ACWA is the peak body for NGO child welfare organisations in NSW, working towards systems reform in order to bring about improved outcomes for vulnerable children and families. It is the wide held hope of ACWA and the sector as a whole that child protection will be treated as a priority issue in the upcoming 2019 NSW Election.
As part of our election platform, ACWA is asking all NSW members of parliament to commit to:
1. Creating an additional function in one of our existing oversight or regulation bodies, (independent from service delivery) that has the power to review individual children and young people and the circumstances of the out-of-home care they are being provided.
While the out-of-home care system in NSW is subject to a strong framework of regulation and oversight, ACWA believes there is a missing piece – the function of rapid review, advocacy and powers to intervene when the care system’s response is not protecting or safeguarding the child. This function must be independent of service provision and funding bodies to enable a focus on the child’s best interests.
ACWA envisages this role would focus on identifying and responding to the children who are falling through the cracks of our service system, ensuring their ongoing needs are being met through case planning and management and suitable placement.
2. Establishing a joint governance body to oversee/monitor the implementation of child protection reforms and ensure they are delivering the best possible outcomes for children, young people and their families.
The NSW Government is investing significant funds to reforming the state’s child protection system under the initiatives of Their Futures Matter program and the Permanency Support Program. A shared approach to planning and implementation is vital if these changes are to make a lasting and positive difference to the lives of children, young people and families. This should include a focus on the 0-5 age group. The establishment of a high-level governance body made up of government representatives and non-government peaks would provide the leadership and collaborative effort necessary to resolve systemic issues as they arise and bring about the desired outcomes of the reforms. ACWA believes workforce capacity, the over-representation of Aboriginal children in care and issues associated with new contracts would require high priority and examination by this body.
3. Prioritising investment in prevention and early intervention services to support struggling families and reduce the number of children entering out-of-home care.
The NSW Government’s current investment approach to child protection is heavily weighted towards crisis responses. This model is failing to prevent the neglect and abuse of children and young people in our community.
ACWA advocates for a major shift in investment, as emphasised by ARACY’s widely applauded Inverting the Pyramid – Enhancing Systems for Protecting Childrenreport towards proactive prevention and early intervention services that will give families the support they need long before they come into contact with the child protection system.
4. Raising the unacceptable levels of educational disadvantage currently experienced by children and young people living in out-of-home care in NSW.
The poor educational outcomes attained by children and young people in out-of-home care has long been a concern for the child and family welfare sector.
Education plays a fundamental role in helping children and young people growing up in care achieve a productive and rewarding life. However for this particularly vulnerable group of students, experiences of abuse and neglect, trauma, disrupted attachments, removal from family and placement changes can all impact negatively on their ability to learn. Research consistently indicates that far too many of these children and young people are missing out on the good quality education that is so critical to their future health, welfare and wellbeing.
ACWA calls for the adoption of the Virtual Schools program model, now being implemented in Victoria as the LOOKOUT Education Support Centre. Critically this model places a senior educationalist responsible for supporting students in out-of-home care with the support they need, thus maximising the likelihood that both teachers and students will be supported in successful re engagement to education.
Money to follow the child. When any child is excluded from the state education system, the money allocated to their education by the state should be made available to the NGO for them to use to provide educational programs, and linkages back to the school system (if possible).
The current provision for these children is unsuitable. For example, children who are currently excluded from special education units (where there is a very low teacher ratio) are provided with minimal support from the DoE, through distance education.
5. Providing care leavers priority access to essential services across the course of their lives.
The personal limitations borne from disadvantage and neglect and abuse are carried throughout a lifetime by many who have been in care. The Longitudinal Outcomes for Forgotten Australians (LOFA) research and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have identified both the need for ongoing support and support related to specific life events.
These individuals were once the responsibility of the state and deserve access to a lifelong body of services – at a time when they are ready to access them. Services should include scholarships for: remedial education, vocational education and training, higher education opportunities and priority access to housing, primary health and dental services.