Cost of child protection in SA continues to climb higher than national average

South Australia continues to be the second highest spender on overall child protection services per child although it spends considerably less on preventative and family support services than any other jurisdiction across the nation, according to the latest data from Australia’s Report on Government Services.

At the Office of the Guardian, we have just released our annual analysis of SA’s child protection expenditure and we found that in 2019-20, while SA spent 23.8% higher than the national average on child protection services overall, nearly 80% of that expenditure was on ‘care services’ (i.e. the cost of caring for children once they have been removed from their families, such as residential care).

Our report found that only 20% of the state’s child protection budget was spent on protective intervention services, family support services, and intensive family support services, which are all aimed at supporting families so children can stay safely with them at home.

“The latest data from South Australia’s child protection spending shows we need to change how the state invests in vulnerable children and young people,” Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright, said.

“Many young people in care come from families who face significant personal difficulties as a result of domestic violence, mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction, and these difficulties are often intergenerational. COVID-19 has only increased these pressures, with people becoming more isolated, losing their jobs and struggling to find housing in a tight rental market. Unfortunately the number of young people being removed from their families is likely to get worse.”

“The best place for kids is at home, if they can be looked after and safe. We need to better invest in intervention services to support families who are at risk of having their children removed from them, with a goal of reducing expenditure at the care end when the numbers begin to decrease.”

“I am glad the state government has recently made the decision to invest more money towards providing tailored support to parents who are experiencing these hardships. I hope that in time we will see noticeable changes as a result of this reform and there will be better outcomes for these young people and their families,” Penny said.

Our report also highlighted that:

– On 30 June 2020, there were 4,136 children and young people in out of home care in South Australia. Of those, 601 were living in residential care, which is 14.5% of the care population. South Australia continues to have the highest reliance on residential care in Australia, with the national average being 6.5%.

– This reliance is especially apparent when examining South Australian expenditure on care services, which accounted for $458,764,000 (or 79.9%) of child protection services spending. Of expenditure on care services, 58.2% (or $267,458,000) was spent on residential care services.

– Real expenditure on care services per placement night in South Australia is 35.1% higher than the national average.

– South Australia ranks second after outlier NT for total child protection services real expenditure per child aged 0-17 in the population in 2019-20, with national average expenditure being 23.8% lower than in South Australia.

– South Australian real expenditure on care services per child aged 0-17 in the population has increased by 39.6% from $888.8 per child in 2015-16, to $1,241.2 per child in 2019-20.

Read the Guardian’s South Australian Child Protection Expenditure Report 2021.

New project to explore growing numbers of dual involved young people

Conrad Morris, Senior Advocate, Dual Involved

A new project within the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People is underway, looking into the growing number of children and young people under guardianship orders who are also caught up in the youth justice system. Despite rates of detention for children and young people in South Australia improving, this has not been the case for young people coming from a care background.

Since we started collecting data in 2017 on the number of admissions to the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre, there has been a 20.9% increase of individual children and young people admitted to the centre who were in care at the time of their admission, with this cohort making up a third of the centre’s average daily population in 2019-20.

Based on data from our last Training Centre Visitor annual report, in 2019-20, 28.3% of all individuals admitted to the centre were in care, with many of these young people admitted to the centre on multiple occasions, at a rate much higher than those not in care.

What is contributing to these young people offending and, in some cases, reoffending on multiple occasions? To better understand what is going on, we have launched the South Australian Dual Involved (SADI) project. Headed up by Conrad Morris, who was previously our Advocate for Aboriginal Children, the project will primarily look at children and young people living in care who are currently detained in the justice centre, although those in care who have previously been detained and are at risk of reoffending will also be included in the scope of the project.

“Unfortunately we are seeing more and more young people who are from residential care coming into the centre,” Conrad said.

“As part of this project we want to look at why the numbers are increasing and what is causing the young people to offend. Whether this is because the young people are being caught up in peer offending within their placement, or how their behaviours are being managed within the house.”

“Some young people have also told us they would rather stay in the centre than go back to their placement, which is really concerning. We need to look into why this is and provide support and advocacy to these young people,” Conrad said.

The project is still in its infancy, however Conrad is working to build relationships with dual involved young people and will provide direct advocacy to them as required, while also supporting our other Advocates when dealing with children and young people in care who are currently detained in the centre or are at risk of being admitted.

Conrad hopes to collaborate with other community or service provider stakeholders involved in the life of the child or young person to help put the necessary supports in place to stop their offending and consequent admissions into the centre. The project will also identify, develop and implement systemic interventions on behalf of individuals and groups of dual involved children and young people, as required.

If you would like more information about the SADI project, contact Conrad at conrad.morris@sa.gov.au.

Poverty cycle puts pressure on parents

In a recent opinion piece by Ross Womersley, Chief Executive Officer of SACOSS, Ross looks at some of the underlying reasons why vulnerable children fall into the child protection system. It’s an excellent perspective looking at the factors that cause children to be removed from their home, and calls for more preventative measures so children don’t need to come into care in the first place.

This is a longer version of the opinion piece published by The Advertiser on 31 December 2020 and can also be found on SACOSS’s website

The 2020 annual reports from the SA Department for Child Protection and the SA Guardian for Children and Young People highlight concerning statistics on the number of children in state care in South Australia. Taken together with news reports in recent weeks that highlight just how vulnerable children in state care can be, they provide a compelling case for action.

We call it ‘state care’ because that is exactly what it is meant to be – care by the state for children and young people who, the state judges, cannot live at home with their families.

The role of the state is to care for these children as a ‘good parent’ would.

The reasons children and young people end up in care – temporary or long-term – vary. It may be due to the illness or death of a parent, abuse or neglect, or their families simply being unable to safely care for them, at that point in time.

The statistics in the recent annual reports from the SA Department for Child Protection, and the SA Guardian for Children and Young People, are both shocking and distressing.

So too is the picture revealed by recent news reports that have thrown a spotlight on just how vulnerable children in our state’s care, can be.

Clearly, despite the hard work of many caring, compassionate, and dedicated people who work in the system, state care can fail, and fail critically, in its ‘good parent’ duties.

These failures, when they occur, make it all the more disturbing that the number of children and young people in the state’s care just keeps going up.

At the end of October this year, there were 3,757 South Australian children under Guardianship: 351 more than mid-last year. The total number of children in care (4,456) has increased by 468 since 30 June 2019.

Concerningly, based on SA data on the stability and permanency of placements, children are in care in SA for longer than in any other state or territory. The worry is that the longer children are away from their family and home community, the harder it can be to return.

And while the financial costs of providing care are high, if the state then fails its ‘good parent’ responsibilities, the personal costs to those children and young people can be lifelong.

Over the past five years, the number of children and young people in out-of-home care has risen by a huge 50%, and the number of notifications made to the Department have been steadily increasing.

In fact, post-COVID, these figures are only likely to increase further.

Tens of thousands of individuals have lost work and thus income. And while many got some relief with the federal government’s coronavirus supplement – that is now being wound back to an un-liveable level, despite continuing record levels of unemployment and underemployment. Bank loan and debt deferrals, together with the ‘moratorium’ on rental evictions, will have their end too.

As South Australians, can we truly say that we find it acceptable for this flood of new children into state care to continue?

Poverty itself doesn’t send children into child protection, but it certainly increases the pressures that can lead parents to struggle. Poverty undermines parents’ and caregivers’ capacity to raise children in safety and security, to leave unsafe relationships and places, to break away from things that are negative and harmful.

Children become vulnerable when their parents and households are under stress, and stress often results in relationship breakdown, family violence, substance abuse, mental health issues, poor judgement and neglect.

Helping children to be and stay safe starts with supporting all families to give it their best shot, and crucially, helping people when they are struggling. Sometimes out-of-home care is needed, but if that’s the case, it needs to really be ‘care’ – not more damage, not state neglect.

So, why are we collectively unable to keep children safe in South Australia?

A knee-jerk response is to blame the Department for Child Protection when things go wrong, but it is effectively the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

We need to develop and invest in many more safe pathways to prevent people getting to that cliff: a systemic overhaul of the social security safety net, decent housing, more mental health services, more help for people who struggle with addictions, or people who struggle to control their violence – more helping hands.

And if the state does take that huge step of removing a child from their home, their family or community, we need to be damned sure it is offering something better. The state needs to be everything and more of the ‘good parent’ that it is meant to embody.

Putting children first this week, and always

By Guardian Penny Wright

‘Putting children first’ is the theme of this year’s Child Protection Week. It is an important principle – but one that can be challenging to achieve. In many ways this is the very reason the Office of the Guardian was established in 2005, after the Layton Review of the Child Protection System.  The review found that children in care were the most vulnerable in South Australia and recommended the Guardian role, to articulate and safeguard their rights. It was a means of putting them first within a large and complex system.

There are now more than 4,000 children and young people living away from their birth families in the child protection system in South Australia. Every day my staff and I witness how difficult it is for those managing these demands to put individual children first, ahead of acute system pressures, however good their intentions. The role for my office has never been more crucial – to stand beside each child or young person who needs our support, one among many, and insist that their individual needs and best interests are respected and met.

Some of the most vulnerable of these children are living in residential care. Prior experiences and their lives within the care system will often mean they have experienced significant trauma, with long lasting effects on their emotional wellbeing and sometimes their behaviour. Responding compassionately and effectively to their needs and behaviours has long been a challenge for the systems in which they find themselves. Too often, in the absence of more effective interventions and therapeutic options, the child protection system responds by invoking another system – the justice system – leading to the police, courts and detention. There are very few effective interventions or therapeutic services in that system either.

In 2016, the Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland recommended that children who were considered to be at risk of harm – to themselves and others – should be sent to a secure therapeutic care facility where they would be detained while undergoing treatment for their behaviours.

Forcibly detaining children and young people for treatment or therapeutic care, although they have not committed an offence, might seem an attractive way to deal with their complex behaviours, especially if they habitually leave the place they are living and end up in trouble or are at risk.

But recently, consistent with previous advice from the (then) Guardian, in 2008, my team and I have advised the government against taking up this recommendation. Providing therapies and support for trauma is essential but detention is a drastic step, especially as research indicates that those affected usually have a history of high levels of mental health and social needs that have not been met.

Evidence of the effectiveness of secure therapeutic care is modest and depends on the quality of therapeutic input, the skill levels of carers and effective follow-up support services. In fact, these are the same factors that lead to the best outcomes for children and young people in care, generally – both residential and family-based.

There is already a widely acknowledged lack of sufficient support and therapeutic services for children and young people who need them, especially in residential care. There is a strong risk that secure therapeutic care would just mask this shortage and see children with troubled behaviours, often arising from their care environment, placed in a locked facility to manage a problem for the system. Instead, my office advised that all residential care should have a properly resourced therapeutic approach and that improved intensive therapeutic services should be available for all those children who need them.

Thankfully, the state government recently rejected the Nyland recommendation, a decision I support. In place of the secure care model, the government has committed to roll out a new program called the “Sanctuary Model” to provide therapeutic care across all residential care facilities. This includes providing Department for Child Protection staff at least two days of training, with a select group receiving more extensive training and development to support their colleagues. Training will also incorporate how to respond to the specific needs of Aboriginal children.

What comes next, including how successful this model will be and how the model will be evaluated, will depend on many factors, including its ongoing implementation and proper resourcing.

Twelve years since the Guardian’s first advice about this issue, a more therapeutic approach is long overdue. My team and I will wait with anticipation and hope that this new model will put children first and provide long lasting benefits for the safety and wellbeing of those who live in residential care.

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.
Start
You correctly answered %%SCORE%% out of %%TOTAL%%.  %%RATING%%  
Your answers are highlighted below.