How we will improve education for children in state care

23 May 2017

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Engagement with schools can offer children in care opportunities for socialisation, a chance to achieve and the basis for success in further study and employment. Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report recommended widespread changes to the way education was managed in the interest of children in care and the Government’s response in December 2016 accepted most of those recommendations.

The Government undertook to:

  • Mandate Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma (SMART) training for educational staff, requiring it to be part of professional development (R 89).
  • Review the Department for Education and Child Development (DECD) policies on school suspension, exclusion and expulsion and ensure that they are only used as a last resort (R 91).
  • Conduct a regular audit of children in care who are on reduced hours of attendance at school and ensure they have plans to re-engage in mainstream education (R 91).
  • Require the DECD to fund any in-school support needed by children in care (R 92).
  • Recruit and train a panel of school services officers to support children with trauma-related behavioural challenges (R 93).
  • Make modified payments to foster and kinship carers where the care leaver is engaged in tertiary education, apprenticeship, or post-high school training and their best interest is served by remaining in foster or kinship care until the qualification is completed (R 161).
  • Change policy and practice to support care leavers who want to access further education and training (R 163).
  • Establish a data system to allow access to a complete range of student data about children who move schools in remote Aboriginal communities (R 210).
  • Audit services in remote Aboriginal communities to ensure that there are adequate facilities to service playgroups, preschools and other services that visit the community (R 213).
  • Employ qualified child wellbeing practitioners in areas of need to consult with staff and to work directly with vulnerable families (R 52).
  • Provide secure, long-term funding for playgroups in remote Aboriginal communities, (R 209).

If you have an interest in education for children and young people in state care, watch out next week for our analysis of education data for South Australia from the Report on most recent Government Services.

 

The government promises to do better for Aboriginal children in care

16 May 2017

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Aboriginal children are disproportionately represented in the care system. They comprise about one third of children in care, and the trend points to further increases. As well as the trauma and dislocation felt by all children coming into care, they face the extra risk of removal from, or loss of access to, their culture, language and community.

Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report recommended widespread changes to how child protection services related to Aboriginal children and communities and the Government’s response in December 2016 accepted most of those recommendations.

The Government undertook to:

  • Develop an Aboriginal recruitment and retention strategy in the Department for Child Protection (DCP) as part of the workforce strategy (R 30) to increase the numbers of  and support for Aboriginal staff (R 187 and 188) and non-Aboriginal staff working with Aboriginal children (R 222).
  • Place Aboriginal staff in the Child Abuse Report Line call centre to assist with the assessment of Aboriginal families at the point of notification (R 34).
  • Make reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system a priority in the work of the planned Early Intervention Research Directorate (R 50).
  • Incorporate the particular needs of Aboriginal children in kinship care when developing the new leaving care model (R 163).
  • Review the selection, training and supervision of kinship carers and placements. (Aboriginal children are highly represented in kinship care and we discussed this reform in detail in our post on home based care from January this year).
  • Ensure that a recognised Aboriginal agency is consulted on all placement decisions involving Aboriginal children (R 189).
  • Set up a a dedicated scoping unit within the DCP to research family connections and prepare genograms (R 190).
  • Provide all practitioners with training, support and clinical supervision to give them the knowledge, skills and techniques to work effectively with Aboriginal children and families (R191).
  • Identify evidence-based service models for early intervention that meet the needs of Aboriginal children and families (R 192).
  • Commission not-for-profit agencies to develop service models that can respond to higher-risk Aboriginal families with multiple, complex needs (R 194).
  • Develop assessment tools to be used in the new child and family assessment and referral networks that specifically consider the needs of Aboriginal children and families and consult with the local Aboriginal community and service providers (R 196).
  • Ensure that at least one Principal Aboriginal Consultant in the DCP has experience and expertise in remote Aboriginal communities (R 202).
  • Implement the Education Dashboard to provide access to information about schools and school students that can be viewed and accessed by staff both in DECD and the DCP  (R 210).
  • Identify evidence-based service models for early intervention that meet the needs of Aboriginal children and families and develop a best practice evaluation framework for existing early intervention and prevention programs R212).
  • Create an early intervention service for families in remote communities who could benefit from support to prevent escalation of issues (R 212).
  • Upgrade facilities at Mimili and Yalata to provide for playgroups, preschools and other services that visit those communities (R 213).
  • Develop and deliver training programs and tools for staff and carers to promote culturally informed practice (R 235).
  • Identify performance indicators on the cultural competency of the agency’s workforce, and regularly review the effect of these recommendations on that competency (R 237).

There is more information about the numbers of Aboriginal children in care in last week’s post Statistics on Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2015-16 .

Watch out for the next posts in this series which set out the Government’s response to the Nyland report in the areas of education and collaboration.

 

 

 

Statistics on Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2015-16

Children 10-17 yrs on care and protection orders in SA at June 2016 (n=3448)

South Australia’s Aboriginal[1] children and young people are vastly overrepresented in in state care and in detention centres, according to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2017 (ROGS 2017).

In 2015-16, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 33 per cent of all of those on care and protection orders and were 7.3 times as likely to be in out-of-home care as non-Aboriginal young people, allowing for their numbers in the population.

At June 2016, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 47.9 per cent of 10-17 year-olds in youth justice detention in South Australia while they made up only 4.5 per cent of that age group in the total population.

We present more data and charts about this subject from ROGS 2017 in the Guardian’s Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Care and/or Youth Detention from the Report on Government Services 2017.

Download the snapshot now.

1 In this report we use the term ‘Aboriginal’ to include people  who identify both as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

Therapeutic care for all children in state care

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2 May, 2017

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Most, if not all, children who are taken into care will be experiencing trauma. It will have been caused, if not by prior abuse and neglect, by the dislocation of their lives caused by the experience of coming into care.Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report recommended that the principles of therapeutic care be applied in working with children across the child protection system and the Government’s response in December 2016 broadly agreed.

Their commitments included:

  • The application of a therapeutic framework across all residential care environments (R 146).
  • Providing therapeutic support to family-based placements that are at risk or under stress (R 84).
  • Development of a therapeutic needs assessment panel led by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for children in care whose therapeutic needs are identified in their initial health assessment (R 86).
  • Reviewing the assessment and training of foster carers to include training on recognising and managing trauma-related behaviours and information about access to therapeutic assistance (R112).
  • Supporting and training carers who are registered to general agencies to transfer to therapeutic agencies where the needs of children in their care require it (R121).
  • Development of a streamed model of residential care with provision for care for children with high therapeutic needs (R146).
  • Recognition of the need to deliver therapeutic services to children in care but the Department for Child Protection may do it in collaboration with SA Health (R 218).
  •  The establishment of secure therapeutic care facilities where young people in care could be detained under a court order for a period of time during which they would receive therapy (R 152). [Please note that, although the Commissioner sets out a number of safeguards and conditions, the Guardian continues to have reservations about the model producing significant long-term benefits for the young people so detained and that the detention of young people who have committed no offence raises important human rights concerns.]

 

We look at the Child and young People (Safety) Bill 2017

6 March 2017

The Government introduced the Children and Young People (Safety) Bill 2017 into Parliament on 14 February.  It’s purpose is to update the Children’s Protection Act 1993, add some elements from the Family and Community Services Act 1972, and enable a number of new initiatives that respond to Nyland Royal Commission recommendations.

Below we look at issues that directly bear on the Guardian’s mandate to promote the wellbeing of children and young people in state care.  Organisations with other interests will, and have, addressed other aspects of the Bill.

Positive changes since the 2016 draft include:

  • the inclusion of Chapter 8 – Providing safe environments for children and young people (see part 3.2 of the January GCYP submission)
  • further strengthening of the SACAT clauses including s149 – Views of the child or young person to be heard
  • some strengthening of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle through reinsertion of engagement and consultation with the gazetted Aboriginal organisation.
  • addition of “neglect” in the definition of harm (s14).

Issues with the 2017 Bill include:

  • Section 29(7) allows the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection to “give directions or guidance in relation to a matter to a State authority to which the matter is referred” effectively undermining the independence of the Guardian.
  • The replacement of the Minister as ‘main responsible person’ with the Chief Executive comes without any explanation or obvious rationale.
  • The recognition of the importance of the voice of children is still insufficient.  The “need to be heard and have their views considered” (s8(1)(a)) should be  taken from that sub-clause location and given equivalent emphasis to that granted to safety in s7.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle should be strengthened.
    • The five interrelated domains: prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection should be incorporated into the Bill.
    • The obligation of the Department to “consult with, and have regard to any submissions of, a recognised Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation” should not be weakened by the s11(3)(c) rider, “where reasonably practical”.
    • Section 11(5) acknowledges the capacity of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child or young person to make an informed decision not to identify as such but the legislation should safeguard the Department’s obligation to revisit the matter sensitively from time to time in order to stimulate and respond to a child or young person’s developing views and options. 
  • Section 68 introduces a clause to allow temporary placement of a child or young person when an approved carer is not available although Commissioner Nyland expressed concern about such temporary placements.
  • s100(4) weakens the power of a child to complain about residential care by giving the Chief Executive the power to dismiss complaints they deem to be “frivolous or vexatious or not made in good faith” without defining these grounds more explicitly.
  • s101(1) provides that the Chief Executive must, “at the request of a child or young person” leaving care, prepare a plan setting out steps to assist them in making their transition from care. The Department should be obliged to provide such a plan as a fundamental right.
  • s144 should make it explicit that Internal Review extends to failure of the Chief Executive or a child protection officer to give effect to the entitlements of children and young people under this Act .  It should provide an appeal mechanism and to guarantee access by the child to independent advocacy during the appeal process.
  • s107(1) The Child and Young Person’s Visitor Scheme is still expressed as a discretionary matter for the Minister while it should be embedded in the legislation.

For more detail see Comments on the Children and Young People (Safety) Bill 2017 and

the earlier Guardian’s response to the draft Children and Young People (Safety) Bill 2016

A place to call home for children in state care – emergency care

house and heart graaphic2 March, 2017

One of the greatest issues facing us when we remove children from their birth families is finding safe, stable and nurturing homes in which they can live.

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In the final part of this three-part article we look at the problems in residential care identified in Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report and the Government’s response in December.

The first two parts, on home-based care and residential care have appeared previously on the Guardian’s website.

In her report Commissioner Nyland described a situation in emergency care in which children were housed in temporary accommodation (such as motels, caravan parks and short-term rentals) by rotating shifts of workers with minimal training and supervision who were supplied by commercial organisations.  Numbers have grown since Commissioner Nyland drafted her report and for around 200 children, some as young as a few months or a few years old, these are their defacto care arrangements.

She observed that these arrangements are very unsuitable for children for any but the shortest time, in a genuine emergency.  They do not support their psychological needs and place them at enhanced risk of abuse.

This is how the Government has pledged to respond.

  • The use of commercial carers will be phased out (R 128) and commercial providers will be placed under more strict regulation of their employment practices and reporting requirements (R129).
  • The Residential Care Directorate will take over responsibility for managing emergency care placements (R131) and government workers will be more fully informed to allow them to provide oversight of the workers placed from commercial agencies (130).
  • The Government has undertaken that single-handed shifts by commercial carers will cease (R132) but not immediately as Commissioner Nyland recommended due to the capacity to provide the additional staff needed or suitable alternative placements.
  • A community visitors’ scheme for emergency and residential care residents is promised (R 137) although work on the scheme awaits the passage of the Child and Young People (Safety) Bill 2016 which is in State Parliament at the time of writing.
  • Children in emergency care will be supported with an education program to understand their rights (R136) and have a direct line of complaint to the Chief Executive of the Department for child Protection (R134).
  • An annual report on those complaints will be provided to the Guardian for Children and Young People (pending the setup of the complaints system) rather than the quarterly reports recommended by Commissioner Nyland (R135).
  • There will be more stringent recruiting of care workers including psychological testing (R138) and strict probation and review requirements will be introduced (R139).
  • Improved processes and pathways for residential care staff to observe and report concerns about the behaviour of staff with respect to children will be introduced (R142).  A tracking system will bring together and respond to information collected about suspicious staff behaviour from various sources (R143).
  • The Government has accepted in principle the recommendation to abandon and plan to outsource residential care or emergency care (R151). It has  committed to decreasing the numbers of children in emergency care but this will necessitate, it states, the expansion of residential care by outsourcing .
  • The Government has accepted in principle the recommendation to articulate the standards against which deficiencies in care can be assessed (R179).
  • The Government has agreed to provide a report to the Minister and the Guardian for Children and Young People on performance against service criteria (R198) but the scope of this may be limited by the capabilities of the C3MS case management software allows.

The full paper A place to call home for children in state care is available for download.

Aboriginal culture and connection in residential care

… some Aboriginal children need to reside with non-Aboriginal carers.  Supporting the cultural needs of these children is not tokenistic, but profoundly important…

Margaret Nyland[1]

20 February, 2017When Advocates from the Guardian’s Office start monitoring residential care facilities for children and young people in state care in 2017, it will be armed with a new focus on Aboriginal[2] culture and connection and a new set of tools to complement it. (See the previous item on the Guardian’s website New indicators focus on Aboriginal culture and connection.)

‘Our visit to each residential care house is necessarily quite short’, said Advocate Jodie Evans, ‘and so we try to spend as much time talking and hanging out with the residents as possible.’

‘We take time to review the records of the house before we visit.  This gives us some valuable data and insights  into how things are going at the house before we arrive.

‘Sometimes you can talk with young people about their Aboriginal culture and connections quite freely but for many it can be a sensitive and private subject and not something readily shared with a relative stranger.

‘The really important thing is not that they have those conversations with us but that they are having those conversations with someone and that their needs and wishes are being acted on.

‘How well this is being done can be hard to judge in the relatively short time we have in the young people’s space but there are a few good indicators.

‘Sometimes as an Advocate you can just look around – is there Aboriginal artwork on the walls, pictures of Aboriginal performers and athletes and music and TV shows featuring Aboriginal talent. This can be one indication of honouring and nurturing a resident’s Aboriginal identity.

‘Another indicator is the keeping of an Aboriginal Life Story Book and a memory box. If it’s done well and with the full involvement of the young person, it can show that that the house is making an effort to nurture their Aboriginal culture.

‘Likewise, Advocates will look for evidence of participation, not only in activities linked to popular Aboriginal events such as NAIDOC Week, but also of efforts to link the Aboriginal resident to communities that share personal connections, language and cultural ties.

‘For some young people, a visit to country, their community and their culture is invaluable in developing their Aboriginal identity.  We know that to do it well requires a great investment of effort and cooperation but to have done so is powerful evidence to an Advocate of serious commitment to meeting residents’ cultural needs.

‘We know that residential care staff cannot do this work alone.  Without receiving the information held by others and the practical support from others, their best efforts will be seriously limited.  Our Advocates will be looking for evidence of an active involvement of other professionals such as case workers, Principal Aboriginal Consultants and teachers.

‘We will also be looking out for the use of the new Aboriginal Cultural Identity Support Tool. The in-depth information captured by the tool, if it is passed on sensitively, can be invaluable in helping residential care houses to best direct their efforts in rebuilding and strengthening connections to culture for their Aboriginal residents.

‘We are looking forward to getting out and among the young people and staff in residential care this year and especially to finding and sharing examples of good cultural support.

‘Around the middle of the year, we will also be taking a good look at how effective our monitoring has been in supporting real improvement in the provision of cultural support to young Aboriginal residents,’ she said.

1 The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report, Volume 1: Summary and Report(Government of South Australia, 2016) available at http://www.agd.sa.gov.au/child-protection-systems-royal-commission

2 For this article, where we use the term Aboriginal we shall take it to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This article also appears in the February 2017 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

 

Emergency care – numbers are not the whole story

picture of Amanda Shaw

Amanda Shaw Guardian

14 February, 2017

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love statistics.

‘Without data you are just another person with an opinion’ – W. E. Deming [1]

So it was with growing unease that we dutifully recorded each month over the last few years the steady growth in the numbers of children and young people being placed by the state into what is called ‘emergency care’.

In emergency care children are looked after in temporary accommodation by rotating shifts of workers with minimal training, provided mostly by commercial companies. In the popular shorthand they have become known as ‘kids in motels’ although their ages vary and the places in which they reside include bed and breakfasts, caravan parks and short-term rentals.

We have frequently reported, and Commissioner Nyland’s investigations reached the same conclusion, that emergency care is very unsuitable for children. It does not and cannot support their psychological needs and social development and potentially places them at greater risk of abuse.

There are now nearly 200 children and young people living under such arrangements so we need to get the numbers down – yes?

Well, yes – but with a very strong proviso.

Finding a suitable alternative placement is much more than just finding a bed. In a complex calculation, the child or young person’s age, gender, cultural identity, maturity, previous experiences, psychological state, personality and disabilities all form part of the planning. A placement in home-based or residential care must have the best chance to make them feel safe, secure, accepted and support them to reach their full potential. As well, a good placement has to consider not just the best for the child or young person being placed but, equally importantly, what is in the interests of those who already live in that placement.

Getting this right has consequences for the safety, happiness and wellbeing of the children and young people being placed, not just now but for the future and perhaps for the rest of their lives.

In the past we have seen efforts to ‘get the numbers down’ lead to children being placed into unsuitable home-based or residential care placements. They were often hastily planned and executed, poorly matched and ignored the views of the children.

We need to acknowledge the community and media pressure on the new Department to ‘get the numbers down’ but the safety, wellbeing and interests of children and young people must come first. A number of matters coming before the Office’s Advocates recently have raised my concern that an emphasis on ‘getting the numbers down’ is once again coming at the expense of good placement matching. Placement options are being discussed that appear very unsuitable, that children and young people do not want and that may place them at risk.

There is also some evidence that children and young people in settled circumstances are being shuffled among the residential care houses in order to create places. There is a dilemma in taking action for the greater good – making more placements within the same resources available – while not losing sight of the individual’s rights, wellbeing and, importantly, their voice.

South Australia already has the highest average number of placement changes per child in Australia and we have previously documented the negative effects of forced placements changes in reports and in young people’s own words.

There is no shortcut to creating suitable quality care placements in foster care, relative care and residential care. It will take time, resources and sustained effort but creating suitable alternatives is the only acceptable way to reduce the numbers in emergency accommodation.

In the end it will be the stories of the children and young people behind the statistics that will be the evidence of our success or failure.

1 William Edwards Deming was a notable American management innovator and champion of evidence-based decision making. Wikipedia

This article also appears in the February 2017 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

A place to call home for children in state care – residential care

house and heart graaphic7 February, 2017

One of the greatest issues facing us when we remove children from their birth families is finding safe, stable and nurturing homes in which they can live.

In the second part of this three-part article we look at the problems in residential care identified in Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report and the Government’s response in December.

The first part of the series, on home-based care appeared on the Guardian’s website on 24 January, 2017.

 

Residential care historically fulfilled two functions.  It was the placement of choice for young people where home-based care was assessed as not being suitable and a time of assessment or a temporary  alternative for the few children who could not be found a home-based placement. The growth in the number of children in state care and the dearth of home-based care placements in recent years has meant that it has become a staple of the system, currently accommodation over 10 per cent of the children in state care.

In her report Commissioner Nyland described a system in which many children were unhappy in unsuitable environments in which children as young as nine years were housed.  Some children lived in fear and were allegedly subject to abuse from other children and workers.  She recommended an extensive program of reform which emphasised improved recruitment, training and supervision of staff, clearly articulated and enforced standards of care and a strengthening of the voice of the young residents.  Most of her recommendations have been accepted by the Government.  These are the major changes.

  • There will be more stringent recruiting of residential care workers including psychological testing (R138) and strict probation and review requirements will be introduced (R139).  The Government has also accepted in principle the recommendation that supervisory staff in residential care should be better trained and qualified (R147).
  • It will be required that residential care youth workers will be properly supervised and, where necessary, performance managed (R148).
  • There will be ongoing training for residential care workers with an emphasis on the risks and dynamics of abuse in institutions (R140).
  • Single person shifts will not cease but the Government has accepted in principle that the use of commercial carers in residential care should cease (R150).
  • Outsourcing of residential and emergency care will continue and expand as residential care is expanded, contrary to Commissioner Nyland’s recommendation although the Government has promised increased scrutiny on the quality of outsourced care (R151).
  • Improved processes and pathways for residential care staff to observe and report concerns about the behaviour of staff with respect to children will be introduced (R142).  A tracking system will bring together and respond to information collected about suspicious staff behaviour from various sources (R143).
  • Residential care will be streamed to better meet the needs of different young people with provision for short-term assessment placements and therapeutic placements for children with high needs and will incorporate measures by which the system’s performance can be evaluated (R146).
  • Residential care houses will be developed where there is need in regional areas (R217).
  • The Government has accepted in principle that no child under 10 will be housed in residential care (except as part of a sibling group) and that no house will accommodate more than four children but will only commit to considering the closure of large units (R149).
  • The Government has accepted the idea of a whole-of-sector model of therapeutic care to be rolled out across child protection, including residential care (R146).
  • There will be proper recording and tracking of physical restraint used against children in residential care (R133) and (R141).
  • A community visitors scheme in residential care and emergency care houses will be introduced (R137).
  • Children in residential care will be supported with an education program to understand their rights (R136) and have a direct line of complaint to the Chief Executive of the Department for child Protection (R134) and a quarterly report on those complaints will be provided to the Guardian for Children and Young People (R135).

The full paper A place to call home for children in state care is available for download.

What’s good – and not so good – in the draft child safety legislation?

I need you to understand where I have come from and how I am dealing with this situation so that you can understand me when I have a say.

Young person in care

31 January, 2017

The draft Children and Young People (Safety) Bill 2016 has been released by the State Government for comment. It updates the Children’s Protection Act 1993 and adds some elements from the Family and Community Services Act 1972. It also enables some initiatives from the Nyland Royal Commission recommendations. Once passed it will replace the Children’s Protection Act 1993 as the key piece of legislation governing child protection in this state.

We have analysed the draft legislation and here are the main issues.

 

Positives

  • It is good to see the broad statements of principle and commitments in introductory provisions such as the Parliamentary declaration (s3), the universal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people (s4), and that the safety of children and young people is paramount (s6).
  • The draft Bill recognises importance of children being informed and listened to in matters affecting them and making sure that their views are represented when decisions are being made. (s55, s54(1) and s75(3))
  • The Aboriginal Placement Principle is retained (s75 (2)(a)) and there are other provisions regarding cultural maintenance and support, although we await the response of the Aboriginal community before reaching any final conclusions.
  • The Charter of Rights is carried over into the new Bill (s11).
  • A Child and Young Person’s Visitor Scheme (ss 104 – 107) is welcome although it is not clear why this is discretionary rather than being a mandatory direction to the Minister s105(1).

Not so good

  • The proposed  capacity for the Chief Executive to “give directions or guidance in relation to a matter to a State authority to which the matter is referred” s28(7) is a a concern.  It would allow the Chief Executive to direct the Guardian in a way that undermines the independence of the Guardian’s office as guaranteed in other legislation.
  • The loss of the child safe environment provisions (currently enacted in s8B of the Children’s Protection Act 1993) means that Governments and NGOs will lack a clear indication of their accountability and duty of care .
  • Also lost are sections 26A and 26B of the Children’s Protection Act 1993 which means female genital mutilation will no longer be a matter warranting explicit attention as a form of child abuse.
  • The Bill will mean that the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection takes over accountability for objectives of the Bill/Act from the Minister.  There is no rationale for this change which will, if anything, confuse the clear line of responsibility for child protection that now flows unambiguously to the Minister.

You can read the detail in the full text of the Guardian’s response to the draft Bill which is available for download.

The Guardian’s response to the draft Children and Young People (Safety) Bill 2016 is available for download.