Implementing the successor plan to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children
The submission to the Department of Social Services (DSS) in response to the Consultation Paper on Implementing the Successor Plan to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 (the National Framework)1 was prepared by the Law Council of Australia.
The Law Council welcomes the emphasis in the Consultation Paper on addressing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system, as a specific strategic priority. The Law Council notes concerning trends particularly in out-of-home care, where rates of removals are increasing and compliance with best practice placement principles show little improvement, and the risk this contributes to these children entering the criminal justice system.
It emphasises the systemic nature of the issues that create vulnerable children and families, and the importance of investment in specialist, child-friendly legal services, wraparound services and protective infrastructure such as stable housing. Specifically, the Law Council makes the following recommendations of key priority areas for the DSS to consider in implementing the Successor Plan to the National Framework:
- compliance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ACPP) should be better monitored and implemented, such as through the development of national minimum standards of best practice and intensive training for caseworkers led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communitycontrolled organisations. This should also include compliance reporting and oversight, with analysis of the instances in which children are not being placed according to kinship ties in order that evidence-based improvements can occur;
- publicly-funded specialist legal assistance services for children and their families, particularly in remote areas and for civil matters, should be lifted to adequate levels;
- courts dealing with children should be adequately resourced to prevent delays and child-friendly pilot programs that adopt a less formal approach to proceedings should be evaluated and, where successful, expanded;
- investment in front-end, preventative support services and infrastructure is critical, and emphasis should be placed on the provision of parenting programs to build the skills of families in the first instance (where children are not at immediate risk of harm, such as for notifications of neglect), prior to orders or removals being considered;
- particular effort should be made in training and resourcing staff in out-of-home care to defuse situations and divert children away from the criminal justice system wherever possible, including through facilitating access to mental health or broader crisis support, and additional investments. This should particularly be the case where a child does not pose a serious risk to health or safety;
- the qualifications and resources of In-Home-Care (IHC) workers should be assessed for adequacy, and upskilling and funding provided where necessary for this essential service;
- the implementation plan should explicitly address as a strategic priority the need for programs that support young people upon their release from child protection placements;
the Migration Regulations 1994 (Cth) should be amended to allow children classified as Undocumented Maritime Arrivals in the care of the State to apply for a permanent visa without the need for Ministerial intervention (such a visa is necessary to access social, health and welfare services); and consideration (subject to privacy concerns) should be given to developing a national centralised network or database to guide the sharing of information about the safety, welfare, and wellbeing of families and children across sectors and legal jurisdictions, to strengthen the interface between services and prevent siloed decision-making. This information should be culturally competent, emphasising where systemic disadvantage exists and including any cultural plans developed for a child.
You can read the full submission below.
1 Department of Social Services, Consultation Paper: Implementing the Successor Plan to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 (June 2021) (‘Consultation Paper’).