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.