The NSW Police Association is backing an Illawarra Mercury campaign to increase sentencing penalties for parents convicted of child neglect, as new research shows officers are at the forefront of identifying such cases in the community.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2016-17 Child Protection Australia report says police officers accounted for 21 per cent of total notifications to child protection services – more than teachers, social workers, doctors or family members.
However, where cases of neglect end in criminal charges in NSW, parents and caregivers in all but the most extreme cases will walk away with only a monetary fine due to the limited sentencing options available under the current legislation.
The Mercury’s State of Neglect campaign is calling on the NSW Government to include jail terms for serious child neglect cases after a Wollongong magistrate expressed frustration at only being able to issue a fine to an Illawarra mother who allowed her children to live in extreme squalor.
Changing the legislation to include jail sentences would allow judicial officers to consider alternative, community-based orders in lieu of prison, such as supervised court bonds that would require an offender to attend rehabilitation or counselling.
The Mercury understands the move has strong support from many rank and file officers in the Illawarra.
Family and Community Services minister Pru Goward has so far refused to publicly commit to introducing new laws to parliament but has ordered a FACS review into the adequacy of the current options.
The NSW Police Association’s Wollongong delegate, Jason Hogan, said any changes – along with additional resources to implement them – would be welcomed by police.
“We support any review that will lead to the judiciary having a range of appropriate sentencing options for matters of child neglect,” he said.
“It must be open to the bench to take action against those who seriously fail in their obligation to care for our most vulnerable people – their kids.
“FACS needs to be properly resourced to respond to children identified by police and other agencies as at risk of harm. When FACS intervention does not improve the situation the courts must have the ability to punish those who continue to neglect their kids”.