THE STEWARDSHIP MODEL:
Former judge of the Family Court of Australia, Professor the Honourable Nahum Mushin on ‘permanency and adoption’:
“I think the concept of permanency is contrary to what I regard as being in the best interests of children. We shouldn’t be talking about permanency, we should be talking about long-term. Once we get to that, really what you got to do is that you have to construct a care regime for each particular child depending on his or her needs, and you can’t say ‘one size fits all’.”
Why a stewardship model and not adoption for children in child protection?
Adoption should not be included as a child protection strategy in any form of legislation, policy or practice. We believe that overall decision-making authorities in Victoria in relation to adoption need to take care to ensure that dialogue and policy is not driven by the desire of adoptive “parents to have “ownership” of such children, rather than to create safe and supportive care environments that maintains their identity, connection to their family and community” Changing a child’s identity in the name of care is too great a price for a child to pay when it is in need of care.
Having families THAT DON’T discontinue their relationship just because the court order discontinue at 18 years of age can radically change outcomes for these kids.
We know these families exist when we hear that there are 100s of people who want to adopt, it poses the Question. Why can’t these people care for children in need and offer support for the duration of the child’s life time without the need to change the child’s Identity and cut legal ties to its brothers, sisters, grandparent’s and the rest of its extended family, heritage and blood line.
By the introduction of a post adoption Birth Certificate that states a legal lie that they are now the natural parents “As If Born To”?
Why it is that Adopters must own a child before they will commit to a lifelong caring relationship with a child in need?
Is it the child’s needs that they are truly wanting to fulfil or is it the needs of the person/s that seeks to adopt that they want fulfilled instead?
Understandably for many people it’s a profound commitment, but it doesn’t have to be based on ownership here’s how a Stewardship model works: The approach is tailored to the Child’s needs first and is the paramount consideration. The overarching principle which is meant to govern adoption is that the ‘welfare and interests of the child’ are the ‘paramount consideration’.
This puts the child’s welfare and interests above the interests of the, people wanting to adopt adoptive parents and the child’s natural parents This overarching principle is the focus of the Alternative care Stewardship model to ‘ensure that the best interests and rights of the child are the foremost consideration in any decision made
Adoption changes the child’s identity and the child is legally severed from its family heritage and blood line it is not only a replacement family but also an ownership transaction that denies the child’s human right to its true identity but allows the child knowledge of who they use to be.
On the other hand a stewardship model has the role of the life long relationship between the child and adult clear the family is not a replacement family because the child already has one but a lifelong support family that take the role as an uncle and aunt type characters who include the child in their family but do not try to replace the child’s family and respect’s the child’s identity and loves the child as any relative should.
The Stewardship model is preferred as a last resort instead of adoption
After all efforts have been exhausted for family reunification and have exhausted all efforts to place the child with appropriate kin then it only is logical that a model is chosen that takes on a kinship type roll such as stewardship rather than a replacement family as the child already has a family and heritage. In a position to care for them or not they are still the child’s flesh and blood. In a stewardship model The child maintains its rights to its true identity and has a lifelong support family grows up to become an adult with no confusion, no divided loyalties no living a lie and growing up with the truth about its family circumstances and is supported to come to terms with its truth within an honest ,transparent and supportive family with a warm and loving safe environment to grow up in and not be expected to be anyone else but the child’s true self and as the child becomes an adult it will still be supported through to independence and beyond without having to trade its identity for care and will always have some where to come home for Xmas.
“Stewardship is the responsible overseeing and protection of somebody special considered worth caring for and preserving”.
- The Court issues a guardianship Care Order granting custody to a nominated family
- Retain original birth certificates and the truth of the family of origin
- Issue a subsequent document which states care and guardianship without legally severing biological ties
- Only sever the ties that give care and control for a child whilst a minor.
- Add a clause about continued responsibility and obligation after the child reaches 18 years of age therefore reality and truth is retained, consequently identity is protected.
We agree that some children can’t be raised with their parents for many reasons and that they might feel positive about the experiences they’ve had in the care of others – even in some cases building relationships with these people who are ongoing, strong and positive. The way to get it right is to fundamentally rethink how to provide safe homes to all children.” NOT permanent removal by means of adoption by people fulfilling their need for a child and governments looking to save money. Adoption is a past option for today’s children who need care. However severing ties and creating a false birth certificate isn’t a necessary part of that. It doesn’t logically follow that to protect and care for a child their identity must be changed or invented. Basing care of a child on changing the child’s identity and denying a previous existence and origins (whether known or not) is not a sound basis for child protection and child development. Definitely, there will always be a need to remove children in some cases, however family preservation should always be the first port of call but changing the child’s birth certificate (adoption) is not about what the child needs at all. In adoption, child protection becomes inextricably linked with child ownership and becomes – disturbingly often – about those who ‘need’ a child.(Sharyn White)
Wherever an adoption has occurred, what should be examined is whether it was necessary to change the child’s identity, and disconnect the child from its family, heritage and blood line. ·
Wherever an adoption has ‘worked’, what should be examined is whether great caring with well-balanced, good people lucky enough to have the means to offer care has ‘worked’ instead.
Stewardship is a model just like kinship Care is a Model and both are placed and monitored under a guardianship order by the courts. After it has been determined that there has been no coercion, family reunification is not possible and all efforts have failed to place the child with kin a guardianship order is legally established. In the case of siblings, a stewardship family is chosen that can keep them together. The guardians are responsible for all day-to-day care of the child and for decisions about matters such as education, employment, health and wellbeing.
The guardianship order expires when the child reaches age 18/21 and it is assumed that by adding the clause about continued responsibility and obligation after the child reaches 18 years of age along with the close relationship established between the guardians/family and the child would last a lifetime. The child is able to be involved in both the guardians/family and their own parents/family lives by choice. Without the added pressure from a replacement family that wants the child to be “As if Born To” them that often exists in adoption. .
“In a natural family the parents no longer have the legal responsibilities for their child when the child reaches age 18/21 the child becomes legally responsible for themselves, however the relationship between the child and its family does not finish, and this is the same with a stewardship model”
The court’s involvement is to construct a contact regime for each particular child with immediate family, siblings, grandparents and extended family depending on his or her needs and circumstances, (you can’t say ‘one size fits all) that is legally binding and the guardians are legally bound to support its implementation through until the child reaches the end of the guardianship order. If this is not appropriate the court shall set out and monitor what is appropriate. Contact is a difficult issue, relying on, in practice, the goodwill of the parties involved however we believe that a contact regime can only be legally protected and enforceable if the Court has made the contact regime part of the guardianship order. In adoption current practice and section 59A of the adoption act 1984 (Vic) permits mothers/parents to nominate a preferred frequency of contact in the form of face-to-face meetings and information exchange, which, with the agreement of the adoptive parents, is written into the adoption order by the Court. Contact is generally set at between one to four times per year but this is usually a minimum frequency with contact beyond the nominated frequency at the discretion of the adopting parents. Open adoption in the Adoption Act 1984 2.46 The Adoption Act establishes open adoption. Openness is built into the adoption process. The Act allows natural parents to nominate a preferred frequency of contact which, with agreement from the adoptive parents, becomes a condition of the adoption order
‘However while contact arrangements agreed to in an adoption order are legally enforceable, in practice they rely on the goodwill of the parties involved. If family of origin members do not keep their commitments, there is little that children or adoptive parents can do to enforce them. Likewise, adoptive parents can also ‘make it difficult or uncomfortable for families of origin to stay in contact, with the result that contact may cease or greatly diminish over time’. Review of the Adoption Act 1984: Consultation Paper/ Victorian Law Reform Commission
How contact is to be conducted is not prescribed beyond the requirement that the adoption service manage the arrangements for the year between the placement of the baby and the order being ratified in the Court. After the adoption order is made, there is no professional support for the ongoing contact ordered by the Court.
A stewardship model would introduce a body to assist the court with an Independent/Ethics Committee not connected to the NGO or DoHHS is to be established to report to the court. This body would oversee, monitor, and report to the court on all aspects of the process, including the contact regime and regular welfare checks
Welfare checks must be carried out on all cared for children in private homes not like adoption which has no welfare checks or follow-up at present the government and NGOs have no duty of care once a child is adopted which possibly leaves the child at risk
Contact agreements should be set based on each individual case recognising one size does not fit all, along with the ongoing monitoring, implementation of those agreements with the full weight of the law for the execution of such until the child comes of age.
Contact agreements should be decided upon between the independent ethics committee, parents/relatives, the guardians and the child when the child is of an age to contribute overtime. Recommendations should be put to the court for including in the guardianship order. If the family of origin do not keep their commitments, it would be part of the role of an ethics committee to consult and counsel all parties, if the ethics committee’s efforts fail, then it goes to the court to be determined
- Natural parents must have the option to re-establish contact at a later date pending their circumstances.
Whilst Britain continues to try, not terribly successfully, to modernise its child welfare system, we continue to look to countries like Australia, who are always ahead of the curve in this field.
An adult adoptee who has lived the life of Identity change and the author of the stewardship model.