Keeping Families Together

JCNN explores the role of support networks, such as the Family Inclusion Network, in the Townsville child services community. 

By Anastasia Koninina

Eve* was happy to see her son. She had brought him his favourite – a big bowl of fresh garden salad. She watched as he finished it, followed by three homemade scones with fresh homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream. While he ate he closed his eyes, took a whiff of it and said, “Mum, I smell home”.

“I burst out in tears in front of him and hid my eyes behind my sunglasses and kissed his head but I couldn’t stop crying,” Eve said.

“He hugged me and said, ‘I love you so much mum and I always pray to come home’.”

Eve’s case is typical of the posts on lukesarmy.com, an online forum self-described as “a place for victims of Department of Community Services (DoCS) to come to for support and advice, to expose DoCS corruption, and to become friends”.

Michael Borusiewicz created the site after his son Luke died at age two in foster care, allegedly as a result of a head injury.

FIGHTING FOR SUPPORT: A screenshot of a post on lukesarmy.com

James Cook University’s Emeritus Professor of Social Work and Community Welfare Rosamund Thorpe said parents whose children go into care not only experience profound loss, but many suffer from extreme powerlessness in relation to the child protection system of government departments, non-government agencies and child courts.

Professor Thorpe and her colleagues in Townsville established the Family Inclusion Network (FIN Queensland) to address this issue.

The charitable organisation aims to provide independent support and advocacy to parents, grandparents and significant others whose children have been and are still involved in the Queensland child protection system.

HERE TO HELP: Professor Rosamund Thorpe

Professor Thorpe said parents whose children were taken away by the court should no longer feel discouraged or helpless as they can get support from FIN.

“We aim to keep children and parents in contact with each other,” she said.

“We support parents who work to get the children back home into their care.”

“We have support groups and morning teas to which people can come and we give them information there,” Professor Thorpe said.

“In addition, we also support people individually when they have meetings with DoCS, and support people at court.”

According to the FIN final submission, child abuse and neglect costs Australian taxpayers an estimated $5 billion per year.

Based on records from the Queensland Department of Communities, 8063 children were living away from home as at 30 June 2011.

National Child Protection Clearinghouse (NCPC) data shows that, as of June 2010, there were 35,895 children in out-of-home care Australia-wide and 52 per cent of these were children between the age of one and nine.

Professor Thorpe’s own research revealed that in many cases, regardless of the reasons surrounding the child’s removal into care, children want contact with parents and to know they belong to someone.

“We think it is important for children to maintain a relationship with their family regardless of the bad things because almost all parents have done good things,” she said.

“There are positive relationships and children feel connected with their family.”

However, FIN acknowledges not all children are able to live with their families and receive adequate care.

“We thought the important thing for families was to be included in the process because they remain important to their children if their children are in foster care,” Professor Thorpe said.

She said FIN also supported Aboriginal families whose children are in the care of DoCS.

FIN highlights the importance of Aboriginal children being able to continue developing strong connections with their community and their culture.

“All children need to be supported and represented throughout the child protection process including at separation and reunification periods in a culture that is trauma sensitive and responsive to parents and children,” Professor Thorpe said.

Although FIN has been operating in several states in Australia since 2003, it is not a funded organisation and relies on the goodwill of the community, community groups and its membership to raise funds.

*Name has been changed.