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.

SA spends more on child protection and gets less – 2016-17 ROGS

diagram showing child protection services

The Productivity Commission’s 2016-17 Report on Government Services (ROGS) helps understanding of how the South Australian Government’s expenditure on child protection has changed and how it compares with other states.

Child protection services expenditure in SA per child* has increased significantly from $749 to $1,396 in the period 2013-14 to 2016-17 but the real interest is how this translates into the different services that comprise child protection:

  • in protective intervention services we spend $90 per child, which is just 41 percent of the national average
  • in family support services we spend $131 per child, 49 percent more than the national average – an increase of over 300 percent in the the period 2013-14 to 2016-17
  • in intensive family support services we spend $83 per child, roughly on par with the national average
  • in out-of-home care (foster, kinship and residential care), we spend $1,092 per child which is 91 percent more than the national average.

Out-of-home care consumed 78 percent of the SA child protection budget in 2016-17.

Why does SA spend 79 percent more than the national average on out-of-home care?

One of the reasons is that SA relies much more on relatively expensive residential care (properties staffed with paid workers) rather than home-based care (foster and kinship care). In 2016-17 in South Australia it cost, on average, $670,142 per child in residential care compared to $48,005 per child in home-based care.  Another reason is that SA has relied more than other states on so-called ’emergency’ care which makes use of private agency staff to provide care in rented accommodation – more costly but far less suitable to the needs of children.

*refers to a resident child 0-17 in the SA population as a whole.

There is much more detail in our paper South Australian child protection expenditure from the Report on Government Services 2018, available for download now.

 

Statistics about children in care – June 2017

30 October 2017

The number of children and young people in the care and guardianship of the Minister in South Australia at 30 June 2017 was 3,296.[1]  up from 1,791 at 30 June 2007.

chart showing numbers of young people on orders

Most were in the 10-14 years age range and the distribution is shown in this graph.

chart showing age rangesRates of growth of those coming into care

The rate of growth in the numbers of children and young people in care each year is very variable, reflecting changes in the policy and practice of the child protection system and well as changes in society and the economy.

chart showing growth rates for young people on ordersAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people

The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people was 34.3 per cent at 30 June 2017, the highest number yet in a steady upward trend. This may reflect a number of factors including a greater willingness of Indigenous young people to identify as such, changes in child protection practice and increasing difficulties being faced by Indigenous families.

chart showing the rate of ATSI young peopleNumbers of young people in residential care

The proportion of children and young people accommodated in residential care is on the rise, reaching 11 per cent at 30 June 2017.2 Residential care is not the model favoured by most young people or recommended by authorities.   It has expanded because of the inability to source foster and kinship care placements to meet the growth in numbers entering care.

chart showing the proprtion of children in residential careThere were 107 residential care houses at 30 June 2017.3 Most houses are of a small scale accommodating three young people but five of the properties were large scale units, designed to accommodate between eight and twelve children and young people.

chart showing number of residential care propertiesFor information on the numbers of children and young people in emergency care, please see our recent post Addressing the emergency in emergency care.

1 Children and young people in the care and custody of the Minister, for whom the Guardian has a specific mandate, are a similar but not identical cohort to children in out-of-home care.

2 This does not include children and young people in emergency accommodation or the small number in houses with less than three residents.

3 These numbers provided by the DCP Licensing Unit do not include a small number of additional placements with less than three residents, including which brings the total to 132 for 30 June 2017.

Audits of Annual Reviews 2007 to 2017 – children, systems and practice

19 September 2017

The Guardian’s Office has been auditing the Annual Reviews of children in care for 10 years now.  We do this to advocate for the children, to see how well the Reviews work and to identify broader systemic issues.

Annual reviews are an important means of monitoring the quality of services provided and the outcomes being achieved for children in care. They are intended to be more than an administrative process.  A good annual review focuses on the quality of the child’s care arrangements as a whole

Although required in legislation, only 63 percent were conducted in 2015-16. The number of Annual Reviews for 2016-17 will be available shortly. Based on 10 years of observations and data we can say:

  • Where Annual Reviews are conducted, the quality is very variable. Deficits in the representation of children’s views, the preparation by social workers and the presence of non-Departmental staff lead to inadequate consideration of the child’s circumstances and planning for their needs.
  • Up to 80 percent of children were assessed to be in a long-term, stable and appropriate placement.
  • Numbers of children are not allocated a social worker and, where a worker is allocated, other circumstances prevent the provision of a quality service to children.
  • The cultural needs of many Aboriginal children are not being adequately supported.
  • Significant numbers of children remain in unsuitable placements.
  • Contact between siblings separated in placement is not always facilitated.
  • Life Story Books are implemented for about half of the children.
  • The proportion of children with IEPs has not progressed beyond 80 percent and may be declining.
  • Of the children who are able to comprehend it, many do not receive information about their rights and the proportion who do appears to be declining.

For the background to this summary, you can download the report Audits of Annual Reviews 2007- 2017- children, systems and practice.

The coordination and collaboration survey – DCP and DECD staff perceptions

18 July 2017

We dig into the data and comments from our June 2017 Coordination and Collaboration Survey,to see how staff in Department of Education and Child Development (DECD) schools and Department for Child Protection (DCP) workers view the prevalence of coordination and collaboration in their relationship. (1)

 C and C occurs…nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalways
%%%%%n
DECD staff2323505022
DCP staff094943047

When asked about how things had changed in the previous six months, perceptions were quite closer, biasing slightly toward the negative.

 C and C is…much worseworsethe samebettermuch better
%%%%% n
DECD staff10156010520
DCP staff7206310041

The comments mostly reflected the statistics and included the following:

Communication between DCP and education has reduced since the separation; there appears to be less support from DECD as previously; [Guardianship] children may have legislative rights to IEP’s however it is more of a tick box with some schools.  DECD regionals need to come along to more… (DCP worker)

One of my observations regarding significant improvements in communication about and services to vulnerable families in my region (Whyalla) is that it has been driven by the Manager of the local DCP office. She has done this in a number of ways: firstly, connecting to the community and engaging in community development activities (she knows her community, engages well with local government and non-government services and actions the philosophy of ‘child protection is everybody’s business’ through this engagement); secondly, she is solution focused and open to innovative practice (she takes the time to explore options); thirdly, she has made a commitment to work-force development (there has been a noticeable increase not only in DCP staff skills but also their ability to engage with clients and other stakeholders). (DECD staff)

As a school counsellor I am frequently involved in reporting child protection matters and supporting children and families with child protection issues. Our school has recently been ‘given’ a part- time Child Protection and Well-being Consultant. She comes to our school once a fortnight, for a day. She is very helpful and knowledgeable. However, I am concerned that the DCP is devolving too much responsibility on these (overworked) consultants. We are finding that some of our cases are closing and that we can also not refer children to Targeted Intervention Services anymore. We think that this is happening because the department is putting too much responsibility on the consultants. (DECD staff)

You can also download the Coordination and Collaboration Survey June 2017 – unfiltered results

(1) Sample numbers are small so data should be taken as broadly indicative only.

Coordination and collaboration survey June 2017 – results

4 July 2017

Our thanks to the 384 people from all corners of the child protection system who responded to the Coordination and Collaboration Survey June 2017.

Respondents were asked to record their perceptions of a range of important relationships as they experienced them in June 2017 and the extent of change they had noticed since December 2016.  Nearly 150 respondents also left comments.

The unfiltered results can be downloaded from the link at the foot of this page.

We look here at six of the main areas identified by the Nyland Report in which close and frequent coordination and collaboration should be engaged in frequently or always. Results are in percentages of those who felt able to comment.

Respondents reported that coordination and collaboration occurred…

1. Between heads of relevant government departments

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
122745170130

2. In information sharing on child protection matters

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
62543224303

3. Between government, NGOs and training organisations on workforce planning

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
20373742178

4. Between organisations supporting children after sexual abuse

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
72645174205

5. Between DCP management and field staff

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
42248224161

6. Between foster carers and DCP workers

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
21557214235

Filtering the results by respondent produces additional insight into the way different parties have experienced the frequency of coordination and collaboration as in the relationship between foster carers and DCP workers .

More analysis

As indicated in the example above, there is more insight into the relationships we surveyed waiting to be revealed by filtering the responses by by respondent.  Watch out over the next few weeks as we progressively do that and start analysing the content of the 147 comments, many of them quite detailed.

Download the Coordination and Collaboration Survey June 2017 – unfiltered results

1 The survey was open from 13 June to 27 June, 2017 and received 384 responses and 147 comments. It is part of an ongoing series in which the Guardian’s Office observes and comments on progress in areas identified in Commissioner Nyland’s report.  It should be borne in mind that the survey sample was relatively small and respondents self-selected. The results are broadly indicative and should not be relied on for more fine-grained analysis.