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Budget announcement is good news for child protection but comes with a caution

by PeakCare Qld on 5th June 2014

Home -> Articles -> 2014 -> June -> Budget announcement is good news for child protection but comes with a caution

PeakCare welcomes the announcement of a $406 million investment in child protection over five years. The State Government is to be commended for putting its money where its mouth is and maintaining its commitment to implementing recommendations of the Child Protection Commission of Inquiry led by Commissioner Tim Carmody SC .

In prioritising the spending of $25 million in the first year on increased family support services and improved pathways for families to access the support of these services as well as in supporting young people who are transitioning from care, the Government has shown that it has heeded core findings of the Carmody Inquiry and the long-standing advice of the non-government sector.

The budget announcement was good news for child protection that should be greeted with perhaps just a note of caution. While the State Government has admirably committed the financial resources needed to support a child protection reform agenda, the greatest challenge it now faces is exercising astute stewardship in relation to things that money cannot easily buy.

The greatest challenge will be about ensuring that the Government’s financial investment is accompanied by major shifts in the culture of organisations providing child protection services, both government and non-government, and in the values, attitudes and behaviours of our society generally concerning ways in which we view and value children and families. Without this, the child protection reforms will not be successful.

For the child protection reform agenda to succeed, It will most certainly require the culture of the child protection system to shift from being the risk-averse system that Commissioner Carmody identified during his inquiry to one that better assesses the needs of children and families and then ensures that the right services are provided at the right time and by the right service provider. It will be about shifting the perception of the child protection system as something that is to be feared by parents – none more so than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents - to a system that is seen by them as helpful and supportive.

It will be about the whole of our society adopting a kinder and more compassionate view of parents and their children and offering support, rather than condemnation, of parents who, in the absence of strong support from family and community networks, sometimes struggle to care safely and well for their children. It will be about ensuring, as recommended by Commissioner Carmody, that parents for no other reason than the struggle of meeting the demands posed by caring for a child with profound disabilities, no longer feel compelled to relinquish the care of their children in order for them to receive the treatment or support they require. It will be about adopting far improved approaches to supporting parents (most often by far, mothers) who are struggling to protect both themselves and their children from violence perpetrated by others within their homes in preference to simply viewing them as a parent who has failed to protect their children. It will be about more fully recognising and addressing the scourge of poverty, social isolation and economic disadvantage and their debilitating effects on the capacity of many families to care safely and well for their children. It will be about confronting and better addressing the impact of endemic racism that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families as well as families with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds contend with on a daily basis.

The decision to invest in family support – the largest investment ever to have been made in this area of work in Queensland’s history – is indeed a wise and welcomed one. However, the focus on family support must not come at the expense of a child being denied a statutory response which may involve removal from their parents’ care, if that is in fact what is needed. This would constitute a betrayal of the goal of ensuring that the right service is being provided at the right time. For some children, their removal from their parents’ care, at least for a period of time, will still be needed. However, the rate and frequency with which this occurs should significantly reduce over time in line with the increased investment in family support and earlier interventions if these services and interventions are designed, adequately resourced and undertaken well.

PeakCare very much appreciates and acknowledges the announced investment of around $3 million this year in Indigenous family support services ($1.5M) and culturally appropriate child protection practice ($1.4M). There will be no more telling indicator of the success of the child protection reforms than a reduction in the grossly disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system. The time is now well overdue for governments to listen much more closely to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, communities and families themselves about what is needed. For far too long, governments have thought that they know what is best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities, despite all the evidence which says that this has not worked. It’s now time for governments to step back and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples define for themselves what they need and, in keeping with the Queensland Government’s stated philosophies, enable them to then get on with the job.

Once again, PeakCare acknowledges the financial commitment made by the State Government to child protection reform and, in particular, commends the Honourable Tracy Davis MP, Minister for Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, her staff and Officers of her department for their hard work in achieving this outcome. Now the really hard work begins for us all…

PeakCare would like to hear your views and opinions about the State Budget. Please enter your thoughts and comments below.

Lindsay Wegener
Executive Director