23 Oct 2012

Disabled mothers have their children taken

9:03 pm on 23 October 2012

Human rights advocates say intellectually disabled parents in Australia are having their children taken into state care at an alarming rate because of entrenched prejudice.

State governments say the safety of the child is paramount, while disability rights advocates say removals are wrong and inhumane, the ABC reports.

On that side of the Tasman, intellectually-disabled parents make up just 1% of the general parenting population, but they represent 10% of parents who are before the courts in New South Wales fighting to have their children returned.

The state has the highest removal rate, but the figures are similar across the country.

NSW Family Services Minister Pru Goward says that is because no-one wants to take any risks with child safety.

"Every removal is the failure of our community to keep children safe in their own homes; sometimes you are going to have to do it," she said.

"In other words, some failures are inevitable, but every time we do it, it is of great distress to everybody."

More help needed

Disability rights advocates agree the safety of the child is paramount, but say many removals can be prevented if more intensive assistance is given to families.

"What we are doing in taking babies away is not only wrong, it's inhumane," said Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn from the Centre for Disability Research and Policy.

"We think there should be a supportive service, preferably live-in for a short while, where mother and baby can together learn how to have a very successful relationship."

Ms Goward says while that is a good suggestion, such a programme would be "a very expensive way of doing it".

"There might be other ways," she said.

Advocates say when children must be removed, the feelings of the parents are being left out of the equation.

They are calling for standardised removal protocols to be introduced and for grief and trauma counselling for the relinquishing parents.

"I have no question that we have to act in the best interests of the child, but we also have to show compassion to the parents," said Dr Margaret Spencer from the Intellectual Disability Rights Service.

Lily, who has a mild intellectual disability, and her partner had a son a few months ago. Within hours of the birth, family services removed the baby.

"I say every day to my partner that I hope I get my son back," she said.

Clara also has a mild intellectual disability.

She had her children removed when she sought assistance from the Department of Family Services.

She says she fought for 18 months to reunite her family.

The ABC did not publicly identify the mothers, to protect their children.