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Child protection. When politics must take a back seat.

by PeakCare Qld on 21st January 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> January -> Child protection. When politics must take a back seat.

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The State election is fast approaching. Campaigning by the political parties is now in full swing with each releasing their policy platforms and promises for the future. Unlike some previous elections, child protection does not seem to have become a hot topic this time around. As all experienced politicians know however and as history has shown us, child protection forever lurks in the background ready to ferociously bite any government seen to be neglecting its responsibilities to protect and safely care for our State’s children.

Looking back at the term served by the current government, there have been some laudable achievements made in child protection. The comprehensive Carmody Commission of Inquiry was completed and the government committed a record investment of $406 million over five years to respond to the Inquiry’s 121 recommendations. The rolling-out of new Family and Child Connect services has commenced along with funding of new and enhanced family support services.

This is in line with the Inquiry’s recommendations about turning the child protection system around to focus more on prevention and early intervention. The launch of the Talking Families media campaign developed by the new Family and Child Commission is another very worthwhile achievement in promoting the message that it is okay for parents to seek help when they need it and encouraging others to offer them their support and a shoulder to lean on.

Risks of the government changing hands

Is there a risk that the momentum that has been created in reforming the child protection system will be disrupted if the government changes hands? What views will a Labor government hold about the Carmody Inquiry’s recommendations? Will a Labor government be committed to continuing the current government’s financial investment in reforming the system?

And what are the views held by the minor parties and the independent candidates?

Risks of the government being re-elected

There are also questions that must be addressed by the LNP. If re-elected, will it maintain its commitment and financial investment in reforming child protection? Is there a risk that if an LNP government is returned, it will become complacent and confine its policy platform to only those matters addressed by the Carmody Inquiry?

Following an inquiry, governments tend to adopt a tick-the boxes approach that limits their agenda to only those matters that were made subject to a recommendation by the inquiry. If this happens, it will result in the government not staying on top of new and emerging issues and it will be Queensland children, young people and their families who pay the price for this complacency.

New and emerging issues

Already we are seeing signs of new issues or heightened concerns about some longstanding issues starting to emerge. These are issues that were not specifically addressed by the Carmody Inquiry but ones that will nevertheless demand attention by either a returned LNP government or a new Labor government.

For example, reports are continuing to be received about a dramatic increase in prescribing psychotropic medications to very young Queensland children – especially for ADHD. Some researchers and practitioners are noting a similarity of symptoms with children who have experienced abuse and those with ADHD. They issue warnings about the subsequent potential for misdiagnosis and major questions continue to be raised about the long-term effects of these medications. We’ve yet to get a handle on this issue.

And the emergence of ice as the drug of choice, the increased purity in the ice that is now being sold, its higher addictive properties, and greater devastating impact on young parents is now reportedly leading to grandparents being increasingly called upon to step in and care for their grandchildren. The challenges that this trend will pose to family support services are yet to be realised, but the warning signs are there.

As the profile of families continues to change with two incomes becoming the norm both out of economic necessity and by choice, the reliance on foster and kinship carers to care for those children who are unable to live safely with their own parents will be challenged unless actions are taken to ensure that these carers are properly remunerated, educated and supported. Beyond this, new models of care, not yet envisioned, will be needed to adequately cater for the increasingly complex needs of children and young people. The roles of carers and the support given to them must invariably change if we are to avoid returning to large scale institutional care as a highly unsatisfactory default option for many children.

For children who are in care, much more needs to be done to support them in achieving improved educational and training outcomes and a better understanding and management of the relationship between child protection and mental health services, both for parents suffering mental ill-health and children who have experienced the trauma of abuse, is sorely needed.

The top priority

For either a returned LNP government or a new Labor government, addressing the grossly disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families within the child protection system must be seen as a top priority. It is an issue that continues to bring shame to us all.

While it would not be at all appropriate for PeakCare to speak to the needs and aspirations held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities about their children – that is for them to define and state – it is incumbent upon PeakCare, mainstream organisations and government, when talking about the poverty and social disadvantage, higher mortality rates and other problems that beset many Aboriginal and Torres Strait families and communities, to be clear that these are not problems which are somehow inherent features of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

They are, in fact, the artefacts of a dominant white culture and there is a responsibility to fully recognise and acknowledge this if we are ever going to successfully walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and families in their journey towards healing and recovery.

Listening to the independent voice

For many years, successive Queensland governments have supported and listened to specialist child protection peak bodies (such as PeakCare) and advocacy groups. However, more avenues are now needed for parents and families themselves to be heard in describing and defining the services they need.

Now more than ever the independent voices of these organisations and the children and families they represent should be valued in adding to research, debates and discussion if we are to create and sustain a vibrant and effective child protection system.

As we fast approach this year’s election, bi-partisan commitment to child protection research and independent monitoring of system reforms is needed from all political parties. There are some matters that must never be used for political point-scoring. Child protection is one of them.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director - PeakCare Qld