#childsafety | Child Safety accused of discrimination in case of intellectually disabled couple who asked for help with baby

Tasmania’s Child Safety Service has been accused of discriminating against an intellectually disabled couple who requested help with their baby girl, only to have her removed from the family’s care without appropriate advice on their rights.

The baby’s parents, both of whom identify as Tasmanian Aboriginal and were homeless at the time of her birth, contacted the Child Safety Service soon after she was born to ask for support. 

The baby was placed in temporary care.

Last year, a Magistrate placed the baby under the guardianship of the Communities Tasmania secretary with one of several conditions including that she was transitioned from her foster family to the care of her great-aunt interstate “as soon as possible”.

The baby’s biological parents moved to the same city as the great-aunt on the advice of Child Safety.

About eight months later, the child remains in Tasmania, connecting with her biological parents only via video-link.

The baby’s biological father and great-aunt — neither of whom can be legally named — said they were in the dark as to why the baby had remained with her foster family.

“I tried everything in my power to get her here and for us to live happily ever after, but it never happened,” the woman said.

Neither have been advised the outcome of a court hearing scheduled for last month despite a previous court condition that “if something happens and the Child Safety Service doesn’t think it is best to move [the baby] … [Child Safety] will tell Mum [and] Dad” as well as the great-aunt.

Former caseworker ‘bewildered’

The child’s former caseworker, Phil Brown, has been advocating for the family since leaving the Child Safety Service.

He said he was “bewildered” by their treatment at the hands of the system and that he was confident there was no risk of harm to the child that had required the granting of long-term guardianship to Communities Tasmania secretary Michael Pervan.

“They were not provided with an interpreter or support person from NDIS during interviews, appointments and discussions.”

Former Child Safety worker Phil Brown has been advocating for the family.(Supplied)

Mr Brown said he believed the department-ordered psychological assessments — used in decision-making related to the child — were therefore unreliable and unethical.

Documents also show Communities Tasmania consulted the baby’s maternal grandmother on who was best placed to care for the child long-term.

Mr Brown said this had a “cumulative effect” on the baby’s biological mother, who grew up in the child protection system herself, and had left her feeling “humiliated and victimised”.

Mr Brown tried to file a complaint on behalf of the family with Equal Opportunity Tasmania earlier this year, but it was ultimately withdrawn after the agency revealed it was unable to assist in cross-jurisdictional matters.

Mr Brown’s complaint read: “In all other cases I have worked with over 20 years, the child is placed with a family member within weeks or days if safe to do so and there is no reason given why this was not applied to [this child].

“I was the original case manager and am satisfied there was no risk of harm to [the baby], that proper practice was not followed; that the family have and continue to be discriminated against and treated differently and worse than others with a child that has a safe kinship carer.”

The ABC understands the state’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner has raised the legislative restrictions preventing conciliation between the family and Communities Tasmania with the State Government.

‘She should be here’

A spokesman for Communities Tasmania said the department could not comment on individual cases.

“Decisions regarding the long-term out-of-home care of children are on the advice and input from a range of professionals and support persons and determined by the Children’s Court,” the spokesman said.

“Child Safety Services works with parents’ legal representatives to ensure parents understand and participate effectively in legal proceedings.”

The baby’s biological father said he had been struggling to contact his solicitor in Tasmania and did not understand what was happening.

The baby’s great-aunt, who was approved as the child’s kinship carer and had prepared her house accordingly, said she had suffered health issues from the stresses of the past 12 months.

The first of five planned trips to Tasmania to help the baby transition to her care was abruptly cancelled without explanation, and she has not heard from Communities Tasmania since.

Labor MP Josh Willie said the situation was “on face value, pretty appalling”.

“There are real questions around how the information was provided to the couple, who have intellectual disabilities, and whether the lack of information and the way it was communicated was discriminatory,” Mr Willie said.

“It’s my understanding that the couple entered into the arrangement with Child Safety in a voluntary way and they deserve to be treated fairly, and I worry about the trauma this has caused.”


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