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Children, Education and Youth – Advice and Referral Line

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Tags: Child Safety

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I want to get back to the advice and referral line. As you know, there has been a change to reporting on the data so that when someone now rings with a concern about the safety of a child to the advice and referral line, that is not the beginning of the clock ticking and this has obviously had an impact on the data. We have gone from a system where when someone has a concern for a child and rang child safety that was when the clock started ticking on the referral. Now we've got a situation where it doesn't start ticking until the advice and referral line has made a referral to child safety. Could you please explain why the Government decided to make this change to reporting? While it might make the data a little bit better, it still leaves us with the worst outcomes in child safety in the nation.

Mr JAENSCH - We don't have the worst outcomes and you are reading the -

Ms O'CONNOR - the budget papers -

Mr JAENSCH - No, no, I think you're interpreting the data wrongly and we'll provide you with some assistance with that. The whole idea of the advice and referral line is to encourage people to seek help earlier. The vast majority of people who come in contact with our child safety system at any of its points are people who need help. They're not a serial, secret, abuser of children. The vast majority are people who are struggling because they've got kids with complex needs, or they themselves have complex needs or circumstances which mean that their ability to provide safe care for their kids is compromised, or someone they know or observe.

Our changes were based on the idea that the earlier we hear from those people and we can direct them to help rather than a report and a removal of their child, the more we can help our families be safe places for kids. So, the advice and referral line is a new thing that sits outside of and in front of the child safety system's formal operations and oftentimes the inquiries that come can be dealt with through provision of information or referral to other sorts of supports and services outside of child safety. They don't need to be there. We don't need to engage our child safety staff in a full formal investigation, but at that front door there is still a very rapid assessment process that ensures that if there are children who are at immediate risk then they're accelerated through and are seen within 24 hours. That's never a concern.

However, for a lot of families what they need is not a statutory intervention but a lot of help to make them safe for kids and sometimes that means that where there is a report of a longish period taken from it being referred to child safety formally through to there being some formal outcome that's a good thing, because the longer we work with those families to find out what they need and to test alternatives to removing their kids, that can lead to better outcomes for those children and those families.

Claire Lovell speaks very eloquently to this, if you need to understand that more fully, and also where the clock starts and stops -

Ms O'CONNOR - I though you did a fairly eloquent job.

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you, from you I'll take that as a win. Can I just make sure that Hansard has got all of that?


Ms O'BYRNE - Don't get fooled. I've heard her start with compliments before.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, I listened to every word and I know you mean it. We're interested in understanding the data that the advice and referral line records about their operations. Does the ARL track how long cases stay with them before they're referred to child safety?

Mr JAENSCH - This is where I'll ask Claire to speak to that.

Ms LOVELL - It does track that, yes, but it's not so much a performance indicator as to support management of that service. So, the last thing we want is for cases to drift with inactivity, but while we're still actively working on a case at ARL and helping families, identifying and responding to those needs, it will take as long as it takes.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Is there data available on length of 'stay', for want of a better word, within the ARL system before referral, whether it's referral to a service, or referral that starts the notification and process through child safety? For all the good intentions, the ARL feels a bit like a black hole within government. We would like to understand the data here and what is happening to those kids once they get into that preliminary system before notification starts.

Mr JAENSCH - Chair, could I invite Zaharenia Galanos to the table please?

CHAIR - If you could do a formal introduction for Hansard, including name and title.

Ms GALANOS - My name is Zaharenia Galanos. I am the acting director for Children and Family Services, and substantive manager of the advice and referral line.

Mr JAENSCH - Ms O'Connor had a question about the residents' time in the ARL process and what data we collect on first contact through to referral, noting that there may be multiple referrals and services involved. Could you speak to that please?

Ms GALANOS - As Ms Lovell mentioned, the advice and referral line invests a lot of time in engaging directly with families at that point of contact, and their networks around them, to work out the best and most appropriate referral pathway for them. That might take a couple of weeks. It might mean direct engagement face-to-face potentially with that family, or their network, engaging in case conferences, that sort of thing. Determining a point of moving into the child safety space is a collaborative process involving the region as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is data available? What measurements and understanding or line of sight does government have to what is happening to these kids?

Ms GALANOS - We are reviewing that data through our [inaudible] system. We can see the length of time a family have remained open within the advice and referral line, at what point we moved into the initial assessment phase, and what point we are making the recommendation to move into the statutory child safety space.

Mr JAENSCH - There are a couple of other statistics that we also look to. I forget the proper name for it, but the number of cases that are referred through into the formal child safety system, that are subsequently investigated and substantiated, has increased markedly. We do not have our child safety system conducting lots of investigations that do not end up with an action being taken. We are more targeted.

I understand there is also a trend for fewer children being removed from their families - more families being assisted to be safe places for their kids. That is the proof of the pudding for me, for this system. And it is a real step away from an early removal, which sometimes ends up with an unnecessary trauma for the family and the child, and a fatal attraction that they still have for each other, which becomes something they are going to wear for their rest of their lives.

Where we can help them to be good safe places, we will. I believe that these reforms and the time frame that we have, and the data we have show that we are making those changes. Not all states have done this. Therefore, when we get into ROGS and other comparisons of time frames and performance of these systems, our state is different to most others.

Those little footnotes that say it is not necessarily accurate to compare one state to the other because they are all different, well, that applies in our case as well. When you have looked at those data and said we are the worst performing state, well, not necessarily, if it measures that we are spending more time helping families to be successful at raising kids safely. Maybe we are the best performing.

CHAIR - Before Mr Wood asks the next question, I might just ask members to consider whether they would like to move to Education after this. If you can give me an indication once we hear the minister's answer.