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Pathways to Child Protection and Permanency is In the Spotlight

by PeakCare Qld on 24th August 2016

Home -> Articles -> 2016 -> August -> Pathways to Child Protection and Permanency is In the Spotlight

Upon reflection of the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) National Conference: Pathways to Protection and Permanency Getting it right for children, young people and families, there were a multitude of consistent messages offered by national and international speakers with which few would disagree. There were also offerings that challenged those of us working in the Australian context to continue to hear other perspectives and rethink some of our own.

In the opening phase of the conference, the New South Wales Minister for Family and Community Services, Brad Hazzard announced a plan to reform the $150 million a year Targeted Early Intervention (TEI) program. Mr Hazzard said: "I cannot stress how important targeted earlier intervention services are because it is our best opportunity to help vulnerable families before they reach crisis point.” He further stated: “We want to intervene early, we want the intervention to be effective and we are bringing in clear evidence-based approaches that work."

It’s a sentiment echoed in Queensland amidst the implementation of recommendations of the Carmody report Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection (June, 2013) that also speaks to the importance of offering the right services at the right time, as soon as possible as the emerging needs of the child, young person and family become evident. Positive life trajectories of children, young people and families rely on intervention happening as soon as possible once issues are noted. There appears to be little debate about this factor and the multitude of practitioners, academics and policy makers at the ACWA conference offered no deviation from this theme either.

The over-representation of Aboriginal children, young people and families within the child protection system was another consistent theme. As Queensland grapples with 43% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in the out of home care system of a population that comprises approximately 4% of our Queensland population, it is clear we have significant work to do. This number is forecast to be 50% by the year 2020. Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 7 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be receiving child protection services (AIHW: 2016). When we then consider that 48% of young people in custody in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, the brevity of the situation is without question. That’s a staggering number given the tiny percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, estimated at about 2.5%. Clearly reform is needed. Not just in Queensland but across the nation because most jurisdictions in Australia have similar realities to face.

New South Wales is no exception, as Minister Hazzard stated. New South Wales is working to address the over-representation by implementing an Aboriginal Services Strategy to ensure there are more opportunities for Aboriginal people to be engaged in designing a system that better meets their needs. “The reforms aim to ensure that resources and services are directed to those with the greatest need whilst affording district decision-making to design and deliver local services” he said. There is no question that the number one issue facing child protection is Australia is our national need to address the mammoth issue of the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families in our child protection systems.

Throughout day one of the conference other key issues that are at the centre of child protection practice and in the minds of all who undertake such work were discussed. These included the rights of children and young people to connection and meaningful relationships with family, kin, culture and community. The rights of children and young people to education, training, life opportunities and well-being were also discussed as were neglect and resilience and children’s subjective well-being and rights. The issue of adoption as a significantly researched and viable permanency option was also pertinent. How to achieve improved outcomes for children and young people were debated over the duration of the conference.

Brian Babington of Families Australia spoke to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020. He outlined the progress, directions and challenges as well as issues of state versus national agendas. He was clear about the importance of ensuring that child protection is a national concern. In order to genuinely address the key issues of child protection, he argued, specific national agendas must be upheld. Amongst those he called for a national approach to foster and kinship carer assessment, payments and supports.

He spoke of societal and individual accountability for child well-being and stated this as a gap in our society where children’s welfare and well-being is not prioritised. He then highlighted the third action plan of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020, Driving Change: Intervening Early. This three year action plan (2015-2018) has three key strategies as the focus:

  1. Early intervention with a focus on the early years, particularly the first 1000 days for a child
  2. Helping young people in out of home care to thrive into adulthood
  3. Organisations responding better to children and young people to keep them safe

In synchronisation with Brian Babington’s final notation of strategies, Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse summed up perfectly what so many had said before him: It is essential that we listen to the voices of children and young people. Their safety and well-being depends upon this and our responsibility as key stakeholders in government, non-government organisations and as family and community members is to listen and to respond.

Justice McClellan was clear that a child's complaint must be given an appropriate response, regardless of how it is received. He stated: "Whatever the nature of the institution and however its members are respected by the community, we must all accept that there may be members of trusted institutions who fail in their duty towards children. The power of the institution must never again be allowed to silence a child or diminish the preparedness or capacity of adults to act to protect children."

The Royal Commission has heard from more than 5500 survivors of abuse in Australia in private sessions so far and has referred more than 1600 allegations to police and other authorities. Since the commission was established in 2013, more than 60 prosecutions have commenced as a result of the referrals.

“Authority and respect for trusted institutions in Australian society should never override reports of danger to young people” said Justice McClellan. It is evident that as a society we have failed to hear the voices of children in many settings: "When the required silence of the child was accompanied by an unquestioning belief by adults in the integrity of the carer for the child, be they youth worker, teacher, residential supervisor or cleric, the power imbalance was entrenched to the inevitable detriment of many children."

Indeed, children and young people need to be heard. There is no greater message that needs to be heard and acted upon. This was a resounding message of the conference’s speakers and participants.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we share the wisdom and experiences imparted by international and national child protection and family support experts at the ACWA conference.

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