Primum non nocere: rethinking our policies on out-of-home care in Australia

Peter D Jones
Med J Aust 2017; 206 (10): 421-422. || doi: 10.5694/mja16.00864

Are our child protection policies causing more harm to our most vulnerable children?

In Australia, there were 43 399 children in out-of-home care (OOHC) on 30 June 2015 (Box).1 Over the past 18 years, the rate at which Indigenous children have been placed in care has more than tripled and more than doubled for non-Indigenous children.1-3 This is disturbing, and particularly so for Indigenous children where one in 19 are in OOHC.1 A recent review of child maltreatment across various countries, including Australia, concluded that 40 years after contemporary child protection policies were introduced in the 1970s, there has been “no clear evidence for an overall decrease in child maltreatment”.4 Despite the call by this review for more evidence,4 there have been no studies planned to assess the effectiveness of our current OOHC policy in Australia.

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  • Peter D Jones

  • Bond University, Gold Coast, QLD


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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access_time 08:49, 23 May 2017
Christopher Peter Halloway

Professor Jones' paper explores a very relevant area very well. The conclusions of the paper seem to me mainly sound however I am concerned with the 'politically charged' comment re not encouraging the poor (in spirit or economically) to have many children. Prof Jones might well challenge politicians to enact more nuanced legislation aimed at also reducing the problems of poor education and poor self-image which may lead to poor parenting and thus the problems he has so eruditely laid out. Thank you Prof Jones for what I found to be a very balanced and enlightening article

Competing Interests: No relevant disclosures

Dr Christopher Peter Halloway

access_time 03:42, 26 May 2017
Peter Jones

"We need to ask politically charged questions such as should we consider encouraging disadvantaged families to have fewer children?"

These 18 words unfortunately have been the focus of an extraordinary press response this week. The other 98.7% of my 1500 word article that has exposed the terrible plight of children in OOHC and how their numbers are increasing exponentially in Australia has been given second billing, which is a pity.

This statement does not say or question people's free will or choice to have the family size they wish. It does not mean that I espouse Eugenics. The statement is accompanied by the focus of the essay's suggested way forward, which is on the need to focus on prevention and investment in all disadvantaged mothers at the time they have their first child. This statement was made to make readers think about what are the common antecedents to childhood poverty and how important it is to try and do all we can to lift the next generation of Australia's disadvantaged children out of poverty.
Internationally a key sustainable development goal of the United Nations is to eradicate poverty around the world by 2030. The availability of contraception and managing uncontrolled population growth are key tools that developing countries are urged to employ to help reduce poverty. This statement has been made because there is an urgent need to address childhood poverty in Australia. This poverty in turn leads to neglect which has led to our country relying on OOHC as a poor substitute to provide care for what is a growing neglected generation of our children. The statement may be uncomfortable to look at, but with the OOHC crisis that is getting worse year on year, there needs to be an acknowledgement that the status quo is failing our children.

I hope readers will now have the opportunity to consider what the true intent behind this statement was. I encourage you to read the article in full to get the full story behind the controversial statement.

Competing Interests: No relevant disclosures

Prof Peter Jones
Bond University

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