WA’s methamphetamine and domestic-violence crises are fuelling a surge in the number of newborns taken from their parents in the days after their birth.
A sharp 20 per cent rise has occurred in the past year alone, with 114 newborns removed in 2015-16 compared with 94 the previous year. A massive 150 per cent spike has been recorded in the six years since 2010-11, when the number was 45.
The alarming figures come as the Department for Child Protection and Family Support reveals plans to offer a live-in support service in Perth to struggling Aboriginal parents and their newborns from early 2018.
Child Protection Minister Andrea Mitchell said the rise in newborns taken into state care was proof the department was doing its job. “The introduction of the pre-birth planning initiative in recent years has increased the department’s capacity to identify children who are potentially at risk of significant harm before their birth,” she said.
Department director-general Emma White said the decision to remove a child was “never taken lightly” and “always the last resort”, with drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, mental health and the level of parenting skills being the main reasons to take such desperate action.
Wherever possible, all efforts were made to place the baby with extended family, she said. Of the 114 newborns removed this past year, 104 remain under the department’s protection. “When a baby has been brought into care, which can occur on the day of their birth, the department actively works towards returning them to their parents,” Ms White said.
She said work would start early next year to develop the live-in support service for Aboriginal mothers and fathers of at-risk newborns, giving them the option to remain with their babies. That could mean they either live with an existing foster carer or in a group home.
The metropolitan service, to be delivered by the community services sector, is expected to start in January 2018. Wanslea out-of-home care and specialist services executive manager Stephen Lund said domestic violence was a factor in all cases, with meth use prevalent in up to 80 per cent of cases. Roughly 1200 children in care came through Wanslea’s doors every year.