Crackdown on parents will fail without funding, experts say

A tougher approach to force parents with drug and alcohol problems into treatment will fail unless there is a large increase in funding, health and welfare experts have warned.

The state government will soon release a suite of proposed reforms it says will improve parental responsibility and stem the number of children being removed from their parents and put in foster care.

The Families and Community Services Minister, Pru Goward, said on Thursday that the government was considering measures such as special “Parenting Capacity Orders”, which could force parents into drug and alcohol treatment or counselling, and expanding the “Parent Responsibility Contract Scheme”, which sets goals for parents and may include requirements such as drug testing.

Ms Goward said the reforms were aimed at early intervention to prevent children at risk from later having to be removed from their families.

“Parents must understand there are consequences when they fail to adequately care for their children and when they expose them to significant harm,” she said.

Robert McLachlan, a solicitor who specialises in care and protection, said early intervention was the right approach, in theory, but would only work if properly funded.

“At every level there would need to be more resources, including caseworkers,” he said.

Long waiting lists for voluntary patients already plague most drug treatment programs, according to an emeritus consultant at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dr Alex Wodak.

“We’ve looked after a mother with three small kids in Newcastle – she used to get the Newcastle-to-Sydney train to get methadone from Sydney,” he said. “That gives you an idea of how stretched the program is.”

Mr Wodak said providing positive incentives rather than a punitive approach was proven to better help people break addictions to drugs and alcohol.

Andrew McCallum, the chief executive of the Association of Child Welfare Agencies, said he feared a punitive approach to these issues would effectively “punish people for being poor”.

“We haven’t seen the full document. We’re hopeful [the announcement] is the extreme end of what might be some benign and productive policies,” he said.

Ms Goward rejected the notion that drug addiction was a financial problem.

“If anything you have to have money to be addicted to drugs,” she told ABC radio.

The opposition community services spokeswoman, Linda Burney, said Labor supported early intervention but there was no guarantee a mandatory approach would be effective.

“If you look at the mandatory nature of the Northern Territory intervention, it could be well argued that that has made little difference to the outcomes of people it was supposed to help,” she said.

The full discussion paper will be released next week.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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