey. We interviewed 19 key informants, asking what factors drive relinquishment, its impacts and what can be done to end it. We also gathered the views of 41 service providers, advocates and support groups through an online survey. In addition, peak bodies and large agencies made written submissions.
The Department of Human Services worked in partnership with the Commission throughout the project, in particular by providing data and policy briefings.
The reference group overseeing this project included representatives of the Child Safety Commissioner, the Disability Services Commissioner, Association for Children with Disability, Youth Disability Advocacy Service and the Commission’s Disability Reference Group.
On 3 September 2012, the Commission and Yooralla hosted a forum for human services practitioners to begin the work on developing better models of care for children with disabilities and their families. Practitioners explored ways to prevent relinquishment and to respond better when it happens.
The Commission and Yooralla are now testing these ideas with affected families before presenting them to government.
No more desperate measures: better models of care for children and their families at risk of or experiencing relinquishment was a forum for human services practitioners held on 3 September 2012.
The forum began with keynote speeches.
- Acting Commissioner Karen Toohey summarised the Commission's report Desperate measures: the relinquishment of children with disability into state care in Victoria.
- CEO of the Association for Children with a Disability Elizabeth McGarry spoke about relinquishment from the perspective of families.
- Ashley Creighton from Yooralla spoke from a practitioner's perspective.
Practitioners then discussed the practice principles that should inform services for children with disability and their families, including those that are at risk of or experiencing relinquishment.
Practitioners also spoke about how the human services system could be changed to better respond to and prevent relinquishment.
Yooralla and the Commission have now tested these ideas with focus groups of families. A working party of practitioners drawn from the forum is also now established and is developing more detailed proposals for models of care - building on the work of the forum and the family focus groups.