The introduction and implementation of permanent care orders in Victoria
AuthorMackieson, Penelope Kathleen
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2019 Dr. Penelope Kathleen Mackieson
This research investigated debates surrounding the introduction and implementation of Permanent Care Orders (PCOs), a type of guardianship, in the context of permanency for children unable to be reunified with their parents in the statutory child protection and out-of-home care system in the Australian state of Victoria. Two thematic document analyses were conducted using Applied Thematic Analysis, which facilitated rigor and reduced potential bias in the studies. The first study analysed the official records of the relevant 1984–1989 parliamentary debates to investigate the key issues and ideas that informed the introduction of PCOs in Victoria. Four primary themes were identified: the rhetoric of rights; the ‘hierarchy of family’ debate; child protection is everybody’s business; and the politics of influence. The second study analysed the publicly available submissions to a government-commissioned inquiry into the early outcomes from changes made in 2014 to Victoria’s permanency laws to investigate the implementation of PCOs in relation to the issues that triggered their introduction. Again, four primary themes were identified: the power of government; the assumption of a perfect system; disproportionate impact on the most disadvantaged; and the impact of the permanency hierarchy. Overall, the studies found that a children’s rights perspective, particularly with respect to continuity of care, family connections, culture and identity, has not been prioritised in the operationalisation of children’s right to protection and in the development of alternative permanency options. Viewed in terms of Fox Harding’s four-fold typology of ideological perspectives in Western child welfare, the findings indicate that the Victorian Government’s approach has shifted from a defence of the birth family and parents’ rights orientation, which emphasises the importance of biological families and values continuity in children’s relationships and connections with them, toward a state paternalism and child protection orientation, which more highly values legal permanency in the provision of alternative care arrangements for looked after children. The implications of the 2014 change to Victoria’s permanency hierarchy, which now positions adoption ahead of PCOs, mean that progress toward a children’s rights approach to policy development and practice in the area of child protection and out-of-home care may be further undermined. An alternative framework integrating a broad range of children’s rights and recent international research evidence is proposed with a view to stimulating thinking and debate in this politically sensitive and contentious area of social policy, practice and research.
Keywordspermanent care; child protection; child welfare; children's rights; permanency; adoption; document analysis; applied thematic analysis; guardianship; kinship care
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