While there have been some significant advances over the past 30 years or so in recognising the impact of child abuse and neglect, and in accepting some communal responsibility for child protection and for the care of children who can no longer live with their families, there are some very big challenges ahead.
There are at least three areas where inroads can and need to be made: proper resourcing and shared responsibility, early intervention and prevention (now well recognised), and participation by children and families in the decisions that affect their lives.
Proper resourcing and shared responsibility
In the last few years there have been two new developments that emphasise the need for a shared approach and better use of resources. One is national and the other is NSW-based.
The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020, endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in April 2009, outlines a long-term national approach to enhance the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children.
The second state-based development is the Keep Them Safe implementation, following an extensive inquiry into child protection services and problems in NSW. This inquiry was conducted by the Hon. James Wood AO QC. The Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW was released by the NSW Government on 24 November 2008. See the The Executive Summary and Recommendations for more information.
National framework for protecting Australia's children 2009-2020
Over recent years the reported levels of child neglect and abuse in Australia have increased at an alarming rate. Child abuse and neglect has become an issue of national concern. Meanwhile, statutory child protection systems are struggling under the load.
Protecting children is everyone’s responsibility. Parents, communities, governments and business all have a role to play.
Australia needs a shared agenda for change, with national leadership and a common goal.
All Australian governments have endorsed the first National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 and are committed to implementing the initial actions it contains. It is a long-term, national approach to help protect all Australian children.
From the foreword
The National Framework focuses on six ‘supporting outcomes and strategies to focus effort and actions’. The six supporting outcomes are:
- Children live in safe and supportive families and communities.
- Children and families access adequate support to promote safety and intervene early.
- Risk factors for child abuse and neglect are addressed.
- Children who have been abused or neglected receive the support and care they need for their safety and wellbeing.
- Indigenous children are supported and safe in their families and communities.
- Child sexual abuse and exploitation is prevented and survivors receive adequate support.
See Protecting Australia’s Children for more information.
Participation in decision-making
There is increasing recognition of the importance of engaging with children and their families in order to provide support and promote children’s safety, welfare and well-being. For example, the Keep Them Safe guidelines are clear on this, and outline the reasons for working with children and families.
Effective engagement enables a productive relationship to develop between a worker, the child or young person and their family. This involves establishing relationships between a worker and the child or young person, a worker and family and between workers. Engagement is fundamental to working effectively in child wellbeing and child protection contexts as it can increase the likelihood of realising sustainable, positive change in a child, young person and their family.
Turning such rhetoric into reality is a real challenge but there are some new models that encourage participation (for example, family group conferences). The legislation encourages and requires participation by children and their families. Section 10 of the Act, the principle of participation, for example, allows children to have an opportunity to express their views freely on matters concerning their safety, welfare and well-being, to have assistance to express them, and to have them taken into account. They should also be informed as to how their views will be recorded and taken into account, and about the outcome and the reasons for any decision concerning them, child or young person.
Children in out-of-home care also have specific rights outlined in the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care. These include the right:
- to be given information about a proposed foster carer before the placement begins;
- to have access to written, photographic and other records of continuing significant events and developments in their lives;
- after leaving care, to have access to records on files concerning the placement;
- to maintain a relationship with parents, family, friends and community, unless this is not in the child’s best interests; and
- after leaving out-of-home care, from the age of 15 and up to the age of 25, to receive continuing assistance from the Minister for Community Services, if necessary, with matters such as accessing education, housing, employment, health services, counselling and support.
Keep Them Safe: A shared approach to child wellbeing
Keep Them Safe: A shared approach to child wellbeing is the NSW Government’s five-year action plan to re-shape the way family and community services are delivered in NSW to improve the safety, welfare, and wellbeing of children and young people.
The goal of Keep Them Safe is that 'all children in NSW are healthy, happy and safe, and grow up belonging in families and communities where they have opportunities to reach their full potential'.
In particular, Keep Them Safe includes actions to enhance the universal service system, improve prevention and early intervention services, better protect children at risk, support Aboriginal children and families, and strengthen partnerships with non-government organisations in the delivery of community services.
See the Keep Them Safe website for more information.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families
The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 makes special provisions relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families (sections 11-14). The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander principles focus on self-determination and on participation in decision-making (sections 11 and 12). This includes the opportunity for families, kinship groups, representative organisations and communities to participate in significant decisions that are to be made about an individual child who is Aboriginal in relation to their placement or child protection interventions.
Protecting Aboriginal Children Together (PACT) aims to develop new ways of working with Aboriginal communities to provide services that suit the local needs of Aboriginal families and their communities.
Hot Tip: National Children’s Commissioner
The Commonwealth Government legislated in 2012 for a National Children’s Commissioner, with responsibility for:
- advocating for children’s human rights at the national level;
- promoting public discussion and awareness of issues affecting children;
- conducting research and education programs;
- consulting directly with children and representative organisations; and
- examining Commonwealth legislation, policies and programs that relate to children’s human rights, especially in relation to vulnerable or at-risk groups of children, such as children with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, homeless children or those who are witnessing or subjected to violence.
Megan Mitchell was appointed as Children's Commissioner and commenced in the role in March 2013. The Commissioner's first report was submitted in November 2013. The Commissioner's second report, focusing on preventing injury and death in children and young people resulting from intentional self-harm, with or without suicidal intent, was released in December 2014.