13 September, 2016
Themes from Nyland #2
The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report1. We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work. What follows is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process. You can also read theme #1 Coordination and Collaboration. We will post the rest of the series over the next few weeks. 
Children are the experts in their own lives and throughout her report Commissioner Nyland has noted the benefits of listening to children and involving them with decisions that affect them.
A useful strategy is to engage children in the case planning process.
The low rate of young people’s participation in case planning and annual review planning is concerning, and suggests practice that does not value their contribution in determining the course of their own lives, and understanding their own experiences.
She noted that at annual reviews for the period she considered, less than one in three children was involved and about one in seven attended any part of the process.
For some children, especially those who have not yet developed the skills or confidence to advocate for themselves, a trusted advocate can help.
Caseworkers, where appropriate, should advocate on behalf of children, as is expected of an involved and committed parent. For some young people their caseworker will be the only adult in their life with whom they have a reliable and trusting relationship.
This cannot work when children are not allocated a worker or where the worker’s workload makes regular contact difficult.
The report noted that standards and principles were already in place.
National out-of-home care standards require that children and young people in care participate in decisions that have an impact on their lives, in accordance with their age and developmental stage.
One of the overriding principles identified in the South Australian standards is that children and young people are given ‘a voice in decision making and [are] involved in the design and delivery of services’.
Involvement is important, not just listening. Adults working with children will need to adapt their communication styles and learn new skills to engage meaningfully.
Taking into account a child’s views is not the same as involving them in decision making. For some decisions, including decisions made by the Youth Court, ‘involvement’ would not be appropriate. However, for some decisions, there is greater scope for involvement of a child, in addition to simply providing their views.
Listening to the voice of children can be a protective factor.
Keeping children safe relies on adults listening to them, understanding what they have to say and prioritising their experiences.
Prioritising the experiences of children, and creating an environment in which children can speak and be heard, can prevent sexual abuse.
As an essential precondition to children having a voice they need to be informed, provided with timely information and given options.
In residential care…
…the voices and perspectives of children living in residential care have not been heard and there are no clear pathways for those children to complain.
As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:
- Increased rates of attendance by children, or accurate presentation of their views, at case planning meetings and annual reviews.
- Evidence that children’s views are solicited, discussed with them and accurately recorded in case files.
- Legislation passed by Parliament to require children to be included in decision making about their care and to give them the right to information about a prospective carer before they enter a placement.
- Restructuring and resourcing of case management to ensure that each child has an allocated worker and that the worker is able to meet with them at least monthly.
- Introduction of a community visitor scheme to focus on children and young people in residential care and emergency care.
- Roll-out of an education program to residential and emergency care to inform residents of their rights.
- Amendments to the Family and Community Services Act 1972 to require the Chief Executive to hear all issues raised by children who live in residential care or emergency care.
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1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,
2 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which has a very clear and readable summary. Because of the Guardian’s mandate, our analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.