ANZCCG commends documentary ‘In My Blood It Runs’

An upcoming documentary that tells the story of Dujuan, a 10-year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy, as he tries to overcome systemic injustices, has been given full support by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG).

As SA Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, Penny Wright is a member of this peak body, which is made up of those entrusted with safeguarding the rights and interests of children and young people in Australia and New Zealand. After watching an advanced screening of ‘In My Blood It Runs’ earlier this year, the ANZCCG have issued a joint statement commending the documentary and highlighting the ‘value and importance of listening to and understanding children’s voices and experiences from their own perspective’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ follows the charismatic young ‘healer,’ Dujuan, and his family as they share their experiences trying to prevent Dujuan from entering the criminal justice system. After becoming increasingly disengaged from school, Dujuan soon comes under the watchful eye of the police and welfare agencies. But through the love and support of his family and community, Dujuan has been able to avoid falling into the justice system and has begun a powerful campaign to raise the awareness of addressing systemic racism that young Aboriginal children too often face.

Dujuan travelled to Geneva earlier this month and gained significant media coverage when he became one of the youngest people ever to give a speech to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. He shared his experiences about the youth justice system to build support for Aboriginal-led education models that would help prevent youth offending and support their connection to their culture and language. You can watch his speech here.

The ANZCCG encourages all Australians to watch this film and to share its message of ‘children having access to culturally safe, inclusive schools; addressing systemic racism in all our institutions; and preventing the criminalisation of young children like Dujuan, including reforms to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ will be in cinemas in February 2020.

Read the full ANZCCG statement.

National Child Protection week

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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.

A new focus on family

By Guardian Penny Wright and Malcolm Downes

The State Government’s newly announced strategy An Intensive Support System for South Australia’s children and families promises a more sustained and holistic response to child protection by shifting the focus to families.  Under the strategy the Child and Family Assessment and Referral Networks (CFARNs), the Child Wellbeing Practitioner and Strong Start programs will be brought together in a new Intensive Support Unit to be formed in the Department for Human Services.

The family, in its many styles and structures, remains at the core of human society.  It is how we care for each other, a basic economic unit, a basis for our sense of who we are, a psychological comfort and a vehicle for raising our children.  It is also the site of some of our greatest problems, of violence, abuse and neglect.  Over generations it can perpetuate our noblest aspirations but also nurture our darkest failings.  For some families, problems with poverty, debt, unemployment, drug misuse, mental illness, family violence, insecure housing and contact with the justice system combine to create major barriers to the enjoyment of the relative wellbeing and wealth that our community has to offer.

Informed by the research commissioned on the back of the Nyland Royal Commission into the Child Protection System in SA, the Department’s planned Intensive Support Unit promises to focus squarely on the families with the most entrenched and challenging issues.  It aims to work with families to identify issues they face and coordinate the services and supports they need in sustained way.  In the past we have striven to ‘rehabilitate’ the individual young offender or ‘cure’ the person with a mental illness without regard for the social circumstances they came from and to which, in all likelihood, they will return.  The Department’s new strategy will refocus the bulk of the family support, domestic violence and children’s support services that it provides and contracts on these families.

‘Troubled Families’

The rationale and structure resembles the Troubled Families program that has been in place in the United Kingdom since 2012. The program recently released its National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015-2020: Findings Evaluation overview policy reportIn the UK program, intervention is based on a keyworker who builds an understanding of problems and of the individual family dynamics. They look at the totality of what’s going on and use what the report calls ‘a persistent and assertive approach establishing a relationship with the family and working closely with them to make sure the family resolve their problems’. The keyworker agrees on a plan with the family and local services so that interventions are sequenced and coordinated and there is a shared ownership of outcomes among service providers.

The evaluation report shows some headline gains including an almost one-third reduction in children being taken into care after a 19-24 month intervention and a one-quarter reduction in young people receiving custodial sentences.  The economic benefits and net budget savings modeled in the report make a strong argument for the UK Government to persist with the program.

We should anticipate that the South Australian strategy, like Troubled Families, will encounter some challenges as it is rolled out.  Services will need to adapt their practice, data collection and information sharing to a family-based way of working – and being funded.  We can look to the NDIS as an example of the difficulties a change of service and funding model can produce for clients and providers if not well managed, no matter how well intended. The shift to a payment-by-results model can produce distortions in the provision of services and a gaming of the system if not well-conceived and managed from the outset.

Aboriginal families

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new strategy will be how well it addresses the outcomes for Aboriginal families. The last Closing the Gap report confirmed that, after more than ten years of investment, we still struggle to provide services to the Aboriginal community that are culturally safe, trusted and effective.  If we shift the focus to families we will have to understand and embrace an Aboriginal concept of family which is very different in how it operates to the white European model on which much of our current system is based.  On top of that we will have to translate what words like ‘disadvantaged’, ‘troubled’, ‘struggling’, ‘complex’, and the many other policy terms governments use, mean to Aboriginal families. It will need to develop an understanding of how Aboriginal families define their needs and what success means to them.

To its credit, the new DHS strategy explicitly acknowledges the necessity for serious Aboriginal involvement in the design and governance of the new system and in the decisions that affect the lives of Aboriginal families and children.  Getting this right for Aboriginal families will be a touchstone for the success of the strategy as a whole and its ability to serve the very diverse set of groupings and relationships that we call ‘family’ in the 21st Century.

The creation of the Department for Child Protection

picture of Amanda Shaw

Amanda Shaw Guardian

I am pleased to hear the Government’s commitment to creating the new Department for Child Protection and I look forward to the Guardian’s Office developing a strong relationship with the new Chief Executive and leadership team.

I welcome Commissioner Nyland’s recommendation that the new Department for Child Protection ‘must be headed by a Chief Executive with established credibility in child protection work…’

The new department will be a solid base from which to work on Commissioner Nyland’s other recommendations which will be contained in her full report due for release early in August.

But creation of a new department will not be sufficient in itself.

The new department will immediately need to undertake long-term planning to ensure better placement options for children in care.

The quality and suitability of out-of-home care and the large numbers of children in emergency placements requires urgent attention.

Collaboration between and among government and non-government agencies will be needed to strengthen family support services to prevent children from coming into care where it is safe for them to remain with their families.  Where that’s not possible, we will need to intervene early to protect children and make sure those who come into care do so in a timely and appropriate way.

The new department must ensure there are sufficient numbers of skilled child protection workers with access to regular supervision and support, professional development and information about the latest research promoting best practice.

In these areas and across the whole child protection system we must encourage and support the active voice of children themselves.  If we listen, genuinely listen, children will tell us what is happening for them and what the reinvented system needs to provide.

Expenditure on child protection in South Australia 2014-15


5 April 2016

The quality of a child protection system depends not only on the budget allocated but how that budget is spent. See how South Australia performs compared to other states in what we spend and how we spend it in our handy analysis of the child protection data from the Productivity Commission Report on Government Services 2016.

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Cuts to family services can be false economies

picture of Guardian Pam Simmons

Pam Simmons Guardian

Earlier in the year I had the privilege of responding to a SACOSS conference address by Christopher Stone, Research Director of the Public Service Program at the Centre for Policy Development. His address was about the false economies of across-the-board cuts to public spending, among other things.#
One of the themes of the session was along the lines of: when public institutions cannot do what they promise, public trust in the institution falters and, as a consequence, the public’s willingness to comply with laws and regulations falls. This is typically considered a breach of the social contract.
The ‘state’ supports families in numerous ways: paying for or subsidising education, health care, public transport, childcare, libraries, parks, courts and police. When it comes to helping when the going gets really tough, ambivalence creeps in. Understandably there is a strong element of judgement about who gets help, for how long and at what cost. There are consequences though when the state fails to meet its end of the bargain.
We (the state) have a mandate to provide family services and we encourage expectations of support. Indeed, people get blamed if they do not take up offers of support. Take for example a hypothetical Family Q. Family Q has a reunification or safety plan which has half a dozen things they must do for the safety of their children.
Expenditure on family services though is rationed and, in real terms, sometimes cut. Family Q are overwhelmed because of ordinary and extraordinary demands and crises. They have a schedule of appointments to keep, only some of which they think will help them. The family support worker has more families and engages less with Family Q for lack of time.
When Family Q misses repayments, appointments and phone calls we think that Family Q is not really serious about doing the right thing. There is disappointment, disillusion and possibly even disrespect on both sides. The relationship with Family Q is now tense, highly emotional, with a heap of shared anxiety and possibly resentment.
The communication from the agency becomes more impersonal and directive. Family Q starts to receive letters of warning, missed calls on their phones, and sometimes more referrals to services they don’t want. Their resistance and resentment grows.
The family services department documents it all and prepares to report on non-compliance.
Family Q makes a complaint that they were not given a chance to prove they could safely care for their children. The court makes a decision that the child is better off in out of home care than living with ongoing uncertainty and chaos.
Trust has gone and all contact with the family services department is avoided, or if it can’t be avoided, is contested.
This story is over-simplified but it illustrates how a public institution that is potentially supportive, cooperative and helpful can shift to one that is controlling and scrutinising. Rule compliance becomes the currency between bureaucrat and client. Managing disagreements in the form of complaints becomes a major part of the business.
The reform underway in our child protection agency is the start of a transformation which needs to be matched with legislative change, family services planning and financial backing.

# See The reference for this letter is primarily in MacDermott, K and Stone, C (August 2013) Occasional Paper: Death by a Thousand Cuts: How governments undermine their own productivity, CPD Australia.


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How does SA compare in expenditure on child protection and related areas?

CP expenditure graph 2-11-12

Australian Productivity Commission figures show that South Australia spent the least per child* on child protection services of all Australian states in 2011-12, about 70 per cent of the Australian average.  This, comparisons on out-of-home care and intensive family support services and the historical trends are in the Guardian’s report Expenditure on child protection, out-of-home care and intensive family services.

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*  The ‘per child’ rate is the rate for all children, not limited to those who receive services.

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‘The best predictor of good outcomes is engagement’

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Pam Simmons Guardian

Practice wisdom and the more rigorous evidence base, tell us that early intervention with families experiencing problems will benefit children and their families.  Investment in universal programs for parents and children is good investment.  The programs usually reach those who can and do seek help.  Targeted services are good investment too, and bring help to the families who don’t always know they need it.

The families that worry us most are the ones who have high need and are excluded, sometimes by program design or failure to engage, or because they self-exclude.  It is their children who are at highest risk of harm and for whom the statutory child protection system exists.  On the one side there is a family who can’t or won’t get their children to the GP or to school.  On the other are ‘visitors’ who are offering help.  What could be easier than that?

In truth, what could be more difficult?  For a start, everyone is afraid.  The families are fearful of judgement and punishment. They fear losing their children, they fear being found out, they resent external authority.  The world they occupy is not the world the visitors know. The visitor is an alien, who assumes the right of entry and the moral right to judge.

The ‘visitor’ – the social worker, health worker, truancy, police, or tenancy officer – is afraid too.  Not always and not all of them but if you are new to the job, you are often unprepared for the mess, the threat, the chaos and the attitude. You come offering help and in return you get disdain or anger or bemusement.

We have a choice to continue to focus effort on rescuing children from ‘bad parents’ or we work more with families to be responsible for the good care of their children.  Easily said, not easily done.  Experience in the UK and elsewhere of attempts to make such radical change, that is, to move from an investigation-driven child rescue system to a family support model, suggests that it cannot be done without significant structural and cultural change.*

There are many good ideas about the structural change required and some have commenced; fewer ideas about the cultural change.  Professor Marianne Berry, then Director of the Australian Centre for Child Protection, addressed cultural change in a public address in SA late last year, when she talked in detail about the importance and challenge of engagement with families.  She turned the ‘visitor’s’ view of the family into the family’s view of the visitor. What the family saw was someone in their home who doesn’t look like them, making a list, and leaving them with brochures, letters and phone numbers.

Professor Berry said that the best predictor of good outcomes is engagement.  Among other things, this means no judging or blaming parents or children, listening without jumping in to help, working towards goals with the same sense of urgency as the family, providing practical support, and being honest.

In turn the visiting worker needs the calm and wisdom of a senior officer who provides a depth of discussion on return to the office, respect for opinions and shared decisions to act and not react.  They will also need flexible funds for some creative solutions and timely cooperation from other agencies as needed.

While the structural changes bringing child health, education and child protection government agencies under one umbrella continue, we need to have a conversation and take action on delivering services in a very different way.

* See Higgins, D and Katz I (2008) Enhancing service systems for protecting children: Promoting child wellbeing and child protection reform in Australia Family Matters No, 80 pp 43-50.

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Joining Hands and Minds

…is a powerful coalition of Aboriginal groups and service providers to support and develop Aboriginal children and families in the south of Adelaide.

This is an extract from the third panel of the painting Diversity of One – Working Together by Indigenous artist Max Mansell. It celebrates the JHM shared lunch event at Port Willunga in January 2011.

It has its origins in a task group formed in the wake of a 2007 conference and consultation with Southern Aboriginal Workers Network, the Southern Elders Group and the ATSI team in Southern Primary Health.

Following the federal government’s apology in February 2008 and the first Joining Hands and Minds Open Space Forum in December 2008, the group, consulting with the Elders, settled on the name Joining Hands and Minds (JHM) Task Group.

‘We make sure that our membership reflects the voice of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people’, says JHM co-chair, Allan Wanganeen, Aboriginal Liaison Officer with Uniting Care Wesley.

‘We believe non-Aboriginal people also need to take responsibility and action to challenge and change beliefs, attitudes and actions that impact on Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders and that this should be done in partnership with and informed by Aboriginal community members and service providers.

‘The task group brings the voices of Aboriginal people into its work by building relationships with Aboriginal workers, members of local Aboriginal communities and local Elders and works alongside other activities and forums in the region.’

Co-chairman Chris Martin, Community Development Officer for the City of Onkaparinga, says that JHM provides a much needed opportunity for workers to reflect on their practices and share their stories and resources.

‘The group works in practical ways to educate our workplaces and the wider community, not only on the struggles, but also the rich cultures alive in our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.’

JHM’s membership includes Relationships Australia, Southern Primary Health Noarlunga, DECD, DSCI, SAPol, Southern WomenÕs Health, City of Onkaparinga, Mental Illness Fellowship of South Australia, Community Partnerships at Work, Southern Junction, Quit SA, The Second Story, Family Relationships Australia, Uniting Care Wesley, CAHMS, Communities for Children and the Southern Adelaide Domestic Violence Service.


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ISG a vital tool in early intervention

Access Economics’ November 2008 report, The Cost Of Child Abuse In Australia, estimated the annual cost of child abuse and neglect in 2007 at  $4 billion. The report conservatively places the value of related costs at a further $6.7 billion.1

The social and psychological costs of child abuse and neglect to individuals and communities are huge and those who pay most are the children and young people who have been abused or neglected. According to a major review conducted by the National Child Protection Clearinghouse in 20052, child abuse is associated with low self-esteem, increased fear, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, homelessness, suicide and many other physical and mental ailments. Even for resilient individuals, these events can have a significant negative impact on success in employment, educational attainment, relationships, parenting and capacity to participate in and contribute to society.

Over the past decade the focus of child protection policy has moved away from punitive measures to an emphasis on early intervention, improved interagency collaboration and education strategies.

The key to success is to intervene early, when children are beginning to experience difficulty, share the warning signs, collaborate and take action before the problems become entrenched.

Keeping Them Safe p.12 3

Child protection reviews and reports, like the 2009 National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children and the 2003 Layton Review Report, advocate early intervention, interagency collaboration and improved information sharing among agencies.

In October 2008 the South Australian State Cabinet endorsed the Information Sharing Guidelines for Promoting the Safety and Wellbeing of Children, Young People and their Families (ISG), a state wide framework setting out how information can be shared to enable early and more effective coordination of services and to prevent further harm.

The first stage of implementing the ISG began in mid 2009. Participating agencies report that:

•   The ISG supports and expands on existing good practice within organisations.

•   There is benefit in having one overarching framework that provides a consistent approach and explains simply and directly how and when to share information and for what purpose.

•   Acting to protect vulnerable children and young people frequently involves sharing information about the adults whose behaviour poses a risk to the safety and wellbeing of the children and young people they relate to.

•   Supporting vulnerable adults supports vulnerable children.

We work from an early intervention and systemic framework anyway, so we always consider the safety and wellbeing of the whole family in what we do. The ISG reinforce that. This process makes staff feel more confident they are doing the right thing.

Group Manager, UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide

Every family that is successfully supported will save the costs to government of investigations, prosecutions, responding to homelessness and provision of state care, mental health facilities, drug and alcohol services and other services.

We have some very strong interagency groups set up across the region and we are continuing to set these up in areas of need. The ISG, and particularly the flow chart, have been used as an induction tool for these groups. Information sharing for us has been significantly supported by the existence and promotion of the ISG. … if anything it’s legitimised the practice we have always had and has strengthened interagency collaboration by removing some of the aspects of uncertainty that seemed to exist across agencies in the past.

Regional Manager Support Services, DECS

The final word is from a Child and Family Health Service worker about a positive intervention involving a young mother and her six day-old child escaping family violence:

… the ISG gave all of the workers involved in this case the extra tools and permission they needed to ‘join the dots’ and provide the multi-agency support this family really needed.


1  Taylor, P., Moore, P., Pezzullo, L., Tucci, J., Goddard, C. and De Bortoli, L. (2008). The Cost of Child Abuse in Australia, Australian Childhood Foundation and Child Abuse Prevention Research Australia: Melbourne.

2  N. Richardson, Social costs: The Effects Of Child Maltreatment, National Child Protection Clearinghouse, AIFS, Resource Sheet no. 9, 2005.

3  Government of South Australia (2004) Keeping Them Safe