- The service has reunited families and kept children out of state care
- Unions are concerned the expertise needed to run it does not exist in the private sector
- The Government said it would spend millions of dollars on family reunification
A plan by the South Australian Government to privatise a service that reunites neglected infants with their families will put further pressure on the child protection system, the Opposition has warned.
The Infant Therapeutic Reunification Service has been providing therapy for neglected or maltreated children under the age of three and helping struggling parents develop skills to care for them, since 2011.
The program, which has also helped struggling parents become more able caregivers, was recognised with an international award for excellence in 2016.
Funding to the program was cut off in August this year.
The Government confirmed management of the service would be put out to tender and said it would be investing millions of dollars in family reunification services over the next half-decade.
Children 'will fall through the cracks'
Opposition child protection spokesperson Katrine Hildyard said the plan to privatise the service was "beyond comprehension" at a time when 4,300 South Australian children were in state care.
"The program has provided timely, effective intervention in child protection cases — the service is there for families who most need help," she said.
"We need more publicly funded programs aimed at early intervention to keep children safe and out of care in the first place."
Bernadette Mulholland, the senior industrial officer for doctors' union SASMOA, said she was worried there are no private or not-for-profit operators capable of reviving the service in South Australia.
"I'm concerned they're not going to get anyone [to tender]," she said.
"There's simply not the expertise around.
Public Service Association general secretary Nev Kitchin agreed there were no "comparable experts in the private sector that could do what the public interdisciplinary service is capable of doing".
Government investing millions bringing families back together
The Government has said it will put the service out to tender and would invest $4.3 million in family reunification services over the next five years.
A Department for Child Protection spokesperson told InDaily the service was "a pilot program" that was "no longer operating".
"The State Government is committed to providing more connected and better services for South Australian families and children at risk," the spokesperson said.
"Reunifying children and young people with their birth family is an important focus for the Department for Child Protection, acknowledging some families need additional support to be able to keep their children safely at home."