Aboriginal children and young people continue to be over-represented in care and detention

The proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care in South Australia has worsened in the last five years, with Aboriginal children and young people now making up 34.2% of all children in care.

Data from the 2020 Report on Government Services shows that this cohort continues to be drawn into the child protection system at an alarming rate. Worse still, many of these young people are likely to remain in care for extended periods of time, and only 62% are living with someone from their family, community or cultural background.

When it comes to youth detention, the over-representation is even worse.  In 2018-19, Aboriginal children and young people made up a daily average of 60.7% of all young people in detention in SA, despite Aboriginal children being detained at their lowest rate since 2014-15. (While the rate of detention of Aboriginal children fell, the detention rate for non-Aboriginal children declined even further.)

Every year the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor takes a ‘snapshot’ of the data from the Report on Government Services to see how it relates to South Australian Aboriginal children and young people in care and/or detention.

Four aspects of the data are particularly noteworthy.

Aboriginal children and young people are still seriously over-represented

  • Despite Aboriginal children and young people making up only 5% of the state’s total population of children and young people, they make up more than a third, 34.2%, of children and young people in care services (as at 30 June 2019).
  • Over four years (2014-15 and 2018-19) the rate of Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds in care services (per 1,000 children in the SA population) increased from 49 to 76.7%. This compares with an increase from 5.6 to 7.4% for non-Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds.
  • 5% of Aboriginal children who are in care have been so for five or more years.

How do Aboriginal children’s placements reflect the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle? 

  • At 30 June 2019, only 62.7% of eligible children (854 of a possible 1,363) were placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.
  • Over the last 10 years, there has been a decline in the proportion of Aboriginal children and young people placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, in out-of-home care in both South Australia, and nationally.

Aboriginal children and young people in residential care

  • At 30 June 2019, 208 Aboriginal children and young people were living in residential care, making up 36.6% of all the children living in that care type. This was higher than the proportion of Aboriginal children living in care services overall (34.2%), meaning that Aboriginal children and young people are more likely to be placed in residential care than non-Aboriginal children.

Aboriginal children and young people in detention

  • 7% of the average daily population in detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre were Aboriginal
  • Aboriginal children and young people are 32 times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal children and young people in South Australia
  • South Australia spent less, on average, per child aged 10 to 17 years in the SA population, on detention-based youth justice services compared with the national average.
  • The number of Aboriginal 10 to 17 year olds in detention in South Australia during 2018-19 declined to its lowest rate in four years and was lower than the Australian average for the first time since 2014-15.

You can read our full report here.

If you missed our review of SA’s government spending on child protection services, check out our previous blog post.

SA the second biggest spender on child protection services

Data from the latest Report on Government Services 2020 which looks at how Australian governments are spending their money, shows that SA spends more on child protection services per child than all other states except the Northern Territory. In fact, in 2018-19, SA’s expenditure on child protection services was 25.1% higher than the national average.

We looked at how SA spends the money, this is what we found:

SA spends more on care services than intervention and family support

  • 6 per cent of all SA’s child protection services expenditure in 2018-19 was committed to care services* rather than intervention and family support services.
  • The national average on family support services per child was 10% higher than the South Australian average, despite SA increasing its expenditure for these services 168% since 2014-15.
  • It is important to note that these intervention and family support services include services managed by the Department for Human Services as well as the Department for Child Protection.

SA spends 87% more on care services per child than in 2014-15

  • SA’s expenditure on care services per child aged 0-17 has increased by 87% from $643.9 per child in 2014-15, to $1,204.4 per child in 2018-19

SA relies on residential care more than any other state/territory

  • South Australia also uses residential care^ at a higher rate than any other Australian jurisdiction, with just over 60% of total expenditure being spent on residential care.
  • SA children living in residential care make up 14.9% (including those in independent living) of children in care, which has decreased since 2018.

Aboriginal children continue to be over-represented in care services

  • Once again, Aboriginal children continue to be over-represented in care services. At 30 June 2019, 34.2% of children in care services placements were Aboriginal (1363 of 3988), and they comprised 37% of all children and young people in residential care (208 of a total of 568). This will be explored in more detail in a forthcoming companion paper which we will release next month.

You can read our full analysis of SA’s child protection expenditure here.

* Care services refers to the provision of out-of-home care services and other supported placement
^ The term ‘residential care’ in the ROGS report now includes all children in independent living placements as well as residential care and commercial care.

Celebrating great practice

photo of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

As we approach the end of a busy year and a time for festivities and holidays, I am reflecting on the impressive work my staff and I see, every day, among the child protection workforce in South Australia.

In the recent Guardian’s Annual Report I noted that the child protection system in South Australia has been troubled for years, and I named aspects of the system which are in crisis in 2019. But I also recognised that many, many individuals – who are working in the Department for Child Protection and non-government organisations, residential and commercial care facilities and in foster and kinship families – are willing to go above and beyond, day after day, for the children and young people they care for.

This week I have just been completing one of my favourite tasks – writing to practitioners about excellent practice that I’ve become aware of. I’d like to share some of these shining examples, knowing that they represent just a fraction of the good work that is going on, every day of the year.

  • A senior practitioner/case worker who built a strong rapport with a young person and really listened to their voice about being bullied at school. Through the worker’s energetic advocacy, she was able to effect change at the school. She also worked with the young person to help them develop a clear sense of who they were, as a person, through a high-quality case plan that was descriptive, and focused on their strengths. The worker also created a beautiful life story book/album, with many coloured photos of the young person since birth, and their family, copies of awards and certificates and a very moving piece written by the young person about their aspirations.
  • A case manager who supported a 17-year-old young person in their transition towards independence. Her commitment to the young person was clear from her detailed knowledge of the young person’s needs, her weekly contact with the young person and her energetic approach to helping the young person put independent living arrangements into place.
  • A case manager whose good placement matching and strong placement support for a young person in foster care had made a clear and positive difference in her life in the space of just five months. The young person was making great progress in her foster care placement and this worker received very positive feedback from both the foster carer and the agency support worker.
  • A case worker who demonstrated a strong knowledge of a young person of 16, especially regarding who they were and their aspirations. The worker energetically advocated for the young person to support and help them achieve their independent living goals. This same worker also showed great commitment and care for another young person who had complex needs and this work contributed to the progress they had made over the last year (including attending and contributing to their annual review meeting). Among other things, the worker held monthly care team meetings, with the young person attending, and created a case plan which reflected a strengths-perspective for the young person.
  • A case manager who demonstrated a strong, child-centred focus at the annual review for a young person, at which there was a written agenda, including requests from the young person, that the worker had developed with the young person.
  • A case worker who supported young siblings in kinship care. She built rapport and trusting relationships with the carers and the children, while working through placement challenges and complexities in a respectful, supportive and committed way.

Child protection is not a place for the fainthearted. In fact, the system only works at all because of lionhearted people who get out of bed every morning, to meet the day, determined to do what they can to support kids who are in need of love, nurture and a home. Whether in regional offices, in residential care, in the placement area, in working with (or as) carers, or wrangling dollars or policy – there are challenges everywhere and it takes courage to face them.

I am often privileged to receive a response to the emails I send. One of them thanked me and told me, ‘your acknowledgement has come at a time when I have been questioning my ability to make a positive difference in the lives of our young people. You have reminded me of why we are here, with your acknowledgment and how much our passion and dedication to our children enhances their strength and ability to create the best future for themselves with us standing by their side.’

For those of you who do this often rewarding but also extremely challenging work, please know that it is crucial, it is valued and the children and young people within the system absolutely need you.

Thank you!

National Child Protection week

picture of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

This week is National Child Protection Week, an annual event that aims to engage the whole community in protecting children and supporting families.

This year’s theme introduces the idea of a ‘child development’ communication frame. Rather than talking about good, bad or effective parenting, the child development communication frame shifts the focus to the support parents need to raise thriving children.

This approach reflects the evidence that children do well when their parents are supported and that we can all play a part in supporting parents when they need help to navigate life’s choppy waters.

This is based on research from the Frameworks Institute, commissioned by the Parenting Research Centre that looks at how the way we communicate can affect children’s outcomes.

By changing the way we talk about parenting, by avoiding criticism and judgement, we can focus on what effective parenting is really about – ensuring children are provided with a safe and stable environment that enables them to thrive.

Effective early intervention and prevention programs for families at risk of entering the child protection system are essential to ensuring parents are supported. For this reason, we welcome the $3 million in funding to trial an intensive family support program for South Australian families in the northern suburbs that targets support to those at risk.

In situations where children are no longer safe and protected from abuse and neglect and do enter care, it’s important they remain the central focus of our thoughts and communication.  Each child in care is a unique individual in a huge system. To avoid the risk that they may be overlooked or ‘lost’, we are committed to adopting a child-centred approach in our advocacy and visiting functions. As advocates, we will continue to encourage others to do the same in what can sometimes be an overwhelming and complex structure.

This National Child Protection Week, and every day, we can all play a role in ensuring children are safe and protected from harm. The words we choose have impact.  The way we talk about children can become their inner voice. Let’s all work together to communicate what is really at stake – a happy, healthy future for all of our children.

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.

 

Aboriginal children and young people in care and detention

As we approach Reconciliation Week, take this short quiz to find out five important facts about Aboriginal children and young people in care and detention in South Australia.
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The quality and comprehensiveness of child protection practice frameworks in Australia

ACCG Frameowkrs report front page image

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:

  1. Inconsistency and lack of child focus so that outcomes tended to emphasise parental and practitioner satisfaction, or decreasing expenditure.
  2. Lack of guidance as to what practitioner skills, knowledge or experience might produce better child protection practice.
  3. Little guidance on the models, techniques and tools needed for each aspect of child protection practice.
  4. 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.


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is 70 in 2018 and of it’s many grandchildren, the most widely ratified is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To mark the anniversary, this is the second in the series of short articles about understanding, promoting and safeguarding rights, particularly those of children growing up in care or detained in youth justice facilities.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation of international human rights law and has inspired more than 80 international human rights treaties and declarations.  As time passed, and with reflection and experience, international human rights instruments have become more focused and specialised, to address the circumstances of specific social groups and their issues.

Before the Convention on the Rights of the Child

The CRC was not the first international attempt to protect the rights of children.  It was preceded in 1924 by the Declaration on the Rights of the Child made by the League of Nations.  The League was a forerunner to the United Nations which folded when it was unable to prevent the onset of World War Two. The Declaration was re-adopted in an extended version by the UN in 1959 as the Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

The date of its adoption, 20 November, has been adopted as Universal Children’s Day.

These earlier Declarations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are acknowledged in the preamble to the CRC.

Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the CRC is a global document that has been translated into over 500 languages and several child-friendly versions.  Nearly 200 countries are now party to the treaty, including every UN member except the United States.  The US contributed significantly to the drafting of the CRC and signed it in 1995 but successive administrations, including those of Presidents Clinton and Obama, have failed to pass the necessary legislation to ratify it.

The CRC took 10 years to draft.  It sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.  It defines a child as any human being under the age of eighteen, unless the age of majority is otherwise defined locally.  It was adopted by the United Nations in 1989.  It entered into force in 1990 when it had been ratified by a required number of UN member states which had passed enabling legislation.

The Optional Protocols

In the succeeding years, three Optional Protocols (OP) have been added to the CRC to address particular issues affecting children. These are treaties in their own rights that provide for procedures with regard to the treaty or address a substantive area related to the treaty

The OP on the involvement of children in armed conflict, sometimes known as the ‘child soldier’ treaty came into force 2002 at the same time as the OP on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The OP on a communication procedure, which came into force in 2014, sets out an international complaints procedure for child rights violations, which enables children and their representatives to bring complaints about violations of their rights to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child if they have not been fully addressed in national courts.

Supporting documents

The UN has also produced other documents to enhance the implementation of the CRC by member states.  Two examples that are especially relevant to child protection and juvenile detention are the 1985 Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (known as the Beijing Rules) and the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.

Most UN documents tend to be discouragingly dry and text-heavy but we have a liking for the colourful material produced by the Scottish Children’s Commissioner, especially this poster of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Working together for children in care

photo of Penny Wright

Penny Wright Guardian for Children and Young People in Care

When the state takes over the parenting of a child, that parent has many faces, many hands and, hopefully, many hearts.

Pointing the way to a new and better child protection system, Commissioner Margaret Nyland wrote in her preface to The Life They Deserve

The new agency cannot operate in isolation. It should coordinate and collaborate with all other relevant departments and organisations, both government and non-government, to give children better outcomes.  It must also be proactive and engage the community to play its part in developing programs and systems…

Many of the good things we see happening for children in state care, and we do see many good things happening in our work, happen when the hearts and the hands of adults come together to recognise and understand a child’s needs and stay together to work through to a good outcome.  The joy for the child, but also for the adults, is palpable.  It is one of the reasons we do the work we do.

Sadly, some of the worst results we see for children are when people and organisations fail to work together closely and respectfully in the child’s interests.

Our recent survey of the state of cooperation and collaboration in child protection asked respondents to rate levels of cooperation and collaboration.   We chose 19 different relationships drawn from those identified in the work of Commissioner Nyland as being crucial to an effective child protection system.  In analysing the results, we applied the standard that cooperation and collaboration should occur either ‘frequently’ or ‘always’.  By that standard only one of those critical relationships was scored as achieving a pass mark by 30 percent of the respondents.  Most of the others were scored much lower and many were in single figures.   There were two areas that had improved since an identical survey conducted in June 2017 but it’s fair to say the improvements were small and were from a very low base.  Allowing for the limitations of the survey, it is clear that respondents thought that we are still far short of Commissioner Nyland’s ideal.

Just as useful for me, were many of the comments.  There were a few heartening stories of good and effective cooperation but there were many more of key stakeholders being omitted from case planning and decision making and important information remaining unshared.  Many attributed the failures to workload issues but others referred to organisational culture, policy and training.

My office observed a sample of the Annual Reviews of young people in state care over a period of ten years to 2017.  Annual reviews have been long mandated in the Department for Child Protection, and its earlier incarnations, in order to review the situation of each child and young person in state care.  It is a time to reflect and review and plan for the child’s future outside of the day to day pressures. It is a time to place a child at the very centre of thinking and caring. Annual Reviews occurred for up to 80 per cent of children in care in most years but attendance at the planning sessions by other than social workers and supervisors was rare.  In our report Office of the Guardian Audits of Annual Reviews 2007- 2017 we summarised:

Most offices have, over the 10 years of these audits, conducted annual reviews with only Department staff present with carers represented occasionally and birth parents and other professionals very much the exception.

If, as Margaret Nyland concluded, cooperation and collaboration are essential to an effective child protection system then major cultural and practice change is essential.  I look forward to supporting and contributing to such relationships, as my office grows into its new roles.

Cooperation and collaboration survey January 2018 – some gains and some way still to go

‘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

Overall

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.

Comments

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.