National principles for child safe organisations

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found many organisations had failed to protect children and to respond appropriately when information about abuse was disclosed.

In response to findings and recommendations from the Royal Commission, the Australian Government commissioned the development of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. The National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell led the development of the National Principles, in consultation with relevant peak organisations, children and young people, and Commonwealth and state governments.

Reflecting the ten child safe standards recommended by the Royal Commission, the National Principles go beyond sexual abuse to include other forms of harm to children and young people.

The National Principles apply to government, non-government and commercial organisations, including early childhood services, schools, out-of-home care, sports clubs, churches, youth groups, health services and youth detention services.

The ten National Principles put the best interests of children and young people front and centre. They cover all aspects of what organisations need to do to keep young people safe—from the culture of the organisation and the role of families and communities, to the recruitment and ongoing training of staff and respecting equity and diversity.

Many organisations across the country already work hard to ensure children and young people are protected from harm. The National Principles are not intended to override existing measures, but create a national minimum benchmark.

How will they be implemented?

In February 2019, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the National Principles.

Alongside the National Principles, the National Office for Child Safety (NOCS) was established in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as part of the Australian Government’s response to the Royal Commission. The NOCS will work with state and territory governments and organisations to lead the implementation of the National Principles.

In South Australia, the Department for Education will lead the implementation of the National Principles with state-specific resources and supporting tools to be developed. Organisations providing care to children and young people will need to continue to meet the Child safe Environments: Principles of Good Practice while the implementation of the National Principles is progressing.

How can an organisation adopt the National Principles?

Each National Principle is accompanied by key action areas and indicators that act as a guide for organisations to ensure they are implemented in practice.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has developed a range of tools and resources to assist in the implementation of the National Principles. An introductory video provides further explanation on the development and future implementation of the National Principles and a Learning Hub and Practical Tools provide organisations further guidance.

For children and young people

The National Principles are about putting children and young people at the centre of practice. The AHRC has developed resources for children and young people and a version of the National Principles in child-friendly language. It also covers information for parents and carers how to identify an organisation is child safe.

 

National Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week artwork

Penny Wright – Guardian and Training Centre Visitor

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is a time for all Australians to learn about, and celebrate, our shared histories, cultures, and achievements and to explore the part we can each play in reconciliation.

Each year, this special week runs from 27 May to 3 June, commemorating two significant dates—the successful 1967 referendum that effectively granted Aboriginal people the right ‘to be counted’ in their own land, and the High Court Mabo decision.

This year’s theme Grounded in Truth: Walk Together in Courage, highlights the importance of truth-telling in fostering positive relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader community. To better understand each other, we must be willing to have—and encourage—honest and challenging conversations with each other and within ourselves.

That was certainly the experience of nearly 2000 South Australians at the NRW Breakfast hosted by Reconciliation SA on 27 May. It is the biggest event of its kind in Australia and in her keynote speech, Dr Chelsea Bond of the University of Queensland spoke unequivocal truth about power.

In our work, advocating for children and young people, there are many challenging conversations that must be had.

Across Australia, including in South Australia, Aboriginal children and young people continue to be disproportionately represented in youth justice and out-of-home care. In confronting this troubling situation, as well as the intergenerational trauma that brought us here, we must insist on the right of children to know their community and their cultural and spiritual identity. We must listen to, value and share the voices and stories of Aboriginal young people.

Residents of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre have expressed concern about the lack of Aboriginal staff and Aboriginal cultural programming. We will continue to advocate for this, as well as the appropriate placement of young people.

These three things must be key in the lives of Aboriginal children:  culture, connection and community.

The Guardian’s Newsletter – May 2019

Check out the May 2019 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter:

  • young artists making a final contribution to the mural celebrating young people in state care
  • a new focus on family in child protection brings opportunities and challenges
  • a Charter of Rights for Children and Young People Detained in Training Centres
  • and more…


A new focus on family

By Guardian Penny Wright and Malcolm Downes

The State Government’s newly announced strategy An Intensive Support System for South Australia’s children and families promises a more sustained and holistic response to child protection by shifting the focus to families.  Under the strategy the Child and Family Assessment and Referral Networks (CFARNs), the Child Wellbeing Practitioner and Strong Start programs will be brought together in a new Intensive Support Unit to be formed in the Department for Human Services.

The family, in its many styles and structures, remains at the core of human society.  It is how we care for each other, a basic economic unit, a basis for our sense of who we are, a psychological comfort and a vehicle for raising our children.  It is also the site of some of our greatest problems, of violence, abuse and neglect.  Over generations it can perpetuate our noblest aspirations but also nurture our darkest failings.  For some families, problems with poverty, debt, unemployment, drug misuse, mental illness, family violence, insecure housing and contact with the justice system combine to create major barriers to the enjoyment of the relative wellbeing and wealth that our community has to offer.

Informed by the research commissioned on the back of the Nyland Royal Commission into the Child Protection System in SA, the Department’s planned Intensive Support Unit promises to focus squarely on the families with the most entrenched and challenging issues.  It aims to work with families to identify issues they face and coordinate the services and supports they need in sustained way.  In the past we have striven to ‘rehabilitate’ the individual young offender or ‘cure’ the person with a mental illness without regard for the social circumstances they came from and to which, in all likelihood, they will return.  The Department’s new strategy will refocus the bulk of the family support, domestic violence and children’s support services that it provides and contracts on these families.

‘Troubled Families’

The rationale and structure resembles the Troubled Families program that has been in place in the United Kingdom since 2012. The program recently released its National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015-2020: Findings Evaluation overview policy reportIn the UK program, intervention is based on a keyworker who builds an understanding of problems and of the individual family dynamics. They look at the totality of what’s going on and use what the report calls ‘a persistent and assertive approach establishing a relationship with the family and working closely with them to make sure the family resolve their problems’. The keyworker agrees on a plan with the family and local services so that interventions are sequenced and coordinated and there is a shared ownership of outcomes among service providers.

The evaluation report shows some headline gains including an almost one-third reduction in children being taken into care after a 19-24 month intervention and a one-quarter reduction in young people receiving custodial sentences.  The economic benefits and net budget savings modeled in the report make a strong argument for the UK Government to persist with the program.

We should anticipate that the South Australian strategy, like Troubled Families, will encounter some challenges as it is rolled out.  Services will need to adapt their practice, data collection and information sharing to a family-based way of working – and being funded.  We can look to the NDIS as an example of the difficulties a change of service and funding model can produce for clients and providers if not well managed, no matter how well intended. The shift to a payment-by-results model can produce distortions in the provision of services and a gaming of the system if not well-conceived and managed from the outset.

Aboriginal families

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new strategy will be how well it addresses the outcomes for Aboriginal families. The last Closing the Gap report confirmed that, after more than ten years of investment, we still struggle to provide services to the Aboriginal community that are culturally safe, trusted and effective.  If we shift the focus to families we will have to understand and embrace an Aboriginal concept of family which is very different in how it operates to the white European model on which much of our current system is based.  On top of that we will have to translate what words like ‘disadvantaged’, ‘troubled’, ‘struggling’, ‘complex’, and the many other policy terms governments use, mean to Aboriginal families. It will need to develop an understanding of how Aboriginal families define their needs and what success means to them.

To its credit, the new DHS strategy explicitly acknowledges the necessity for serious Aboriginal involvement in the design and governance of the new system and in the decisions that affect the lives of Aboriginal families and children.  Getting this right for Aboriginal families will be a touchstone for the success of the strategy as a whole and its ability to serve the very diverse set of groupings and relationships that we call ‘family’ in the 21st Century.

The latest CREATE report highlights the good and bad for children in state care

For its latest report, the CREATE Foundation surveyed 1,275 young people around Australia with care experience, covering topics including health, education and connection to culture.

Out-of-Home Care in Australia: Children and Young People’s Views After 5 Years of National Standards reports that 93 per cent of young people felt safe and secure in their placement and 96 per cent had a meaningful connection with a family member that they expect to maintain. It also found 93 per cent had regular health checks.

Among the positive views from young people, the report also raises their concerns, some of which we examine below with a particular focus on the situation of young people in care in South Australia..

Split placements

Of the respondents with siblings, 36 per cent were separated from all their brothers and sisters. South Australia had the highest proportion of split placements with 53 per cent.

Sibling contact was high in this state, which the report suggests could reflect the higher number of split placements. The report recommends South Australia adopt a program like Victoria’s Keeping Connected program announced last year.

Connection to culture

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people continue to be over-represented in out of home care. About one third of Indigenous respondents of the CREATE survey felt strongly connected to their culture while one third reported little connection.

A cultural support plan is designed to maintain children and young people’s cultural identity. The CREATE Foundation report found that just 18 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people interviewed were aware of having a cultural support plan.

Transition plans

From the age of 15 it is expected that young people will start planning and preparing to transition from care. A plan to assist them in this process is created in collaboration with the young person’s caseworker and carer and covers things like housing, education, life skills and employment.

Almost one quarter of respondents 15 years old were aware of having a transition plan which increased to just 40 per cent for 17 and 18 year olds. Awareness varied across the states with South Australia having the lowest awareness at 18 per cent while Western Australia had the highest with 65 per cent.

The report found young people who were involved in developing their plans tended find them more useful.

Charter of Rights awareness

The survey found that around two thirds of young people across Australia were not aware of the existence of The Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care in their state or the rights it described. This response was consistent across the states and territories. The report suggests that to be effective, statements of the rights must be properly implemented not be tokenistic.

The CREATE Foundation also released a young person’s report in a style more attuned to young readers.

 

 

The National Redress Scheme is now in SA

National Redress Scheme - for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse

South Australians who experienced institutional child sexual abuse are now able to apply for therapeutic and financial support with the National Redress Scheme fully operational across the state.

People who experienced child sexual abuse in South Australian government institutions, as well as non-government that have declared their participation in the scheme, can now apply for redress.

Included in the Scheme is access to counselling and psychological support, a redress payment of up to $150,000 and the opportunity to receive a direct personal response from the institution responsible. If an offer of redress is received, any or all of these things can be accepted.

This can be a difficult process, as revisiting past events and trauma can be distressing. Support services are available through the national website, as is legal support.

The Scheme will operate for ten years and people who experienced abuse before the Scheme began on 1 July 2018 can access redress. They must also be an Australian citizen or permanent resident, who is aged 18 years or older, or will be by 30 June 2028.

South Australia is the last state to join the scheme, with concerns from the previous government that it may not harmonise with the state’s existing compensation scheme.

Under the previous ex-gratia Children in State Care Scheme in South Australia, people who experienced abuse could receive up to $50,000 in compensation. People who have already received ex-gratia payment under the state scheme may be eligible for further compensation under the National Scheme.

The National Redress Scheme was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission heard from thousands of people about the abuse they experienced as children.

Only institutions that have signed up to the redress scheme are able to provide redress payments. So far in South Australia, a wide range of institutions have already signed up to the scheme. More information on the institutions that have already signed up is available on the National Redress Scheme website.

For more information or to connect with a support service visit www.nationalredress.gov.au or call the National Redress Scheme on 1800 737 377.

Interested parties can download a fact sheet that also provides more information about accessing the Scheme in South Australia.

The Guardian’s Office has moved

picture of boxes with Oog

The Guardian’s Office relocated to Level 3, 111 Gawler Place on Tuesday February 5, 2019.

Phone numbers and email addresses have not changed.

All of the Office’s advocacy services for children and young people in state care and youth detention and all of the related programs are operating from the new premises.

We are ensuring that no child or young person is disadvantaged during the transition and working to minimise any inconvenience for our colleagues and contacts.

The resources ordering service has resumed after the move.

Safety in residential care

graphic of residential care

When we take children[1] into the care of the state, a prime responsibility is their safety.

We have matched comments about safety given to the Office of the Guardian by children during our monitoring visits and advocacy with those from the December 2016 Royal Commission paper Safe and Sound.  There were overwhelming similarities.  In this article we blend the two sources to consider the questions ‘do children feel safe’, ‘when do they feel safe’ and ‘what would they suggest to make things safer?’

How safe do children feel in residential care?

Residents often feel unsafe in residential care. Bullying and harassment are common. Adolescents report that they are frequently worried by the threat of sexual harassment and assault. Older residents say that the impact of witnessing violence, self-harm and the abuse of fellow-residents, leaves them stressed and feeling unsafe.

Children generally think it is unlikely that they would be abused or harmed by a worker, although a small number report that they have encountered or heard about abusive staff. Some are concerned by the behaviours of ‘creepy adults’ and those who try to create inappropriate and overly-familiar relationships with them. Children assess how safe workers are based on their past experiences of abuse, by watching the adults’ behaviours and by how other residents act around them.

Many children describe residential care as feeling unsafe due to its instability and frequent changes of staff. Some relate times when they were moved to less safe residential care placements for no reason than that other young people could take their rooms.

A few adolescents report that adults outside of residential care take advantage of children in care, exploiting their need for a sense of belonging, accommodation and money. A few report that some children in residential care engage in prostitution.

When do children in residential care feel safe?

Children feel safe in a placement that is home-like and where young people feel welcome.  They like it where things feel ‘normal’ and where adults look out for them.

They want to see that organisations and workers take a resident’s safety seriously, that they are interested and take measures to protect them.

They feel safe when there are cordial relationships with their fellow-residents and workers, and that there are other supportive relationships, such as with a social worker or teacher, with people outside of the unit.

Really building relationships with kids works, because then they feel safer to come to you with pretty much any problem.  They’re not going to come to you with problems, even if it’s something as simple as being bullied, they’re not going to come talk to you if they think you don’t like them or don’t listen.

Safe and Sound, p 66

Stability and predictability are important.  Children need to know what is going to happen, and that any difficulties with fellow-residents can be resolved.  Routines, reasonable rules and an opportunity to have a say in decisions give them confidence and sense of control.

They believe that when they are safe, children and young people feel relaxed and calm and are less likely to be aggressive and to harm each other.

Younger residents tend to value security measures such as locks on doors, surveillance equipment and alarms.  In contrast, for older residents, these measures reinforce their sense that residential care is not home-like and is unsafe.

How could we make things safer?

Placements

Find more suitable care arrangements, particularly for those who are younger and more vulnerable and make better placement decisions that allow residents to have a say in how they are matched with other residents. Treat residential care as a long-term arrangement and make sure that changes are kept to a minimum.

Staffing

Train staff about the things that can harm children and their vulnerabilities, particularly their inexperience about sexual relationships and exploitation.  Have sufficient numbers of properly trained staff so that they have the time to develop relationships, are around and have the time to watch out for threats.

Cooperation

Train staff to take on parent-like responsibilities for protecting residents from harm.  Get staff to discuss with residents the risks and how to keep themselves safe. Get staff and residents to work together to identify safety risks and develop ways of dealing with them. Staff need to take the initiative in enquiring after residents’ safety because it is easier for staff to ask residents if they are being harmed rather than waiting for them to report it. Try to create an atmosphere where there are positive relationships between residents where young people can look out for each other.

Hearing the resident’s voice

Staff need to be prepared to listen when residents raise concerns and to be understanding and patient, even when the issues do not seem important at first.  Residents need to be informed that it is OK to raise an issue, what sorts of issues to raise and how to do it.  Make sure that it is safe to do so and that they will not suffer retribution.

A lot of the time it can feel like nothing happens [when an issues is raised] or it gets lost or stuck in the system… No matter what, [issues] should be followed up by someone and the young person should be kept in the loop with regular communication.

Young person in residential care

The Child and Young Person’s Visitor Scheme that is hosted in the Office of the Guardian is now well under way and we look forwards to presenting more of the views of children and the state of the system in future articles.

[1] We use the term ‘children’ to include children and young people up to the age of 18 years. We use terms such as ‘adolescent’ and ‘pre-teen’ to refer to specific age ranges within that group.

New resources and a learning game for young people leaving care

A group of young people with care experience boldly reclaimed the term ‘GOM’ (for Guardianship of Minister) with the recent launch of the GOM Central website and the GOM City phone app.

The launch was the culmination of seven months of hard work by project manager Eleanor Goodbourn and the focus group of people who were, or who had recently been, in state care.

‘The need for a project like this had been discussed long before I arrived in April,’ she said.

‘Relationships Australia SA has been providing post care support services for a long time now but were aware that there were some young people who were not accessing service in the current form.

‘Was there a way to support and assist young people who did not access services? In particular, we thought about those who had left care and suddenly found themselves isolated and lacking some of the basic skills you need to get along living on your own.

‘We ran an online survey, testing some ideas about a website and brought the results back to our focus group.  The idea of a game app. caught the imagination of the focus group right away and that became the germ of GOM City.

GOM City

Mighty Kingdom, who are a locally-based but internationally known game developer came on board for the game app.  It was their first venture into social learning games and they were very enthusiastic.

‘Playing the GOM City game teaches some basic skills like budgeting, remembering important events and managing a household.  But the current form of the game could be only the beginning.  There is huge potential in the framework of the game to add in other levels to incorporate other skills.

‘We have made sure that the skills taught in the game align with the Australian Core Skills Framework so those skills can be formally recognised in other domains.  We will be looking for funds to develop this aspect further in the future.

‘You can download the app. free at the iOS App Store or from Google play.

GOM Central

‘The GOM Central website is for all young people in care or who have been in care.  We’ve got a lot of information and links that they can dip into any time when they need it.  We also have a number of videos featuring young people with stories about their time in care, letting them know that they are not alone and they have experiences in common with others. They also share advice and information. One of things we learned in focus groups is how important peer to peer learning is with this group of people.

‘The site also hosts a blog which offers visitors the opportunity to share experiences and knowledge.

‘The young people who have been on this journey with us are the real heroes. They generously shared their ideas and experiences and trialled the games – and you may see some of them on the videos!’

 

Australia’s NGO Coalition reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

front cover of child rights taskforce report

UNICEF Australia, as convenor of the Australian Child Rights Taskforce, consulted with 572 children and young people in 30 locations around Australia.  This report contains their words and far-reaching recommendations to governments about how the rights of children and young people can be protected and promoted in Australia.

You can download the report from the Office of the Guardian website.