Sue Tregeagle


Sue is a social worker and holds a PHD in social policy. She writes in the area of out-of-home care, open adoption, prevention of entry to care and technology in social work.


The issue: Open adoption can offer children greater sense of belonging and stability than live in out-of-home care. Yet in 2015-16 there were only 70 carer adoptions in Australia (a decline from 94 from the past year). Open adoption is a viable and important option for non-Indigenous young children who are currently forced to live their whole childhood in unstable care systems.
Why does it matter? International studies show adoption to be a more stable and improve outcomes for children who are permanently removed from their families. Many young children in care who will have to live their whole lives in unstable foster care: 12,293 children under 1 living in care and 8,443 children under five, 67% of children had been in continuous placement for 2 years or more and 87% had been in the same placement. Of these children many will never go home – 31,129 lived on finalised guardianship and 9,070 on third-party orders.
The solution: Practitioners must actively consider case plans for open adoption particularly when babies entering care are highly likely to stay there till age 18. Birth parents must be clear about their rights and timeframes for action. State Governments should model their adoption legislation on NSW and prioritise adoption from care.
What difference will it make? Up to a thousand children per year will have greatly improved placement stability (3%) and better educational and health outcomes. An adoption costs on average $230,000 compared to care costs of $688,000.


The issue: Strategies to improve child development, safety and wellbeing need to consider the corrosive role of poverty in families; new research shows us more clearly than ever that alleviating poverty will significantly affect abuse and neglect and prevent entry to care.
Why does it matter? Evidence since the 1980s has shown the impact of poverty on rates and severity of neglect and abuse. However, recent Australian research has attempted to quantify this impact and claims that 27% of child maltreatment is due to economic factors. International studies show that abuse rates have been affected by the GFC, changes to minimum wages, and, neighbourhood poverty. In relation to entry to care, poverty controlled for other factors was shown to account for 57.1% of regional variation in placement rates for children under 5, and, research on decreases in welfare payments shows a 25% increase in annual risk of out of home care placement.
The solution: We need to refocus the National Framework especially in the areas of welfare ‘reform’ affecting family payments, child support, barriers to childcare and affordable housing. Practitioners must ensure that the assistance that they offer includes practical support.
What difference will it make? We must improve the wellbeing of the 17.4% of Australian children who live in poverty (731,300 children) and arrest the increase of 2% increase between 2000- 2014. We particularly need to focus on children in lone-parent households where 40. 6% live in poverty and in private rental housing (59% under the poverty line).


The issue: Whilst early intervention strategies improve the quality of family life and child development and link services to communities, there is currently very little evidence that they directly affect abuse and neglect or entry to care. We must find better ways to link early intervention to more intense interventions when necessary.
Why does it matter? Since 2010-11 there has been an increase of 35% of children subject to a substantiation. One in five of these children are subject to multiple substantiations and the re-substantiation rate is currently 18.8% (AIHW 2014-15). Whilst 42,457 children were involved in substantiations- only 11,581 entered care during 2014-15, how safe is the environment for the remainder? We know that there is little evidence that significant abuse, neglect and entry to out of home care are prevented by early intervention services.
The solution: We need to focus early intervention services on the most disadvantaged and link them to services capable of intensive interventions. It is only through strong links with more intensive services that we can make to have truly safe environments, early intervention services must be focus on the children and young people most at risk and must have clear links to housing, crisis care and intensive support. Models such as Children’s Family Centres must be developed.
The difference? Substantiation rates and re-substantiation must decrease and models of service which integrate early intervention and secondary services with good knowledge of child protection decision making need to be developed.


Recent amendments to the Children (Care and Protection) Act 1998 require the Courts in NSW to consider a care plan of adoption for children who are unable to safely return to their family and for whom guardianship is not appropriate. This change enshrines the principle of permanency for children through the provision of a “family for life” that lasts beyond childhood. However, there are few organisations who are currently accredited to undertake this work or who are prepared for this major change to their agency’s focus.

Barnardos Find-a-Family has been finalising adoptions for children in OOHC care since 1985, with approximately half of the children in the program exiting care through adoption. This presentation will explore the strategies that have supported Barnardos in achieving this goal and how these may assist other organisations.

The commitment and belief in adoption from Boards, senior management and operational staff is critical as a main driver of change and must be embedded in corporate plans and reflected in strategic plans and targets. Equally important is the ability of organisations to be proactive, to prepare for growth and change and identify barriers to achievement of goals. Centres and programs need to evolve and adjust their structure to meet future needs and consideration should be given to specialised teams which have a focus on achieving adoption.

Planning and reflection are the keys to success and must be a constant feature as organisations change and adapt to meet agency goals.

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