Over the last 5 years almost 2,000 children have been removed from their parents by FACS in NSW and sent to motels, apartments and hotels rather than foster careers or their extended families. Despite repeated promises by the NSW government and the current and former Ministers to fix this FACS still sent over 250 children to live “alternative accommodation” last year.

This data has been made public by NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge who forced its release from the Department under FOI laws.

Aboriginal children who have been taken from their families bear the brunt of this policy failure. They are almost 15 times more likely to be placed in motels than non-Aboriginal kids. Not only is this an appalling model for caring for children, it also comes at great cost, racking up over $43 million in motel and hotel bills in just one year.

Background

In 2017 the then Minister for Family Services Minister Pru Goward told a parliamentary hearing:

The decades-long practice of utilising motels and serviced apartments departments I think does need to end. It is unacceptable for children. It has been going on for a long time. I have instructed the department to look at it and to present me with some solutions. I have to reiterate though that I will not be building institutions for children”.

Despite this promise the Department continues to put hundreds of children in motels every year. Data obtained by Greens MP David Shoebridge under freedom of information laws shows almost 2,000 children have been held in motels and other alternate accommodation in the past 5 years, with more than 600 in just the last two years.

Year Aboriginal Non-Aboriginal Total
2014/2015 financial vear 74 100 174
2015/2016 financial vear 230 285 515
2016/2017 financial year 256 367 623
2017/2018 financial year 154 196 350
1 July 2018 to 6 June 19 118 146 264
Total 832 1094 1926

Aboriginal children make up just 3% of the children in NSW, yet are 43% of all the children in alternative accommodation. This means Aboriginal children are 14 times more likely to be placed in this sub-standard alternative accommodation than non-Aboriginal children.

When asked in Parliament in June this year the current Minister said:

I am advised that FACS uses alternative care arrangements as a last resort, and only in emergency situations.

There are currently significant efforts underway to reduce the amount of children and young people in alternative care arrangements and to increase permanency for all children and young people within NSW.

I am advised that FACS closely monitors the use of alternative care placements, and significant work has and will continue to be implemented to reduce the need for them.

There are very significant sums of money spent on this. The last full year data we have on expenditure is from 2017/18 FY and it showed the costs of motels, apartments and hotels was $43.4 million:

Greens MP David Shoebridge said:

“Hotels and motels are no place for children already dealing with being separated from their families”.

“The Minister needs to take responsibility for the children in his care and this means not taking them from families and just warehousing them in the same accommodation used for adult parolees.

“As with so many failures of government policy, it is Aboriginal children and families who bare the worst consequences.

“Aboriginal children ten times more likely to be taken from their families than their non-Indigenous counterparts and they are hugely over-represented in the juvenile justice system.

“Once taken from their families, Aboriginal children are then 14 times more likely to be placed in alternative accommodation, mainly stuck in motels with no family or home.

“By removing children and placing them in inappropriate setting the NSW government is creating a pipeline from out of home care to prison”.

“It’s time the government lived up to its promise to stop sending children to motels, but instead to ensure every child that is removed from their family is at least given a home”, Mr Shoebridge said.