In the report, Mr Brouwer said,
In my view the appropriateness of a legal system that generates such a degree of conflict ought to be reconsidered by government and an assessment made as to whether better outcomes for children and families could be achieved through an improved model.
According to Thursday’s Age, while the Ombudsman had plenty of criticism for the Department of Human Services, he concluded that the low retention rate of child protection staff (leading to a lack of experience and accountability) was in large part due to their experience with the court.
In an account which will surprise nobody who appears in the summary jurisdiction, George Brouwer related the experience of a DHS worker who said all parties have to attend the Children’s Court at 10 a.m. But sometimes they are told later in the day that there is no time to hear their matter, and need to come back the following day. This affects the time workers have with families. He cited one case where, over 10 months, there were 16 court hearings and nine court reports completed by DHS about just one family.
The report identifies DHS resourcing as an issue, but also says,
However it may be difficult for any government to adequately resource the child protection program whilst it expends so much of its resources responding to the forensic examination of this activity. Additional resources, without substantial systemic reform, is likely to merely lead to more families becoming caught up in a resource intensive and often counter-productive adversarial process. In my view the government ought to carefully consider whether it is getting the best value for its investment in the child protection system.
There’s no doubt that the protection of vulnerable children is an emotive issue. George Brouwer doesn’t want a system where children are removed from their parents without some right of review.