Damning rates of child neglect in Hunter

Source: Newcastle Herald

EVERY day another child is removed from their family home as a ‘‘last resort’’ due to serious neglect and abuse in the Hunter and Central Coast, making it the worst region in the state.

Last year alone, the region’s welfare workers removed 450 children from their homes.

By the end of June 2012, nearly 3500 children in the Hunter and Central Coast region were living in out-of-home care, the highest number in NSW, according to statistics held by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services.

The department describes out-of-home care as a last resort that is necessary when children and young people experience serious neglect and abuse, cannot live at home safely or have families unable to care for them.

Maureen Moran, community consultant for the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, said the majority of out-of-home care placements were not the happy forever-after arrangements that the wider community might suppose. More often than not, children removed from their families experienced multiple placements, suffering a form of ‘‘systems abuse’’ on top of their previous traumas, she said.

‘‘Multiple placements can cause a lot of damage,’’ Ms Moran said.

‘‘The question of whether enough is being done is always interesting and I would ask is the right thing being done, given that we are struggling to keep the number of children at risk down and the number in out-of-home care is increasing, despite the department’s good intentions.

‘‘It really is a whole community that creates conditions in which children are safe or unsafe, it’s probably a lot more complex than just ‘we have some challenging families’.’’

The focus needed to shift more towards prevention programming, Ms Moran said.

That was still relatively new in Australia.

Prevention should start in preschools and be continued  through to adolescence and beyond, Ms Moran said.

‘‘What we teach preschoolers is protective behaviours, identifying when you feel scared and when you feel safe and knowing what to do and not to ignore those feelings,’’ she said.

‘‘So by the time they are out there and starting to parent, they have some more skills about what is respectful because neglect and abuse is very cyclical; children in out-of-home care often have parents who have also been known to the department or been in out-of-home care.’’

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