In May 2012, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission released its report, Desperate Measures. It found that 50 or more families each year surrender the day-to-day care of children with disability to the Victorian Government.

On 1 July 2012, the Queensland Government established a Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection ‘to chart a new road map for child protection for the next decade’.

Dr Donna McDonald

But the $6million Inquiry does not include terms of reference for the protection of children with disabilities or support for their families. These are families that can end up feeling so backed up against a wall that they lose hope and become at risk of giving up their son or daughter with disabilities into the custody of the Queensland Government.

However, there is still time to influence the direction of Queensland’s Child Protection Commission of Inquiry as the report to the Premier is not due until 30 April 2013.

At a time in which governments around Australia continue to equivocate about the need to provide universal disability cover – similar in principle to Australia’s long-established universal health cover – this matters if the Victorian experience is a reliable yardstick.

Desperate Measures found that the relinquishment of children with disabilities in Victoria is more prevalent than it was just two years ago. The most commonly reported reason by families for giving up the care of their son or daughter with disabilities into the care of the state is the inadequacy of respite care facilities.

This is closely followed by a lack of in-home support services. Similarly, the unmet need for service provision in Queensland is a recurring concern for parents.

A disturbing feature of relinquishment is that so many families become so desperate, they simply do not return to the respite care facility, school or hospital where they may have left their child ostensibly for a short-term break or treatment. This is not a relinquishment process carefully negotiated over a period of time and trialed to see if it will be in the son or daughter’s best interests. This is abandonment. This is a harsh word but harsh circumstances demand it – circumstances in which governments do not provide the necessary support to families in need.

Desperate Measures goes on to list the harmful consequences of relinquishment, as if they need to be spelled out.

A modicum of compassion and a dash of imagination would yield the same list: trauma, grief, fear and confusion for the relinquished child and for the families too.

Much is also made in the report of the financial cost of relinquishment, with comparative data showing that it is cheaper for the government to provide in-home support than to accommodate (let’s not quibble with words here; it is just accommodation, not love and affection) a child with disability full time in a ‘residential service’ (not a ‘home’).

You can do something here, now. You can write to the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry at and advocate for the needs of these families and the rights of their sons and daughters with disabilities.

  • Dr Donna McDonald is a Senior Lecturer with Griffith University’s School of Human Services and Social Work