23 November 2017: In an Australian-first, University of Canberra research into newborn babies being put into out of home care (OOHC) in New South Wales has found very few are returned to a parent and even fewer are adopted.
OOHC is considered the last resort when children are at risk of serious harm and/or their home environment is not considered safe.
University of Canberra PhD candidate Christine Marsh’s research has identified – over a defined period of time – the number and outcomes of newborn babies taken into OOHC within seven days of their birth.
Ms Marsh said a large proportion of children in OOHC are under five years of age and approximately 18 per cent are under one year old.
“We gathered data on newborn babies aged seven days or less that entered into OOHC in NSW for a nine-year period from 1 January 2006. We found 1,834 cases over this period,” Ms Marsh said.
“We found that of the newborn babies that entered into care in the study period, only 6.6 per cent were returned to their parent/s and only 5.1 per cent were adopted.
“This experience is extremely traumatic; it has immediate impact on the parents and wider families as well as on the babies themselves. The goal across the sector, from policymakers to staff within the Department of Community Services, must be to reduce the number of babies entering into OOHC.”
Ms Marsh said the study also found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander newborn babies were overrepresented in the figures, which confirms other national data.
“Approximately one third of the sample was identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and Indigenous newborn babies are nine and a half times more likely to be in OOHC than non-Aboriginal newborns.”
One of the main aims of the study was to examine any changes in the OOHC rates among babies after legislative changes to the NSW Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998, from 2008.
Ms Marsh explained that a higher proportion of newborn babies entered care at a younger age after the legislative changes, which provide for reports to the Department of Community Services on whether an unborn baby may be at risk of significant harm after birth.
“We also found that after the legal changes fewer of these babies ended up being adopted,” she said.
“Further research is required to compare the NSW data to other states and territories, and to understand the impact of an ‘assumption of care’ at birth on the newborn baby and the mother. Assumption of care is where the NSW Department of Community Services removes a child from its parents.”
Ms Marsh said there is an undeniable need of resources for early identification of women at risk and increased individualised support and services.
“If everyone from policymakers to the agencies and community support organisations can focus on this type of interventions in a collaborative way, we may influence the number of children removed by an assumption of care.”
Ms Marsh has co-authored an article Guilty until proven innocent? – The Assumption of Care of a baby at birth for the journal Women and Birth, with University of Canberra colleagues, Professor of Nursing and Midwifery Deborah Davis, Jenny Browne and Dr Jan Taylor