There has got to be a better way.
South Australia will be the first Australian state to introduce legislation to remove children born to parents convicted of manslaughter or murder and place them under the custody of the relevant minister, the SA government announced recently.
SA Coroner Mark Johns made the initial recommendation after investigating the many years of abuse and eventual death of four-year-old Chloe Valentine. Chloe was injured and died in 2012 after her mother and mother’s partner repeatedly put the girl on a 50-kilogram bike and filmed her crashing into objects.
Across Australia, 34 children were the victims of filicide – the killing of a child by a parent – in the two years leading up to 2012.
In a well-coordinated and well-resourced child protection system, health staff, child protection workers and forensic specialists should already be collaborating to share information about children and families at risk of harm.
Chloe Valentine inquest: SA child protection system broken, massive overhaul needed, coroner says.
These teams should be responding to the warnings some parents give prior to committing these crimes, then deciding whether parents convicted of murdering their children should have subsequent offspring removed.
However, responses to high-risk pregnancy and high-risk infants across Australia could be described as haphazard, and legislation alone will not correct the problem.
South Australia’s move is not without precedent. New Zealand gave the court responsibility for the safety of subsequent children born to parents convicted of murder or manslaughter in 2013. However there is no publicly accessible data on the rate of removal and no evaluations to date.
Importantly, the New Zealand legislation has some flexibility to work with parents convicted of murder or manslaughter, but the onus is on the parent to demonstrate they are safe to parent subsequent children.
We have strong research detailing the demographics of parents who kill children and other contributing factors, such as psychotic depression, parental separation, retribution for leaving a relationship, domestic violence, fatal maltreatment, substance use and so on.