In South Australia in 2017, 57 per cent of all students in care were enrolled in Department for Education (DE) schools.
The Guardian’s latest report Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2008-2017, is now available.
The report explores how well the state school system is providing for children and young people in care. It highlights a number of ongoing trends including:
- the proportion of children and young people in care enrolled in DE schools who identify as Aboriginal continues to be significantly higher than Aboriginal children and young people as a proportion of all children in DE schools (35.4 compared to 6.4 per cent in 2017).
- there are lower rates of school absence for Aboriginal students in care compared to the overall population of Aboriginal students attending DE schools.
- a greater proportion of all children and young people in care have learning disabilities compared to the overall DE student population, notably in speech and language skills.
- the proportion of children and young people in care with an intellectual disability is nearly seven times, and those with a global developmental delay are almost five times that of the rate of disability in the overall DE student population.
- children and young people in care enrolled in DE schools are more likely to be suspended or excluded than the broader DE school cohort.
- students in care from non-English speaking backgrounds have an absence rate almost twice that of students from non-English speaking backgrounds who are not in care.
- there are very high NAPLAN non-participation rates for students in care in DE schools. We know very little about the proficiency of almost half of Year 9 students, almost one-third of Year 3 students, one-quarter of Year 7 students, and just over one-fifth of Year 5 students in care enrolled in DE schools in 2017.
- withdrawal rates from NAPLAN testing vary by year level and discipline but are significantly higher for children and young people in care compared to the broader DE student population.
Areas for attention
Data summarised in this report suggests further attention in some areas, including:
- speech and language delays experienced by children before and on commencement of school
- access to appropriate disability support services, for example in relation to intellectual disability (including a focus on whether and how the NDIS will contribute to the necessary support)
- the evidence around the use of disciplinary measures such as school suspension and exclusion and options for alternatives, particularly for younger children
- monitoring hours of attendance at school so that part-day absences and reduced-hours arrangements are reported and minimised
- the experience of children and young people in care from non-English speaking backgrounds;
- developing a better appreciation of the reasons for the high non-participation rate in NAPLAN testing and the implications this has for properly understanding the educational experience of children and young people in care.
One of the key reforms in child protection in Australia recently has been the adoption of overarching child protection frameworks to ensure that practitioners have suitable training and competencies and that models of practice and tools are clearly defined and based on evidence.
So far, these reforms have not produced the expected results, with an increase in the rate of children on substantiated notifications, care and protection orders and in out-of-home care. It is for this reason, the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) commissioned academics at the Australian Centre for Child Protection at the University of South Australia to examine current frameworks in Australia.
The intention was:
…to develop a benchmarking tool identifying the key components of child protection practice frameworks and a procedure for assessing the extent to which the approach within each component reflects good practice based on best available evidence. (1)
The report provides a concerning picture of the state of child protection frameworks as a whole. The researchers analysed 12 frameworks, including some from South Australia, and identified four significant gaps and limitations:
- Inconsistency and lack of child focus so that outcomes tended to emphasise parental and practitioner satisfaction, or decreasing expenditure.
- Lack of guidance as to what practitioner skills, knowledge or experience might produce better child protection practice.
- Little guidance on the models, techniques and tools needed for each aspect of child protection practice.
- Lack of an evidence base for the frameworks being used or, in some cases, evidence that indicated that the frameworks used were actually producing negative or contrary outcomes.
The review indicates that further work is clearly needed, including a bench marking tool and quality assurance procedure to assist with framework selection and development.
(1) Assessing the Quality and Comprehensiveness of Child Protection Practice Frameworks is now available on the Guardian’s website.
‘My experience is that when workers across the systems work collaboratively and cooperatively with each other the outcomes for the child and carers can be positive in numerous ways and is heart-warming.’ – survey respondent
Compared to 2017
Compared to the June 2017 results, the January 2018 respondents award modest improvements in some areas. Cooperation between the Department for Child Protection (DCP) workers and foster and kinship carers occurs frequently or always according to 23% and 28% of respondents respectively, both significant improvements. It is up by 15% to a survey-best of 31% among organisations when there is an investigation of child sexual abuse.
The poorest performers
Cooperative relationships that occurred least frequently were between
- DCP staff and the National Disability Insurance Agency
- disability services and DCP workers
- heads of government on child protection matters
- organisations, NGOs, universities and other training organisations on workforce planning
Even for the best performing relationships, the survey revealed how far we are from a situation in which cooperation and collaboration occurs frequently or always with only six of the nineteen relationships surveyed exceeding 20% and none exceeding 31%.
Strategic relationships were among the worst rated. Cooperation between heads of government departments, workforce planning and service planning were given ‘never’ or ‘not normal’ ratings by 49%, 60% and 47% of respondents respectively.
Our special thanks to the many respondents who made extensive comments and they mostly agree with the general direction of the statistics. They also illuminate specific issues and, apart from a few excisions, we reproduce them in full in the report.
Download the January 2018 Cooperation and collaboration survey report.
In October 2017, the Guardian provided advice to the Minister for Education and Child Development with reference to bills before State Parliament. In it she discussed tensions between the child’s right to freedom and self-determination and the need to take appropriate steps to protect a child from danger and to aid their psychological recovery.
This advice is now available for download.
The results from the survey completed in January 2018 show little change from the June 2017 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the Department for Child Protection (DCP). However, DCP and DECD workers see things quite differently with DCP workers consistently rating levels of collaboration and cooperation as higher than their education colleagues.
|Collaboration between between staff of Government schools and DCP workers|
|June 2017 – all responses||7||18||55||20||1||246|
|Jan. 2018 – all responses||5||20||58||15||2||105|
|Jan. 2018 – DCP employees||0||17||67||11||6||18|
|Jan. 2018 – DECD employees||15||22||41||22||0||27|
*n is the number of respondents who felt competent to comment on this aspect of collaboration and cooperation. Where the numbers are small, one should be careful of drawing more than general conclusions.
Comments by DCP workers**
January is not a normal month as a lot of agencies slow down during the Christmas break and school holidays. Otherwise there is a lot of dialogue with schools and DCP.
There is extreme variation of quality and quantity of collaboration and coordination between individuals and agencies involved in the care and protection of children and young people. In my area, it is of particular concern that there is such poor communication between DCP and other government agencies (principally DECD), as well as the NGO sector with regard to the training and development of DCP staff, workforce planning and aligning practice between DCP and non DCP workers who are charged with similar roles in the child protection system. Not only is this poor management and support of the workforce, it contributes to inconsistencies in knowledge, skills and practice and thus poorer outcomes for children and young people.
Comments by DECD workers**
I feel that DCP needs to open up the lines of communication with DECD/schools. Education needs to be given a greater importance then DCP often give it. Connection to education is linked to future outcomes for students.
Lack of communication from DCP with schools and DECD Student Support services; difficult to get DCP workers to attend case meetings; difficult to get a DCP worker to talk to on the phone about one of their clients (e.g. a guardianship child). DCP don’t always put the required consideration in to what school to enrol a guardianship child. (Please note these are general statements, there can be DCP workers who communicate and interact well).
There are times when there is good information sharing and planning between agencies, but other times not so. Seems somewhat dependent on staff involved.
I am as social worker in a Children’s Centre and we work very well with the Department of Child Protection and other government and non-government agencies in relation to supporting children at risk. I believe the only reason why collaboration is not always available is due to lack of resources in relation to the Department of Child Protection given on the ground workers are always operating at full capacity.
DECD Support Services often makes contact with DCP caseworkers regarding children already in care – often without return contact or reply… I make lots of recommendations in my reports and I rarely hear if any of these have been followed up by DCP. Personally have found DCP staff very difficult to contact. Staffing vacancies in the country most likely contribute to this.
Comment by an NGO worker**
In my limited experience of working with young people in care in the public school system, there is very limited communication between DCP and schools. Incidents such as missing person reports, lack of attendance, mental health and physical health, suicide and self harm risks and many other factors that impact upon a young person’s ability to attend and engage in education have not been clearly communicated with the school. This means that we as educators and school support staff are unable to provide the required support to ensure that the young person’s right to an education is upheld.
**Comments have had minor proofing changes. Some comments have been edited for brevity and to minimise repetition.
Analysis and commentary
Although the number of respondents was fewer than in the 2017 survey, there is little change from the June 2018 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the the Department for Child Protection (DCP). The comments left identify similar issues to those identified in the June 2017 survey.
It is reasonable to expect that cooperation and collaboration should occur ‘always’ or ‘frequently’. By this criterion, DCP respondents, DECD respondents and respondents as a whole give the Government schools-DCP collaboration a substantial ‘fail’.
The respondents’ comments generally suggest that, as the most significant decision makers and holders of information, DCP should be taking the initiative in promoting this collaboration.
The results from the Collaboration and Cooperation Survey completed last week show little change in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between foster carers and the Department for Child Protection, with percentages in each category being similar to those in June 2017. Responses from those identifying as foster carers varied significantly from the overall result but the number of foster carers who responded is small.
|Collaboration and cooperation between foster carers and (DCP) workers|
|June 2017 – all responses (%)|
Jan. 2018 – all responses (%)
|Jan. 2018 – foster carers (%)||8||17||42||33||0|
*n is the number of respondents who felt competent to comment on this aspect of collaboration and cooperation. Where the numbers are small, one should be careful of drawing more than broad general conclusions.
Foster carer comments
Five of the foster carers who responded left comments. Some comments have been edited for brevity and to minimise repetition.
Cooperation and collaboration between Foster Carers, Kinship Carers and the Department remains sub-standard… Examples of this are an absence of communicating with carers about a child’s access to biological parents which is only known after the access has occurred or material decisions being made with no regard to the best interests of the child.
I am more than disappointed that DCP don’t involve carers in case planning [and] reunification planning…
Carers are being excluded from children’s annual reviews including meetings, copies of their own annual reviews, case planning [and] financial agreements… Meetings are taking place without carers … decisions are being made by staff, both NGO and DCP, who have never met the children nor the carer and with no knowledge at all…
There is no or very little effective communication … in working WITH foster (carers) parents…
NGO’s are failing to support foster carers who are left to advocate for their children alone. No one has ever checked to see if foster carers are receiving the support NGO’s are paid to provide them. Foster carers are leaving the system and only few are joining!
Comments from other than foster carers
Communication between DCP and Carers (foster and kinship carers caring for children in the statutory care system) can be improved. Many issues that arise for carers are due to lack of communication, miscommunication or poor communication. (NGO Manager)
DCP workers do not have the attitude and skills to work respectfully and collaboratively with families and other professionals….The message about respect and collaboration is not breaking through. (child protection worker – area not identified)
I think communication can be excellent and it can be really poor. I believe it is person-led and not necessarily because any organisation applies quality assurance measures across the agency consistently. (DCP worker)
I’ve not noticed any significant change as recommended by the Royal Commission, in particular foster carers are provided with next to no information on the children residing in their homes. (DCP Worker)
Analysis and commentary
Although the number of respondents was fewer than in the 2017 survey, the responses indicate that there has been little change in the frequency of coordination and collaboration between foster carers and the DCP. The comments left by foster carers highlight similar issues to those raised in the June 2017 survey and are supported by respondents elsewhere within the system.
It is reasonable to expect that cooperation and collaboration should occur ‘always’ or ‘frequently’. Only 25 percent of respondents to the June 2017 survey and 22 percent of the 2018 survey gave a ‘pass mark’ to the DCP/foster carer collaboration by this standard. The bulk of the commentators suggested or implied that the DCP should take the initiative in improving the collaborative relationship. Numbers of commentators suggested that workload for DCP workers limited opportunities to develop collaborative practice.
Following up from Commissioner Nyland’s recommendation #136 in her August 2016 report on child protection systems in South Australia, the Guardian asked CREATE to ask some young people in residential care what they knew about their rights and how they thought that they could be best protected.
Here are some of the things they said.
South Australia’s Aboriginal 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.