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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

October 24, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Did you have sex with your girlfriend when you were in high school? If you did, and you live in New South Wales, Australia, — congratulations! — you’re now disqualified from working with children anywhere, any time in almost any capacity. What’s that? You say that was thirty years ago? Too bad. New regulations automatically prohibit you from working with children. Oh, you say you ended up marrying the young lady and you’re still married to her. Sorry, you’re still out of luck. But you say you’ve been working with children teaching school for all those three decades with nary a complaint. Sorry, it’s out of our hands; you need to leave your classroom this instant and find another job — one that has nothing to do with children.

You sir, you say you’re a foster parent and have been for decades? You say you have a foster child in your home who thinks of you as her father? Well, that’s not just your hard luck, it’s hers too. You’re prohibited from being a foster parent. By the way, under the new rules, you have to vacate your own house. You can’t live there with her in the house. You say you can’t afford to support two households? You should have thought of that before we changed the rules and whipped the rug out from under you.

Yes, as this article shows, that’s the way it is now under new regulations governing anyone who works with children, on either a paid or volunteer basis (Sydney Morning Herald, 10/12/14). It also applies to those in a kinship relationship with children. So look out Granddad; that photo of a naked child you mistakenly downloaded 10 years ago means you can no longer have a relationship with your grandson nor he with you. It’s for the safety of children, you understand.

About the only good news is that men who’ve been blindsided by the new rules can go to a tribunal and request an exemption. As it turns out, about six out of 10 who do so, see the prohibition overturned.

Foster fathers and grandfathers are being barred from living with children for whom they are the primary carers after undergoing tough new child protection checks.

The Administrative Tribunal has been flooded with appeals against bans issued by the Office of the Children's Guardian under strict laws introduced last year.

Six out of 10 cases decided by the tribunal in the past six weeks were found in favour of men who had been forced out of the family home or prevented from working after failing a check.

In at least two cases carnal knowledge convictions recorded against men 40 years earlier when they were teenagers and in a relationship with an under-age girlfriend caused them to fail the Working With Children Check.

One such man, now caring for his grandchildren, continues to be in a relationship with the same woman, who was pregnant with their first child at the time the crime was reported to police by a third party.

A gay youth worker who failed the check because he had downloaded a "fake nude picture of celebrity Justin Bieber" to his computer, amid a Twitter scandal, was also among two dozen cases considered by the tribunal this year. Eleven bans have been overturned.

Psychologist Christopher Lennings, who prepares reports for the tribunal, says there has been a spike in cases because the law was changed to require foster parents and kin carers to undergo a check for the first time. Decades-old convictions are triggering the bans and it is having "severe impacts" on families.

Of course the new rules are scrupulously gender-neutral in their wording. But if the article is any indication, it looks like men are the real targets. There’s no word of a woman’s being denied access to children pursuant to those new rules.

Remember the man who had sex with his girlfriend 40 years ago who’s now caring for his grandchildren? It looks like they were both underage at the time their relationship began and they’re still together. So, both were underage when they first had sex, but only he is prohibited from caring for his grandkids. There’s nothing gender-neutral about the law in that case, whatever the wording may be.

That of course takes us back in time 40 years when underage boys who had sex with their underage girlfriends were considered criminals, but the girls weren’t. Now, that old anti-male sexism is still with us courtesy of the new regulations that automatically prohibit anyone with such a criminal record from having any one-on-one contact with children. Had the law then been applied in a gender-neutral fashion, she too would be barred from caring for her grandchildren. But, past anti-male sexism is now imported to the present.

It’s also true that, for example, current day female teachers who have sex with their underage students are often given a pass. Oh, they usually lose their jobs, but they’re often not charged with a crime. So they too would slip through the state’s net.

As overbroad as the new regulations are at least they’re all about protecting children, right? Psychologist Christopher Lennings isn’t so sure.

"Fathers, foster fathers and grandfathers will have to leave the family home. It has significant impact on the attachment with the children, who have been involved in a strong relationship with a potential offender and can no longer have contact or must have supervised contact.”

That’s right. In the interest of protecting children, the state harms children. Few things are as damaging to children as the loss of a loved parent or grandparent. Those kids grow up with Daddy or Granddad in the home and they attach to those men as only children can. Those men are part of the foundation of the children’s lives and psyches. Then, against all that’s sane and healthy, the state changes the law and one day Daddy or Granddad is gone for good. And all because he made love with his girlfriend when both were 16. As the state understands it, this is healthy for children. Seriously.

But there’s more, as Lennings tells us.

"It has a significant impact on the carer parent who suddenly becomes a single parent. There is significant financial impact in having to run two households instead of one household."

Sure enough, when Foster Dad gets kicked out of the house and told to have no further contact with the child who loves him and for whom he cares deeply, he and the child aren’t the only ones to feel the blow. Foster Mom does too. All of a sudden, she’s saddled with 100% of the childcare. There’s no one else to get up in the middle of the night, no one else to pick up the slack when she’s ill or needs to work overtime. Nope, now it’s all on her.

And, needless to say, the quality of care a single parent can give is lower than that offered by two parents. If nothing else, it’s a simple matter of time and energy. Two have more than one, but New South Wales doesn’t care. Foster Dad must vacate his own house and leave behind his child and his partner to fend without him. Nice.

But it’s not just foster parents and grandparents who are targeted by the new rules. Here’s the website for the Office of the Children’s Guardian that explains all the occupations and sectors whose employees must comply with them.

  • Child development and family welfare services
  • Child protection
  • Children’s health services
  • Clubs or other bodies providing services for children
  • Disability services
  • Early education and child care
  • Education
  • Entertainment for children
  • Justice centres
  • Religious services
  • Residential services
  • Transport services for children
  • Youth workers
  • School cleaners

And,

  • An approved provider or manager of an education and care service
  • A certified supervisor of an education and care service
  • An authorised carer
  • An assessment officer
  • The principal officer of a designated agency
  • The principal officer of an accredited adoption service provider
  • An adult who resides in the home of an authorised carer
  • An adult who resides in the home of a family day care service provider or home-based education and care service provider
  • A potential adoptive parent

That’s a lot of people who can’t have contact with children if they’ve ever in their lives made a misstep involving a child. Did a child protective caseworker decide 20 years ago that your parenting was insufficient in some way? Forget about working in any of the above jobs or industries.

As usual, when the state takes such obviously draconian action, the question arises “Was it necessary?” In this case, the answer to that is almost certainly “No.” Are the children of New South Wales really in such dire peril that these sweeping new rules are needed? If children there are anything like those in the United States, the answer is a loud and joyous “No.”

As I’ve written in several recent posts, the data on child abuse and neglect here compel the conclusion that children are overwhelmingly safe. When abuse and neglect cases are combined, children have about a 0.9% risk factor. When abuse alone is considered, children have about a 0.2% chance of suffering same. My guess is the numbers for Australian kids are about the same.

But as we’ve seen time and again, children’s welfare is the open door through which the state is happy to step to regulate our lives in ways that are unnecessary, outrageously intrusive and damaging to the children they’re supposed to protect as well as their many loved ones.

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

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