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Why we need to work together to protect Australia’s children 5
What is the problem? 5
What needs to change? 6
A national approach to protecting Australia’s children 7
National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 8
Supporting outcomes, strategies and indicators of change 8
Principles to guide our actions 9
Everyone has a role to play 9
Supporting outcome 1: Children live in safe and supportive families and
Supporting outcome 2: Children and families access adequate support to
promote safety and intervene early 13
Supporting outcome 3: Risk factors for child abuse and neglect are addressed 21
Supporting outcome 4: Children who have been abused or neglected receive
the support and care they need for their safety and wellbeing 25
Supporting outcome 5: Indigenous children are supported and safe in their
families and communities 28
Supporting outcome 6: Child sexual abuse and exploitation is prevented
and survivors receive adequate support 31
Implementing the National Framework 35
Governance arrangements 35
Implementation Plan 35
Appendix A: Current initiatives and reforms 42
Australian Capital Territory 44
New South Wales 47
Northern Territory 50
South Australia 55
Western Australia 62
Australia’s children deserve a safe, healthy and happy childhood.
Our children must be able to grow up nourished and supported in loving and caring environments. They must have time to be children with all the wonder, happiness and innocence that childhood should bring.
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.
The National Framework represents an unprecedented level of collaboration between Australian, State and Territory governments and non-government organisations to protect children. Placing children’s interests firmly at the centre of everything we do.
Reducing child abuse and neglect is not an easy task and it will take time. The National Framework provides the foundation for national reform.
Endorsed at the Council of Australian Governments meeting on 30 April 2009 by:
The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister of Australia
The Hon Nathan Rees MP, Premier of New South Wales
The Hon John Brumby MP, Premier of Victoria
The Hon Anna Bligh MP, Premier of Queensland
The Hon Mike Rann MP, Premier of South Australia
The Hon Colin Barnett MLA, Premier of Western Australia
The Hon David Bartlett MP, Premier of Tasmania
The Hon Paul Henderson MLA, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory
Jon Stanhope MLA, Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory
All children1 have the right to be safe and to receive loving care and support. Children also have a right to receive the services they need to enable them to succeed in life. Parents have the primary responsibility for raising their children, and ensuring that these rights are upheld.
We recognise that the best way to protect children is to prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring in the first place. To do this, we need to build capacity and strength in our families and communities, across the nation.
The vast majority of parents - supported by the community and the broad range of government supports and services available to all families - have the capacity to raise happy and healthy children. But some families need more help. And in some cases, statutory child protection responses will be required.
The investment by governments and the non-government sector into family support and child protection services is significant, yet our separate efforts still fail many children and young people (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision 2009). 2 We need a unified approach that recognises that the protection of children is not simply a matter for the statutory child protection systems.
Protecting children is everyone’s responsibility.
Families, communities, governments, business and services all have a role. And we need to work together.
What is the problem?
In 2007-08, there were 55,120 reports of child abuse and neglect substantiated by child protection services.
For the first time since national data collection there was a reduction in child abuse substantiations from the previous year (2006-07). This is a promising indication that substantial increases in family support may be effective at preventing child abuse and neglect. Data in future years will tell us if this trend continues.
Despite this, the rate has more than doubled over the past 10 years and the number of children subject to child abuse and neglect remains unacceptably high. Indigenous children also remain significantly over-represented. Indigenous children are six times more likely to be the subject of a substantiation than other children (AIHW 2009).
Some of the increases over time are a result of changing social values and better knowledge about the safety and wellbeing of children. Child protection services were originally established in response to serious physical abuse. Now, in response to changing community expectations, they address physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and domestic violence. These changes have been a major driver of increased demand on child protection services (Bromfield & Holzer 2008).
Emotional abuse and neglect are now the most commonly substantiated types of child maltreatment, followed by physical abuse (AIHW 2009). However, research shows that many children experience sexual abuse, and that it is often undetected or not reported to authorities (ABS 2006; Morrison 2006).
1 Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the Convention, the term ‘child’ is defined as anyone under the age of 18 years. This National Framework follows that definition.
2 The estimated total recurrent expenditure on child protection and out-of-home care services was $2 billion in 2007–08, an increase of 13.5 per cent on the previous financial year.
As a community we have been shocked and concerned to hear of children who were not identified or adequately protected by welfare systems – for some, their suffering was not known until after their deaths. Systems and procedures such as mandatory reporting requirements have been developed to try to better identify those children who have experienced or are at-risk of abuse or neglect. For many people concerned about a child or family, their first (and perhaps only) response is to make a report to child protection services (Bromfield & Holzer 2008).
Substantial numbers of children and their families now come to the attention of child protection services. In 2007-08, there were 317,526 reports to child protection services in Australia. The vast majority of these reports were not substantiated – meaning the report was assessed and a child protection response was not required at that time. In these cases, other forms of support would have been a more appropriate response.
The numbers of children being removed from their parents has also more than doubled over the past decade. At 30 June 2008, there were 31,166 young people in out-of-home care (AIHW 2009). Children in out-of-home care experience significantly poorer long-term outcomes, particularly where the child did not experience stable care placements (Cashmore & Paxman 2006). Each year in a small number of terrible cases, children die as a result of child abuse and/or neglect. The exact numbers are difficult to ascertain due to reporting limitations.
What needs to change?
Australia needs to move from seeing ‘protecting children’ merely as a response to abuse and neglect to one of promoting the safety and wellbeing of children. Leading researchers and practitioners – both in Australia and overseas – have suggested that applying a public health model to care and protection will deliver better outcomes for our children and young people and their families (Holzer 2007; O’Donnell, Scott, & Stanley 2008; Scott 2006; ARACY 2007). The components of such a system are illustrated in Figure 1.
Under a public health model, priority is placed on having universal supports available for all families (for example, health and education). More intensive (secondary) prevention interventions are provided to those families that need additional assistance with a focus on early intervention. Tertiary child protection services are a last resort, and the least desirable option for families and governments.
Just as a health system is more than hospitals so a system for the protection of children is more than a statutory child protection service.
In reality, Australia’s child welfare service systems more closely resemble an hourglass than a pyramid. As demands on child protection services have grown, child protection services have grown to meet that demand. Child protection services cannot provide a response to all vulnerable children and their families.
A public health model offers a different approach with a greater emphasis on assisting families early enough to prevent abuse and neglect occurring. It seeks to involve other professionals, families and the wider community – enhancing the variety of systems that can be used to protect children and recognising that protecting children is everyone’s responsibility (Higgins & Katz 2008).
Ultimately, the aim of a public health approach is to reduce the occurrence of child abuse and neglect and to provide the most appropriate response to vulnerable families and those in which abuse or neglect has already occurred.
A national approach for protecting Australia’s children
Australia needs a shared agenda for change, with national leadership and a common goal.
Recognising that the safety and wellbeing of children is the responsibility of all levels of government, the Australian Government has led the development of the National Framework, working closely with States and Territories.
Similar challenges are being faced across the nation. State and Territory governments currently spend in excess of $2 billion annually on child protection alone, with average annual increases of more than 12 per cent.
State and Territory governments are currently implementing reforms to their statutory child protection systems - all focused on early intervention. But for these reforms to be truly effective, they need to be coordinated with Australian Government programs, policies and payments - a large part of the early intervention response.
The National Framework will deliver a more integrated response but does not change the responsibilities of governments. States and Territories retain responsibility for statutory child protection, as the Australian Government retains responsibility for providing income support payments. The National Framework also recognises the significant existing efforts and reforms which are being undertaken by governments across Australia in protecting children and supporting families. A summary of existing effort and reforms underway in each State and Territory is at Appendix A.
It does however, involve a commitment from all parties to focus our own efforts on protecting children, and to work together better in areas of shared responsibility. It also involves a commitment to better link the many supports and services we provide – avoiding duplication, coordinating planning and implementation and better sharing of information and innovation. Naturally, the span of activity required to support these outcomes means that new efforts will build on and link with existing initiatives to achieve the best possible outcomes.
A National Framework provides an opportunity to drive improvements across all systems and all jurisdictions. National leadership will provide the momentum for key national projects – such as data, research, information sharing and national consistency in critical areas. A National Framework also provides a mechanism for engaging the non-government sector and the broader community on a national level.
National Framework for
Protecting Australia’s Children
The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 consists of high-level and supporting outcomes, strategies to be delivered through a series of three-year action plans and indicators of change that can be used to monitor the success of the National Framework.
The actions and strategies that governments and others will agree to take under this National Framework are all aimed to achieve the following high-level outcome:
Australia’s children and young people are safe and well.
As a measure of this outcome, governments and the non-government sector have set the following target:
A substantial and sustained reduction in child abuse and neglect in
Australia over time.3
To demonstrate progress towards achieving the target the following measures have been identified:
• Trends in key national indicators of children’s health, development and wellbeing
• Trends in hospital admissions and emergency department visits for neglect and injuries to children under three years
• Trends in substantiated child protection cases
• Trends in the number of children in out-of-home care.
Supporting outcomes, strategies and indicators of change
The six supporting outcomes are:
1. Children live in safe and supportive families and communities
2. Children and families access adequate support to promote safety and intervene early
3. Risk factors for child abuse and neglect are addressed
4. Children who have been abused or neglected receive the support and care they need for their safety and wellbeing
6. Child sexual abuse and exploitation is prevented and survivors receive adequate support.
The supporting outcomes and strategies help to focus effort and actions under the National Framework in order to reach the high-level outcome. Indicators of change are provided to measure the extent to which governments and non-government organisations are achieving the supporting outcomes. Given the inherent difficulties in isolating the impact of specific actions on broader social outcomes, a broad suite of indicators have been identified which, when viewed collectively, will be reported annually and provide a basis for measuring progress over the life (12 years) of the National Framework.
3 It is acknowledged that measuring a reduction in child abuse and neglect is difficult, as Australia currently does not have robust data on incidence/prevalence. Even if such data existed, it may not be sensitive to change over a short period.
Principles to guide our actions
Children have a right to be safe, valued and cared for. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia has a responsibility to protect children, provide the services necessary for them to develop and achieve positive outcomes, and enable them to participate in the wider community.
In line with Australia’s obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention, the National Framework is underpinned by the following principles:
• All children have a right to grow up in an environment free from neglect and abuse. Their best interests are paramount in all decisions affecting them.
• Children and their families have a right to participate in decisions affecting them.
• Improving the safety and wellbeing of children is a national priority.
• The safety and wellbeing of children is primarily the responsibility of their families, who should be supported by their communities and governments.
• Australian society values, supports and works in partnership with parents, families and others in fulfilling their caring responsibilities for children.
• Children’s rights are upheld by systems and institutions.
• Policies and interventions are evidence based.
The National Framework also recognises the importance of promoting the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and families across all outcome areas.
Everyone has a role to play
Under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, protecting children is everyone’s responsibility. Some of the key groups and their involvement in the National Framework are described below.
Parents and families care for and protect their children and engage in decision making that has an impact on them and their children.
Communities support and protect all their members, and support families to raise their children, particularly vulnerable families.
Non-government organisations deliver services (including on behalf of governments), contribute to the development of policy, programs and the evidence base and actively promote child safety, protection, rights and wellbeing.
The business and corporate sector supports parents to raise their children through family-friendly policies. They may also support programs and initiatives to directly assist children and families, including direct financial assistance, pro bono activities of their staff and professional support to community organisations.
Local governments deliver a range of services to vulnerable families, including youth and family centres and local infrastructure, and play a pivotal role in engaging vulnerable children and their families in those services.
State and Territory governments deliver a range of universal services and early intervention initiatives to prevent child abuse and neglect, and fund and coordinate many services by the non-government sector. They are responsible for the statutory child protection systems, including the support provided to children and young people in out-of-home care. Other responsibilities include:
• providing therapeutic and support services for families, children and young people at-risk of abuse or neglect
• conducting research into child protection
• delivering health and education services, including maternal and child health services, schools, and specialist services for at-risk children and young people and their families
• providing police and justice systems, including court services to hear child/youth care and protection matters.
The Australian Government delivers universal support and services to help families raise their children, along with a range of targeted early intervention services to families and children. 4
The foundation of the Australian Government’s support is the provision of income and family support payments to provide both a broad social safety net and specifically support families in their parenting role. This includes pensions, family payments, childcare benefit and tax rebates. The Australian Government provides a range of services available for all Australian families such as Medicare, employment services, child and parenting support services, family relationship services and the family law system. In addition, the Australian Government provides support for key services through the States and Territories such as hospitals, schools, housing and disability services.
The Australian Government also offers more targeted services for vulnerable individuals and families, including mental health, substance abuse, intensive parenting services, intensive employment assistance, and allowances for young people leaving care to help with the transition to independent living. The Australian Government also funds and delivers a range of services for families at higher risk of disadvantage including those in Indigenous communities.
Children live in safe and supportive families and communities
Communities are child-friendly. Families care for children, value their wellbeing
and participation and are supported in their caring role.
Reducing vulnerability of families and protecting children from abuse and neglect begins with developing a shared understanding of, and responsibility for, tackling the problem of child abuse and neglect.
Businesses and the broader community can play a part in supporting families through child and family-friendly policies and practices. It is important to educate and engage the community to influence attitudes and beliefs about abuse and neglect but also more broadly about children and their needs. Informing communities about parenting and children’s development can also promote understanding about the ways in which community members can better support families.
Upholding children’s right to participate in decisions that affect them is a key signal of valuing and supporting children. In the context of child welfare, this is particularly relevant in judicial proceedings in care and protection, juvenile justice and family court matters, and in child protection and out-of-home care services.
Supporting outcome 1
Initial 3-year actions
Indicators of change
1.1 Strengthen the capacity of families to support children
Continue to establish and support family and children’s centres such as:
- Child and Family Centres (ACT)
- Early Years Service Centres (QLD)
- Children’s Centres (SA)
- 30 Child and Family Centres (TAS)
- Early Learning and Care Centres (WA)
- 46 Children’s Services Hubs (VIC)
States & Territories
•Community attitudes towards and value of children (TBD, survey)
•Children’s perception of their value within the community (TBD, survey)
•Measure of children’s and young people’s participation in administrative and judicial proceedings that affect them (TBD)
Combine and refocus community programs within the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to enhance support for families and parenting
Continue to improve family support services such as:
- bringing together secondary services consistent with WA’s Strategic Framework for Supporting Individuals and Families At-risk
1.2 Educate and engage the community about child abuse and neglect and strategies for protecting children
Support community organisations to deliver cost-effective, community-based initiatives, including information and awareness campaigns, for example funding for National Child Protection Week and a survey of community attitudes to protecting children
Commonwealth with NAPCAN
1.3 Develop and implement effective mechanisms for involving children and young people in decisions affecting their lives
Explore the potential role for a National Children’s Commissioner including the relationship with State and Territory Children’s Commissioners
Advice to Government in late 2009
Commonwealth in consultation with States & Territories
Identify and implement approaches through the Supporting Children After Separation Program, to assist children from separating families to deal with issues arising from the breakdown of their parents’ relationship and to participate in decisions that affect them
Finalise, print and distribute an information booklet for children entering foster care
Commonwealth with the Australian Childhood Foundation
Continue to improve the experience of court processes for children, such as:
- Victoria’s work with court stakeholders to improve practices and processes in state and federal jurisdictions involved with children
- NSW’s legislative amendments to encourage alternative dispute resolution and the roll-out of the Magellan project
- WA’s trialling of court diversion conferencing
States & Territories
Support participation of children in decision making such as:
- Models developed by the SA Guardian for Children and Young Persons