Advocates for the mother, who has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, suggest bid to remove the boy informed by prejudice.
An Aboriginal woman has been allowed to return home with her baby after child protection services in Victoria made six attempts to overturn a court ruling that she was able to properly care for her child.
Advocates for the 28-year-old woman, who has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FasD), said child protection workers for the Department of Health and Human Services did not appropriately consider her disability in its initial assessment declaring her an unfit parent, and have suggested the decision to remove the child was informed by prejudice.
Liz* gave birth to her son, Ethan*, in May. He was removed by child protection following a parenting assessment after the pair had been discharged from hospital.
She challenged the order in court and was allowed to retain care of her baby on condition she was supervised 24 hours a day by a court-appointed babysitting service or approved person. It meant she was unable to move into her two-bedroom public housing unit.
The case was brought back to court six times, almost once a week, between 7 June and the hearing on Tuesday, when the child protection order was modified.
The department has continued to impose restrictive monitoring conditions, despite Liz being granted a $100,000 package from the national disability insurance scheme that includes seven hours of daily intensive developmental support.
Karinda Taylor, the chief executive of the First Peoples’ Health and Wellbeing Clinic, said the initial assessment of Liz had been culturally inappropriate.
It included a suggestion Liz was using sexualised language toward her infant because she said “do you want the titty?” before breastfeeding.
Taylor, a Wamba Wamba woman, registered nurse and midwife, hosted Liz and Ethan at her house for a week and wrote a report for the court saying Liz was able to care for Ethan provided she had appropriate support.
“I have never been concerned about Ethan’s safety while in Liz’s care,” she said.
Taylor said the babysitters who supervised Liz’s care of Ethan were not “culturally competent and FasD informed,” which left Liz “more vulnerable”.
“I’m concerned that Liz hasn’t until this week had an opportunity to feel safe, the ability to speak honestly about her support needs living with a brain injury and not have her disability used against her,” she said.
Taylor said Liz was worried about having her baby removed because her older child, who is now four, was removed as an infant and placed in kinship care.
She is allowed to visit that child for one hour a fortnight and is working toward regaining care of both her children.
Liz was able to spend the first night with Ethan in her new unit on Tuesday night. Her doctor, Peter Walsh, said it was a “fantastic outcome”.
“This only occurred due to the monumental efforts of the care and legal teams and it shouldn’t have taken six court appearances to reach the obvious and just conclusion,” he said.
But Walsh said the department “still want to impose restrictions on this family rather than help find solutions”.
“It makes you wonder how many other Aboriginal women or women with disabilities are having their children removed solely because of prejudice, systemic racism or failure of the system,” he said.
The department said it was unable to comment on individual cases.
“Parental assessments are conducted to support child safety and wellbeing, and we engage with relevant interpreting or other agencies to support a parent’s individual needs as is required,” a spokeswoman said.