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New South Wales to introduce 'parenting contracts'

Monday, February 6, 2006

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma announced Sunday that his government would be introducing "parenting contracts" for parents of children who are at risk of neglect. The contracts are the next element of the government's "respect and responsibility" reforms announced last month.

Premier Iemma believes that the contracts will help to reduce juvenile crime by forcing parents to take responsibility for their children's actions.

Parents would be forced to sign the contracts by the children's court. They could require parents to attend parenting classes, undergo counselling, stop drug use or stop consuming excessive amounts of alcohol depending on the situation. The NSW Deparment of Community Services would be allowed to apply to the court for the contracts to be drawn up.

If parents failed to comply with the contracts their children would be removed by authorities.

The Department of Community Services would be able to apply to the court for contracts to be drawn up.

The plan follows the murder of a taxi driver in Sydney by two 14-year-old girls last week. Following the arrest of the girls, Mr Iemma said he was concerned about the whereabouts of the girl's parents. Mr Iemma denies that the contracts are a kneejerk reaction to that incident.

Speaking of the plan Mr Iemma said, "We know the majority of people naturally take their responsibilities as parents very seriously."

"However, those children who are failed in this regard by their parents are at risk of becoming adolescents and adults without respect."

NSW Community Services minister, Reba Meagher referred to studies showing that out of 1,000 neglected children, 256 came into contact with the juvenile justice system.

"There is plenty of evidence to show that children who are failed by their parents are more likely not to complete their schooling, to become involved in crime and to abuse their own children." said Ms Meagher.

A similar proposal has been made in South Australia by the opposition. The Liberals have promised a similar system of contracts in South Australia if they are elected.

Child welfare advocates claim that it is not clear whether or not the plan is the best solution to the problem.

Jane Woodruff from the Association of Child Welfare Agencies said "Do we know that this is the right strategy and if we do, where's that evidence, where's that research, where's that practice experience so we don't make mistakes in such an important area?".

"If parents are going to be required to attend a certain range of services, who's actually going to provide those services?" she said.

Tasmania's Human Services minister, David Llewellyn said that he has not been able to look at the proposal in detail, but felt that "on the surface it does not seem appropriate legislation for Tasmania".

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