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Disability support needs are not child protection issues

Amy* was finding it increasingly difficult to care for her daughter Jodie* - who had severe disabilities and required total personal care and intense supervision - without adequate specialist disability support funded by the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.

Cairns Community Legal Centre assisted Amy at meetings to secure support so that she would not be forced to relinquish care of Jodie to the State through the child protection system. Additionally a complaint was also lodged with the Queensland Ombudsman about this practice generally.

The Ombudsman found that the practice of providing out-of­ home care for children with severe disability by way of a Child Protection Order was unreasonable.  He recommended that the Department review its practices, and the Department accepted the Ombudsman's opinion and recommendation, however action was placed on hold due to intervening events.

To assist Amy on an interim basis, the Department provided some short term financial assistance so Jodie could receive some level of care and support. The Department however wanted to place Jodie in a group home, which Amy refused as it was contrary to professional assessment and recommendations.

Furthermore, when Jodie reached 18 years of age, and Child Safety could no longer be involved, the Department applied to QCAT to have an Adult Guardian and Public Trustee appointed.  Cairns CLC successfully assisted Amy to challenge the original application, and to apply to be Jodie’s guardian and administrator.

Jodie continued to be cared for in her own home, with a small team of carers approved by Amy, and funded by the Department.

After 12 months, QCAT reviewed Amy’s appointment as guardian/administrator.  Cairns CLC again assisted Amy to prepare and file the necessary forms and submissions, and QCAT was satisfied with Amy’s decisions as guardian/administrator and extended her appointment for a further three years.

Without help from Cairns CLC, Amy would have lost the right to make decisions for Jodie, and Jodie would have been placed in a group home, where her health and welfare would likely have been at risk.  In addition, Cairns CLC’s intervention has contributed to systemic change in the wav that children with severe disability will be cared for in the future.

In the process of investigating the matter, the Ombudsman also consulted the Commissioner for Children, Young People and Child Guardian (CYPCG). The Ombudsman later addressed the issue of relinquishment of children with a disability in his submission to the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry. The Ombudsman also supported the views on this same issue which the CYPCG expressed in its own submission to the Inquiry - that disability support needs are not child protection issues.

In his final report, the Inquiry Commissioner recommended that the Department cease the practice of progressing notifications related to the relinquishment of children with a disability and that Disability Services allocate sufficient resources to families who have children with a disability to ensure they are adequately supported to continue to care for their children. The Department accepted the Commissioner's recommendation, and steps are being taken now to make the legislative and procedural changes required to provide care for children with a disability where protection is not an issue.

*This fictional name has been given to protect the client’s identity.

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