That is the suggestion that has been made by South Australian Coroner Mark Johns, who has this week been presiding over a tragic inquest involving the death of Chloe Valentine, a four-year old girl, at the hands of her parents.
The remark was made after Johns felt that not enough was being done to protect children from harm, and his growing concern that children’s rights may be being gazumped by the rights of dysfunctional parents. He has called for the Families Government Department in South Australia to be overhauled, which many feel is at breaking point, to ensure that children can be properly protected from unfit parents.
Johns’ most controversial recommendation, and the one which has divided professionals, refers to changing the state’s law to ensure that babies born to parents previously convicted of killing their children (by criminal neglect, murder or manslaughter) are automatically placed in government care.
It will then be up to the parents to prove they are fit to care for their children.
If enacted as law, this move could have the potential to set precedent in Australia, and perhaps even others parts of the world like the UK, which tends to follow Australia’s lead on child welfare matters. In light of horrific British cases like the Natalie Allman case, which saw a mother who was almost killed by her partner in front of their twins being forced to write to him about their children’s progress whilst serving his prison sentence, and effectively having to engage their children in this exercise, it’s easy to see how such a measure might be welcomed here. The case resonated around the world, and although different to the Chloe Valentine case (the father attacked Ms Allman, rather than the children, directly), many questioned whether this father’s right to contact with his children had usurped their right to be protected from harm. And, ultimately, whether he was fit to be a parent.
However some took the view that upon serving his jail time, the father in this case may be able to reform and could, with support, parent his children competently. And that is the argument child welfare professionals in Australia, like National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell is making. Mitchell takes the view that a blanket recommendation to remove children automatically in this way, does not take into account the details of each case and could also negatively impact the children involved, if they were to be deprived of a parent who had the capacity to reform.
Mitchell recommends instead, a system of increased early surveillance in instances where a parent has been deemed unfit.
Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston though, disagrees, and would like to see Johns’ recommendation taken one step further – her concern relates to paedophiles, and registered sex offenders. Hetty would like anyone who has demonstrated a capacity to harm children in any way to be put on a watch list.
One thing all the professionals who have so far commented on this recommendation agree upon, is that there needs to be a re-focusing of rights generally, so that children’s rights come before anyone else’s, including the rights of the parents involved.
So what do you think? Should parents who have been convicted of killing their children have any further children born to them automatically removed from their care?