I warmly welcome you to my final message for 2017, as we ‘tumble’ towards Christmas and the end of what only can be described as an eventful year.
There have been a few big ticket items that have been – or are about to be – visited upon us, which may very well set some of the agenda for 2018.
The report from the NT Royal Commission has been handed down and we will all be watching with interest as to how the huge number of recommendations it contains will be addressed without further net widening a system already under immense strain.
The much anticipated final report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is also soon to be handed down. This landmark report will, from all accounts, contain in excess of 600 recommendations, which can only but influence and impact the activities of ACWA’s member agencies.
Front and centre of this report will be what it means to be a child safe organisation. This is what goes to the heart of creating an Australia that truly values children, and it will require us to advance beyond finely crafted statements and checklists to enshrine a culture that transcends the mechanistic. We can also expect reparation to be a key element of the report, which will also have wide ranging implications for all organisations.
In November a private member’s bill to have the Auditor General audit out-of-home care agencies, as per a recommendation of the NSW Upper House parliamentary inquiry into child protection, was defeated following debate in the Legislative Assembly. ACWA strongly opposed this bill, which would have seen yet another layer of oversight placed on an already heavily scrutinised sector, and we were pleased the NSW Government listened to our concerns. While the out-of-home care sector is not opposed to scrutiny, a move like this would have been costly for gain given the many levels of oversight that already exist in NSW.
November also saw SNAICC launch the Family Matters Report 2017 at Parliament House in Canberra. This report, which provides a comprehensive analysis of all the states and territories’ child protection systems, makes for grim reading in respect of how Aboriginal children and families are faring. It headlines the fact that “without urgent action the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed from family will triple in the next 20 years”. A workshop I attended following the report launch made it abundantly clear that non-Aboriginal agencies must increase their resolve and commitment to ensure Aboriginal controlled organisations can assist communities to look after their children. Currently the majority of Aboriginal children are placed with non-Aboriginal organisations.
On the national front, work is underway to solidify the draft Fourth Action Plan under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, to be signed off by COAG. This represents our last formal chance to consolidate the previous three National Framework Action Plans and imbed the structural mechanisms necessary to build on the findings of the Royal Commissions and look at sustainable pathways to address the terrible injustices highlighted by the SNAICC report. Early intervention initiatives such as the ‘First 1000 Days’, presented in the Third Action Plan, will be vital in turning the curve.
ACWA has commented on and consulted with our membership on the NSW Government’s Shaping a Better Child Protection System Discussion Paper. In spite of an extremely and unrealistically tight deadline, we have managed to submit an informed response. Suffice to say, there are many diverse views out there and, even though the sector is in unanimous agreement of the intent of the proposed legislative amendments, there is still significant discussion to be had regarding the methods of achieving realistic sustainable results that will deliver better outcomes for children, young people and families.
May I take this opportunity on behalf of ACWA’s Board and staff to thank all our members for your valuable support and wisdom over the past year. We wish everyone a safe and peaceful festive season, and look forward to continuing the good fight in 2018.