A Queensland carer’s plea for permanency reform

My name is Nikkii Joyce, my husband and I are Queensland foster carers and as of this year, prospective parents on the Queensland Adoptive Services Register. We are also in the final stages of being assessed for the ‘My Home Initiative’, the new Queensland Adoptive Services out of home care permanency program.

While our nieces and nephews dream of holidays to theme parks and plane rides, the children whom call our house home, temporarily, do not.

No, you see the fantasies of our children consist of making mud pies in “their” backyard and knowing they can race each other to the exact spot where they could always get the quality mud.

It’s the anticipation of knowing exactly what they want to grab out of the arts and craft box on the kitchen table before the lid is even opened, and the fish and chips like clockwork on a Friday afternoon. It is their day-long carefully considered contemplation of “which book?” at bed time. It’s falling instantly asleep without the invariable anxiety over realising tomorrow’s uncertainty is a-knocking, clouding their little faces and overpowering their tiny bodies.

Queensland’s ‘child protection’ headlines may have shocked Australia this last year, but for all of us whom live within its borders – it was shattering. Beyond the devastation of the children whose stories we knew, like Mason Jett Lee and Tiahleigh Palmer, we discovered the tragedies of those we didn’t know in the news from our State Coroner that every one of 18 children whom died while under the watch of child protection in 2015-16 were failed by our authorities. Is it any wonder that 1503 foster carers quit last financial year?

Somewhere, along the way in Queensland, we all lost sight of what our primary goal should be – the welfare of our children. 

In no world should the rights of parents, nor guardians nor carers nor workers, ever supersede when a child’s life is in the balance. Mistrust and animosity creeps in when those lines are crossed; between those stepping up, those asking people to step up, and the wider audience watching on from the sidelines – until none of us can answer: just who is watching the children?

The ghosts of our country’s mistakes yesterday’s have shadowed the decisions we make today, and well we should tread with care. But if the evidence and arguments both for and against are the same across our country, how does the legislative disparity that is the bold moves of one State Government to the hesitation of another exist?

While politicians in various governments duel and haggle fine and far-reaching details before they head home each day, I am compelled every day by the faces of the children whom have no such home, and whose lives wait in the balance.

This month, in much anticipated news, my Queensland Parliament will again have on its agenda the Child Protection Reform Amendment Bill 2017, which seeks to address recommended specific “permanency” changes to the Child Protection Act 1999. The bill, amongst other things includes the introduction of a “permanent care order” where a suitable person is granted permanent guardianship with complete capacity to make decisions for the child. While it cannot be revoked by a parent nor department, it does necessitate connections between the child and biological family. 

Additionally, it recommends provisions to forbid a court from making one or more short-term orders that together extend beyond a period of two years. If passed, the new legislation will see Queensland consistent with peers in New South Wales and Victoria whom are already well into recent permanency reform.

For further details of the recommended Child Protection Reform Amendment Bill 2017, the community consultation and the explanation notes of what is recommended for change, the links below are provided.

Child Protection Reform Amendment Bill 2017  |  Explanatory Notes

Suddenly, never before has a contemporary national discussion of child protection reform such as next month’s Adopt Change: ‘Connections for Life’ National Permanency Conference been more relevant to me and my Queensland. That is why myself and Joanne Roff, from my foster care agency IFYS Ltd will be in the audience, front and centre, for the delivery of ideas and experience by some of the greatest contemporaries’ leading Australian child welfare reform, including Queensland’s very own Trevor Jordon (Jigsaw), Matthew Bambrick (Create Foundation) and Lisa Dibbs (Qld Alliance for Kids) Queensland Shadow Minister for Child Safety Ros Bates and Julie Harcourt, (former director of research at The Queensland Family and Child Commission).

I am the sceptic.
I am one half of two fulltime working people whom have given a home to 7 children at different times in four years aged 1-16. 
I am the broken-hearted carer. 
But I am here.

If each of us, in our role – be it parent, carer, worker, – are all resolute in maintaining our single purpose of ensuring the welfare of our children, how do we ever find ourselves on opposite sides? 

You may say I’m a dreamer.
But I, and John Lennon, were not the only ones.
And if we don’t hold fast to our dreams, how on earth can we teach our children to?