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Child Safe Standards

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Tags: Child Safety, Human Rights, Legislation

That the House -

  1. Notes Tasmania does not have its own child safe standards against which the performance of those providing out-of-home care (OOHC), including the Department of Communities, can be held to account.
  2. Recognises that while the Charter of Human Rights for Tasmanian Children and Young People in OOHC is embedded in practice, there is no public reporting specifically against the Charter.
  3. Further notes Tasmania, unlike other jurisdictions including Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, is yet to introduce legally mandated child safety standards or risk management principles.
  4. Further notes child safe standards are compulsory minimum standards for all organisations that provide services to children, including schools.
  5. Further recognises child safe standards provide a framework to identify gaps and improve policy practices around child safety.
  6. Agrees child safe standards ensure organisations are well prepared to protect children from abuse and neglect.
  7. Calls on the Government to draft child safe standards and develop an implementation plan by 1 December 2018.


Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, this is an important motion we are debating here today. I thank Ms Butler for putting it forward. It is quite breathtaking that we, in 2018, we still do not have a set of nationally consistent standards for child safety.

Ms Standen - That is right. Mark Morrissey's report was in January 2017.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, that is right but these issues pre-date that report. If nothing else, what the Safe Pathways scandal taught us is that not only is inconsistency in the standards for children in out-of-home care but also we have a problem with monitoring and oversight of young people in out-of-home care and compliance with any standards that are in place. It is a good thing that the minister is talking about a COAG meeting in December where this nationally consistent set of standards will, I trust, be agreed to.

Mr Jaensch - I can't predict what COAG is going to agree to.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, that was to be my next point. Ms Butler, this is your motion so it is up to you to decide whether you will accept the amendments, but it seems that you do not have strong resistance to them.

This is a topic on which we should have, to the greatest extent possible, tripartisanship. We are operating on a promise at the moment, Mr Jaensch. Ministerial councils are notorious for stalling, delaying, initiating another review, requesting another report

Mr O'Byrne - You run to the slowest animal in the herd really.

Ms O'CONNOR - Absolutely. In my experience, ministerial councils are the most ordinary and inefficient mechanism for delivering reform.

Mr Jaensch - In the context of the commission's findings and the political momentum, I am optimistic that the other states are having the same conversations.

Ms O'CONNOR - Presumably, the Premier will be driving this at the COAG meeting in December, with ministers for children in attendance.

Mr Jaensch - Madam Speaker, I understand that there are discussions between relevant ministers about more than just children. They would then report through their representative at COAG.

Ms O'CONNOR - I accept in good faith what you have told the House, Mr Jaensch. I acknowledge that no one in this place has a monopoly on care for children and nor should anyone pretend to have. We have to make sure we get the system and the standards right and have them in place so we do not have situations such as we have had in the past with at-risk children placed with inappropriate providers.

The Greens certainly support good standards for out-of-home care providers and for all organisations dealing with children. Some of them will be at-risk children. We need to make sure resources are available within the agency, within the Commission for Children and Young People and an independent entity such as a community services commissioner. There needs to be resourcing for monitoring and compliance. I note that the Commission for Children and Young People has received funding for independent systemic monitoring of out-of-home care -

Mr Jaensch - One million dollars.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right, $1 million.

The interim Commissioner for Children, who has thrown himself into the job with a lot of heart, has delivered the conceptual plan for independent monitoring of out-of-home care in Tasmania - and another document which I have left on my desk.

I am interested in exploring with you, minister, the functions of the Commissioner for Children. The legislation is more about systemic advocacy for children and young people. The monitoring and compliance aspect is not really captured by the commissioner's functions under the act necessarily. There is one reference to monitoring but it does not go to the individual circumstances of a child or young person. I know we now have a child advocate in place to provide for some monitoring and oversight but I am not sure that it is the role of the Commissioner for Children to undertake monitoring of out-of-home care.

Mr Jaensch - By interjection, if I may.

Madam SPEAKER - And indulgence of the Chair, yes.

Mr Jaensch - Thank you, Madam Speaker. The previous commissioner's recommendations regarding monitoring and report have been adopted in their entirety. The interim commissioner monitors the implementation of those recommendations, which included the appointment of the advocate.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister.

On 1 June this year you stated that the child advocate would be appointed. A media release talks about Sonya Pringle-Jones, the first Child Advocate. This is an important role; to monitor individual home environments but not necessarily providers themselves. Whether you want to do this by way of interjection or through the Chair, it might be good to have an update on the Child Advocate's program and whether Ms Pringle-Jones will be the first of a number of child advocates. Our understanding was that there would not only be one child advocate appointed in Tasmania. What is happening with that program?

In our alternative budget we provided funding for a community services commissioner, which we believe would be the best place to ensure compliance with a consistent set of standards. We also believe there should be a permanent child safety standing committee in the parliament. There are a number of jurisdictions in Australia where there is a parliamentary standing committee established to provide support, guidance and oversight of the child safety system and also to monitor the circumstances that Tasmania's children and young people are in on a day-to-day basis. We should think about this as a parliament, establishing a standing committee on children and young people, Mr Jaensch.

I was looking at the lovely Tasmanian Charter of Rights for Children in Out of Home Care. It reminded me there is an excellent early learning centre in Claremont for Goodstart, which is right next to Windermere Primary School. I was there a few months ago. The staff are fantastic. They workshopped the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the foundation for the Tasmanian Charter of Rights for children and young people. They workshopped what the kids - the young people, toddlers and pre-schoolers - understood their rights to be. It was a really significant exercise for Goodstart.

Every aspect of their practice has been interpreted and tailored by young people at Goodstart Early Learning against the UN charter. Goodstart area not-for- profit; it is centred on the child's rights and wellbeing. I am sure that is the case for the vast majority of operators in this space. It was a lovely way to see the UN charter translated and it is on the wall there at the Goodstart centre in Claremont. It was really very impressive.

The other aspect of their practice is that the kids designed a playground. They designed where which pieces of play equipment would be and what kind of play equipment would be in place, so it was very much in line with the work being done by commissioners for children about empowering young people to make decisions about their lives and have a say in decisions that affect their lives. If you have not been out to Goodstart at Claremont, Mr Jaensch, I thoroughly recommend it; it would be a great tonic after a week in parliament.

I was a little concerned to hear the minister say that once COAG agrees to a nationally consistent set of standards there will be an interpretative process for states and territories. One of the big problems with so many aspects of public policy is inconsistently applied standards or mismatches and data, so we have apples lining up next to oranges. When you look at the report on government services, for example, there are a number of metrics on which Tasmania does not have the data set and it is hard to escape the conclusion that there has been a decision not to have a consistent set of key performance indicators or data standards. So if there is poor program performance or a policy failure, sometimes governments can say, 'It's not right to compare the number of investigations, for example, of reports of risk in the same way that Victoria looks at it because we have different KPIs'. That probably was not a good example, but it is a real challenge. If you want to get good policy outcomes, you want to make sure that you are targeting public funding to areas of greatest need and to greatest, broadest benefit, you have to have consistent data. There are many people who work in the public service in Tasmania who are as frustrated as we are at times about the data. Of course, gathering data requires human resources and modern systems and we are a bit short in those areas as well.

Some of the aspects of the Tasmanian charter for children in out-of-home care are actually reflected in the report on government services data. There is the example of not being moved around a lot and that is captured by measures targeting the number of placements and another measure of being told what plans have been put in place is captured by the proportion of children with case management plans in place. It is a very broad charter and it may be difficult to reflect those elements of the charter into a specific data set but I do not think it is an impossible challenge.

We believe there should be annual reporting on the issues raised by the Child Advocate. It does seem logical that there be some sort of feedback mechanism on issues that are identified by the Child Advocate. Many of the issues we are talking about today are ones that the new Child Advocate may be best placed to comment on. I ask the minister whether it is intended for the Child Advocate to compile annual reports or for the issues identified by the Child Advocate to be passed on to another entity within the Office of the Commissioner for Children, for example, for the purposes of compiling reports and making sure we have good quantitative and qualitative data out of the Child Advocate's position.

We agree with Mr Jaensch that paragraph (7) in the original motion set an unrealistic time frame on developing these standards and note that he has dealt with that in the proposed amendment. We had flagged amendments with both yourself, Mr Jaensch, and the Opposition that paragraph (7) be omitted and replaced with the following new paragraph -

Calls on the Government to:

(a) develop a set of child safety standards as a priority;

(b) fund the establishment of a community services commissioner in the 201920 state Budget; and

(c) ensure that the legislation unpinning the community services commissioner empowers the commissioner to enforce compliance with child safe standards.

I am happy to accept that the amendments put forward by the minister do not weaken the original motion other than it is open-ended and there is no time frame in place.

Mr Jaensch - That is also outside our direct control because there are jurisdictions involved in the process.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, that is right. Mr Jaensch, I am sure you will agree that if COAG agrees to a nationally consistent set of child safety standards, states and territories should go away and make sure that the consistency remains so that data collection is precise.

That is the breadth of the contribution I wish to make today. On matters of child safety, I believe there is a capacity for all parties to work closely together on these issues. From time to time opposition parties will need to hold the minister of the day to account for a systemic failure or the state's failure of a child. However, it is to the benefit of children and young people in Tasmania if, in this area of public policy, to the greatest extent possible, we can agree every Tasmanian child has the right to feel loved, safe and wanted. Every Tasmanian child, to a significant extent, is our responsibility in here. We are all responsible for children in the community and that was one of the key achievements of the former commissioner for children, Mark Morrissey, in the way he shifted the debate about making sure we are giving children and young people a voice and making sure we accept the wellbeing of children and young people is a shared community responsibility.

I will close on acknowledging Mark Morrissey's dedication and his great work and wish him well but also acknowledge that the interim Commissioner for Children, David Clements, and his outstanding and wonderful staff are doing a good job and I wish them well.