Figures released by the New South Wales Government show the number of babies taken from mothers by the Department of Community Services (DoCS) is on the rise.
In NSW, there has been a staggering 70 per cent rise in baby removals from maternity wards.
In 2007, 215 babies were taken by DoCS. In 2009, 363 babies were taken.
Sometimes it is justified, but there are concerns some babies are taken too hastily.
One NSW couple, Liz and Richard, had two babies removed – one aged two and one newborn. They are now suing the Department of Community Services (DoCS) for $18 million in compensation.
Back in 2008, when the babies were removed, DoCS claimed that there was an immediate risk to the safety of the babies.
The parents fought back in the courts and successfully disproved allegations about drug dependency, domestic violence and mental illness.
“Their spiel was that I had a history of mental health issues,” Liz said.
“I had three psychiatric assessments done through DoCS and they all came back with a plain bill of mental health.
“That did not stop [DoCS caseworkers] from proclaiming that I had a history of mental health issues.”
Justice George Palmer of the NSW Supreme Court said DoCS caseworkers had seriously abused their power. The children were returned to their parents immediately.
But the family is now suing the department for $18 million in compensation for their emotional loss and trauma.
“We never got an apology or any sort of restitution,” the children’s father, Richard, said.
“All they did was just return the kids and dumped a couple of suitcases of clothes on the back of my ute.”
A date has been set for the first hearing.
In 2006 the NSW Government introduced an amendment to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act.
It meant babies who have an older sibling living in out-of-home care could be taken more easily at birth.
After these changes to the legislation came about, social workers in the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle noticed a sharp increase in the numbers of babies removed at birth.
In 2000, one baby was removed every two months. So far, in 2010, it is up to one baby a week.
“In cases where Community Services had previously removed another child in the family, under the changes to the legislation, they (DoCS) can use that evidence as prima facie in the Children’s Court,” said Michelle Wickham, the team leader of social workers at John Hunter Hospital.
“So instead of having to build a case with a new baby, they can rely on existing evidence from another child within the family.”
Ms Wickham says this is concerning because families can change over time.
She says parents should have the opportunity to prove that their circumstances have changed and that they are able to look after their newborn.
Babies at Risk? airs on Background Briefing on Sunday, March 14 at 9am AEDT.