Controversial adoption reforms pushed through NSW Parliament in the final sitting day before the 2019 state election are likely to have concerning effects on vulnerable children and communities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“These laws have been rushed through parliament, with limited consultation, and in the face of significant opposition from the legal sector, Aboriginal organisations and members of the community,” Community Legal Centres NSW Executive Director Tim Leach said.
“Almost 80 organisations and over 2000 individuals signed an open letter to the Premier about these reforms, asking for the government to slow down and engage meaningfully with the community. These concerns were sadly ignored.
“One of the primary concerns is the new 24-month arbitrary time limits for restorations, which with the prioritisation of adoption as the preferred permanency outcome limits the discretion of the courts and creates a fast-tracked pathway to adoption.
“The introduction of guardianship orders by consent orders and adoption by guardians without parent’s consent creates a concerning pathway to adoption without the consent of parents or adequate oversight by the courts.
“The focus on alternate dispute resolution is welcome, however without a guarantee of legal assistance for parents going through the process, there is a real power imbalance between FACS caseworkers and parents in highly stressful situations.
“These reforms were sprung on the legal, community and Aboriginal sectors with no notice. What limited consultation occurred in 2017 made no mention of many of these reforms, and those that were raised were opposed by a majority of stakeholders.
“Best practice from multiple reports and inquiries suggests that ensuring access to early support services like housing, family violence and legal assistance is essential for stable families and healthy communities. By not addressing systemic issues and placing strict conditions on restorations, there are serious concerns these reforms set families up to fail.
“Community legal centres across NSW will continue to work in the best interests of children and communities in NSW, including monitoring the impacts of government reforms and proposing constructive legislative and policy reforms,” Mr Leach said.