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Mamamia Investigates: The land of limbo. Aussie foster kids face five year wait for adoption.

Desperate kids are waiting in limbo for years as bureaucracy denies them the stability they urgently need.

Mamamia Investigates: A special report into Australia’s “broken” adoption system, by Mamamia journalist, Emily Purcell.

Jake was only two when he was taken away from his birth mother for good.

The severely neglected toddler had already been temporarily removed twice and placed into the hands of strangers – a heart-wrenching and frightening separation for a tiny child so intrinsically bound to his birth mother.

After being bounced around from home to home with long periods of separation from his mother, he was inevitably returned to her.

But she, suffering from the common trifecta of difficulties – issues with drugs, poverty and homelessness – could not keep the little boy safe.

The Children’s Court permanently removed the neglected boy from his home, as it is called upon to do only in the grimmest of circumstances, and placed him into the care of Alice and her husband.

Initially, the terrified toddler was always on guard.

He would jump at any loud noise, had difficulty sleeping and trouble adjusting to routine – something he had never experienced before.

Chloe Valentine, 4, died at the hands of her mother and mother’s partner after child protection authorities ignored concerns about her care. Image via Twitter.

Now, four years on, the happy and healthy six-year-old is very attached to his foster parents and recently won an award at school for his impressive behaviour.

His birth mother has not attended the contact visits to which she is entitled in more than a year.

Alice and her husband love Jake as their own and want an adoption order made to provide him with the emotional security he needs.

But despite legislation introduced in NSW last year to expedite the adoption of foster kids, Jake is facing a wait of up to five years before his case will even be opened by the under-resourced non-government organisation tasked with processing it.

Until then, it is at a standstill.

Related: Inside an Australian foster family: “We feel like we have made a
difference and this is why we are carers.”

Sadly, this is the grim reality for thousands of foster children across Australia.

Government red-tape and insufficient resources means these kids are stuck in limbo for years on end.

They are living in a constant state of anxiety, not knowing how much longer they have left in their safe, secure environment, and dreading being sent to the parent that neglected or abused them.

“The system is just broken and no one’s bothering to fix it,” Alice told Mamamia. 

“In the meantime, how many kids are missing out on being part of a safe, supportive family?”

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 Children across the country are being abused and neglected.

Unfortunately, instances of appalling – even fatal – abuse and neglect of innocent, vulnerable and defenceless children are not rare in Australia.

Chloe Valentine. Image via Twitter.

Take Chloe Valentine, who died from criminal neglect at the hands of her mother and her mother’s partner.

Authorities did nothing to remove the girl from her home, despite receiving more than 20 calls from people concerned about her welfare.

The beautiful, curly-haired four-year-old died in early 2012 after being forced to ride a motorbike more than three times her weight. The adults laughed and filmed the horrific scene as she repeatedly crashed it.

When Chloe was knocked unconscious, they did not seek medical attention for the injuries that later claimed the young girl’s life.

The pair laughed outside the hospital about the fact police had not located their cannabis stash. They left the hospital as soon as Chloe’s life support was turned off, and were not there at the time of her death.

Three-year-old Zane Bradbury died last year in a home strewn with syringes after his mother’s partner, Brok Hughes, threw him across the room as punishment for pulling down a curtain. He also beat the toddler’s younger brother with a wooden coat hanger.

Brok Hughes pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Zane Bradbury. Image via Twitter.

Thy Tran died at 10 months after being left alone in a hot car, despite his mother being repeatedly warned not to do so – including on the day he died.

So why are the numbers of local adoptions so low?

The fact is there are more than 40,000 Aussie kids in out-of-home care (a last resort deemed essential when it is too unsafe for children to live with their families).

Yet there were only 89 adoptions from care across the entire country in the 2013/14 financial year.

The low number of local adoptions in Australia is a “national disgrace”said Jackie Stricker-Phelps, who has become somewhat of an advocate for the cause since adopting her foster child, Gabi, with her wife, Dr Kerryn Phelps, in 2012.

Jackie Stricker-Phelps (right) with her wife, Dr Kerryn Phelps, and their daughter, Gabi. Image via Facebook.

There has been a 76 per cent decline in adoptions in Australia over the past 25 years.

“Australia has fallen behind in world standards for adoption. You can adopt kids from overseas no problem, but doing it here is an absolute nightmare,” Ms Stricker-Phelps told Mamamia.

She said the main issue is that the legal system gives biological parents who mistreated the child so severely they were permanently removed, too much say in the process at the expense of the child’s wellbeing.

“The whole thing seems to go back to the biological parent, not the children,” she said.

“It takes a lot to have your kids removed. There is a point where a biological parent loses their right to that title.”

Related: “When you try to kill your baby, you should lose your right to be called his mother.”

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Ms Stricker-Phelps told Mamamia the courts needed to stop allowing endless appeals from biological parents and move to a stricter system that limited the interference.

“Every time an appeal is rejected by a biological parent, they can put in another appeal straight away and until that’s heard the children sit in these places worried about being sent back,” she said.

“There has to be a line in the sand where biology doesn’t keep trumping the rights of the child,” Stricker-Phelps explained.

Jackie Stricker-Phelps with Gabi. Image via Facebook.

Ms Stricker-Phelps said the uncertainty and fear of being returned to a place of neglect, trauma or abuse places an enormous amount of stress on a foster child.

“I know children in foster care who all they want to be is be adopted but, until they are 12 and can consent themselves to adoption, they have to wait, frightened of being sent back to abusers or neglecters.”

“The system has got to look after the kids and they are not doing it. They are putting foster families and children through hell,” Stricker-Phelps added.

Related: One of the most extraordinary adoption stories you’ll ever hear.

Adoption is not about stealing the child away, never to be seen again by the birth parents.

In Australia, around 89 per cent of local adoptions are open, so birth parents can remain in contact with the child.

It is about providing security for the child and a safe, loving environment in which they can flourish.

After being contacted by Mamamia about the delays Jake is facing, a NSW Department of Family and Community Services spokesperson said there were a variety of reasons an adoption application “may remain at any of the stages of the process”, including the circumstances of the carer family or child, legal requirements of the process or service provider availability and resources.

Read more: ‘My mother was forced to give me up. But it was the best thing that
ever happened to me.’

Alice described the situation as “crazy”.

“I think it is really cruel for the kids, who need that emotional stability to really thrive,” she told Mamamia. 

“In the meantime they’re all just in limbo. There are cases where, for good reason, kids should be restored to their birth parents, but where they can’t be for whatever reason, let’s move them forward,” Alice added.

These children, who started life in the most horrific of ways purely as an accident of birth, deserve the right to a safe and secure future.

To add your name to an online petition calling on the NSW Government to streamline the adoption of foster children in care, click here.

*Alice and Jake are pseudonyms used for privacy reasons.

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