Perfect storm: Lockdown fuels child safety crisis

Abused children are being housed in hotel rooms as dangerous parents drive Queensland kids into foster care at record rates during the "perfect storm'' of pandemic pressures, domestic violence and job losses.

More than 600 bashed and neglected Queensland kids have been rescued from high-risk families since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, The Sunday Mail can reveal.

Many of the kids in crisis are younger than four, abused by alcoholic or drug-addict parents growing increasingly violent under the pressure of job losses and lockdowns.

Queensland's Department of Child Safety yesterday revealed a 13 per cent surge in the number of children sent to out-of-home care since the start of the pandemic.

Demand for foster care is so high that some children are being sent to hotels for safety.

"Unemployment and the financial uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic have created a perfect storm for some vulnerable Queensland families already under pressure with drug and alcohol abuse, mental health difficulties, and domestic and family violence,'' a department spokeswoman said yesterday.

 "During COVID-19, child safety officers have seen an increase in the complexity and severity of problems affecting families entering the child protection system.''

 Queensland Family and Child Commission boss Cheryl Vardon yesterday warned that drink and drugs are fuelling child neglect - and called on the public to blow the whistle.

"Local community responses to keeping kids safe has never been more important and I encourage Queenslanders to remain vigilant so our vulnerable young people don't slip out of sight,'' she said.

Queensland Family and Child Commission boss Cheryl Vardon
Queensland Family and Child Commission boss Cheryl Vardon

Ms Vardon said "less eyes'' on vulnerable children could lead to greater harm and suffering under the cover of COVID-19 restrictions.

"As a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions and the trending increase in drug and alcohol abuse, children are placed at greater risk of neglect,'' Ms Vardon told The Sunday Mail.

"This could also follow from a reduction in face-to-face interactions with services, meaning less eyes directly on vulnerable children, leading to greater harm and neglect before intervention.''

A leading charity for abused children, Act For Kids, is dealing with a 30 per cent jump in the number of families referred to its Queensland Government-funded Family and Child Connect service.

Chief executive Dr Neil Carrington yesterday warned that COVID-19 job losses and lockdowns are leading to "dangerous levels of stress'' for fractured families.

He said unemployment, home schooling and isolation "puts children at risk as families are unable to cope''.

"We are seeing families who have never had to ask for help before,'' he told The Sunday Mail.

"Social isolation means that many children have been spending more time with people who harm or neglect them, and with no connection to their usual support networks.

 "When families are forced to live under the same roof and manage … separation, divorce and domestic violence, these conditions can cause dangerous levels of stress for children and parents.''

Child Safety is refusing to release preliminary data for kids sent to foster care since the pandemic, but senior officials have briefed service providers that more than 600 children have gone into care since March.

 Kids Helpline chief executive Tracy Adams said pandemic pressures had fuelled the number of calls for help from children at risk of imminent harm from abuse or suicide.

 She said the number of "duty of care interventions'' - where police, Child Safety or ambulances are called to help kids in crisis - was one-third higher this year, compared to last year.

 "Not all homes are safe,'' she said.

 "Young people are spending more time in homes that are potentially not safe.''

 Child Safety Minister Di Farmer referred questions to her department, which would not say how many children are being housed in hotel rooms.

 A spokeswoman said 24-hour accommodation for children in hotels and motels, supervised by Child Safety officers, was only used in emergency situations for children who could not be cared by other family members or foster carers.

 She said that before the pandemic, 38 per cent of children needing protection had at least one parent addicted to ice.

The number of foster and kinship carers had increased to 5500, compared with 5200 a year ago.


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