These new laws are heartbreaking, tragic and absolutely necessary.

Are these new measures cruel or lacking in compassion?

Amelia was almost 2 years old when she was first brought into my care with a scalded esophagus. She also had very low muscle tone and was unable to walk.

As is often the case when you’re a foster carer, the information you are fed is on a ‘need to know basis’ but I did know this.

Amelia’s mother was a long term drug user and addict. Her caseworker couldn’t be sure, but it was more than likely that Amelia had been born with a substance addiction yet they had no definite confirmation of this.

Her mother was still seeing Amelia’s father occasionally. Apparently “occasionally enough” to get her pregnant again.

Amelia would soon have a sibling and there was a very good chance I would be caring for her yet-to-born brother or sister as well.

I was advised that this baby would be born with a drug addiction and she asked if I would be willing to take them on. I assured her that I would be. I didn’t ask what the drug of choice was, it didn’t really matter to me. I did however ask, how Amelia, her huge beautiful green eyes watching me wearily from the corner of the room, had come to have her throat burnt.

The caseworker flipped through her notes and visibly swallowed. “It says here that her mother overheated her bottle in the microwave and fed her boiling hot milk. She was admitted to the hospital with significant burns to her throat. This was her third admission to the hospital over a 3 month period for unrelated matters. This incident however, the scalding, was when the authorities removed her from her mother’s care.”  –  *Beth

Sadly the story above, or some variation of it, isn’t uncommon. Babies are being born with substance addictions and being brought home to abusive situations on an all-too-regular basis in Australia. Yet hopefully, with new state laws that are about to introduced, situations like Amelia’s should be significantly reduced.

The new laws will stipulate that pregnant women who are known drug or alcohol abusers will be required to sign a Parental Responsibility Contract (PRC) which will order them to undergo and accept treatment while the baby is in the womb. It is hoped that mothers that seek help during their pregnancy will undergo treatment for the sake of their baby.

The same contract will also need to be signed by women in known domestic violence situations. Should they not leave their abusive partner, seek domestic violence counselling or move in with an approved relative, they risk having their child removed at birth also.

If they refuse or show no intention of complying, in both cases, the government will be able to remove the child from their care, the moment that he or she is born. A broken PRC will also help the authorities build a solid case to place the baby in the Minister’s care in the future.

These laws aren’t particularly new, however the point in time at which the authorities can step in, certainly is.

Those women are being offered help

Do these new measures seem cruel and/or lacking in compassion?

I don’t know, does a baby having numerous, painful infections under their toes, under their armpits from drug withdrawals sound especially cheery?

Would it be better to leave a child in the care of their drug affected mother to be dropped not once, but twice onto the tiles and sustain numerous broken bones and head injuries?

Does it sound like a great idea to let a women take her baby home to a violent environment just to be the ‘good guy’?

No. I really don’t think so.

These measures aren’t heartless or cruel, they are being undertaken because the child needs obvious protection.

The children need to be taken out of the situation until the situation can be repaired. And if the situation isn’t going to improve, then they need to be given a chance at a better, safer and more stable life. One that possibly won’t involve their mother.

And let’s be clear, these women are being offered help. They are being offered alternatives. They are being given a chance to turn things around. If they can’t or if they won’t, then their babies need to be removed from their care until they can or they will.

These women aren’t being denied their baby forever, they are being given a clear message that they need to provide a safe environment. I know it is heartbreaking to remove a child from their mother and no one is denying their love for their child. I also know that I haven’t walked a mile in their shoes but this isn’t about them, it’s about their baby. And keeping that baby safe.

Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward, makes no apologies for the bold new approach and incentives to help “troubled mothers turn their life around”. While it will still be a magistrate’s decision on whether to place the child in the minister’s care, the legislation will state that a broken contract should be viewed as a strong case for a child to be placed in foster care. In NSW, Cabinet has just approved reforms to the adoption process, aiming at encouraging open adoption as a more permanent and stable arrangement than foster care.

I know it would be naïve at best to believe these new laws will be some kind of miracle cure or quick fix. Life is far too complicated to believe that. The focus here NEEDS to be on the child and what is best for them. What is best for them is to feel nurtured and safe. And if a mother isn’t capable or prepared to provide such an environment, then they simply shouldn’t be given the privilege of being a parent.

What do you think of the new laws? Should it be easier for the Government to remove babies from the care of drug addicted mothers?