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Children, Education and Youth – Commission of Inquiry


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, Education

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Chair. Minister, I want to talk to you about some evidence that was given to the commission of inquiry by Sonya Enkelmann, who was a project manager for out of home care reform in communities Tasmania, and now works at the Sexual Assault Support Service. Ms Enkelmann worked in Communities Tasmania for three years on these out of home care reforms, and some of the testimony that she gave to the commission of inquiry is very worrying. It points to a significant lag in delivering the model for family-based care, and the outcomes framework for children and young people. I just put this statement from her, to you. She was asked by the commission, 'in terms of what happened to the first project, the outcomes framework, as far as you know, how did that end up, and where is it now?' She said:

The outcomes framework was published by Government, it seems difficult to find. I actually wasn’t able to find it when I searched for it. It’s meant to drive policy and practice, and this is policy and practice in terms of what we need to be achieving for young people in Tasmania.

Can you explain what has happened to outcomes framework for out of home care?

CHAIR - I should note, if you are speaking, feel free to take the mask off. It's more about not having to take the mask off if you don't want to.

Ms O'CONNOR - I would have thought this is information that you knew or was right at your fingertips, I am a bit surprised it has taken you so long to find an answer.

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you, Ms O’Connor. We continue to pursue a continuous improvement pathway, in relation to out of home care. Phase 1 of the out of home care reform project, which ran until mid-2016, introduced new types of services, including sibling care, residential care, and therapeutic services, and engagement of three providers to deliver these services; development of special care packages, and a register of approved providers to enable matching of a specific child’s extraordinary level of need for care options. This specialised care addresses the needs of children who require specific supports that are not available through other care types. This is the most intensive service type in the out of home care service continuum.

Phase 2 of the reform of out of home care had a focus on examining family-based care options, with an initial focus on foster care, including recruitment. A foster care recruitment initiative was launched in mid-2018, and ran until mid-2020. Support, introduction of a foster care help line, and dedicated email address, and improved training opportunities for carers.

Ms O'CONNOR - With respect, the question was, what's happened to the outcomes framework for young people?

Mr JAENSCH - I was referring to the improvements and reforms underway in out of home care. The outcomes framework for children and young people in out of home care was released in 2018. In 2018 and 2019, the learning incentive allowance programs were developed and implemented, providing carer payments to assist with educational costs for young people in their care and payments to encourage and support young people living in out of home care to continue with their education and learning.

In 2018 the extension of care for young people up to 21 was developed and implemented so that young people who'd turned 18 could continue living in family-based care up to the age 21.

In October 2019, the Commissioner for Children and Young People released the first out of home care monitoring report, The Tasmanian Out Of Home Care System And 'Being Healthy'. There's a range of other reforms that I can speak about. But there's your response regarding the outcomes framework.

Ms O'CONNOR - Ms Enkelmann is confused, having been a primary policy adviser on that body of work, gave evidence to the commission of inquiry that she's found it hard to find the outcomes framework on which she invested so much of her expertise and time. Are you saying that the outcomes framework she referred to in the commission of inquiry is in place? As I understand it, that was consulted but I can't see from her evidence that a final model has been released.

Mr JAENSCH - I've referred to a number of initiatives, and certainly as with any witness to the commission of inquiry, they're entitled to provide their evidence. We're listening to it all and we'll learn from everything that is brought to the commission of inquiry. We've undertaken, as a government, to implementing all of the recommendations of the commission. I want to get that on the record.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm just trying to work out what happened to this body of work, which is so important.

Mr JAENSCH - I'm not going to provide an analysis of what a witness has put into the inquiry. But in terms of the out-of-home care outcomes framework, in addition to the initiatives that I've listed here, I've asked Ms Lovell if she'd like to add any detail.

Ms LOVELL - The outcomes framework is an incredibly important piece of work. It really is one of the first pieces of the puzzle in our current out-of-home care reform. So at the moment, in a practical sense, we use it for commissioning. That's our starting point when we're looking at designing new services, which we purchase from the sector. We work backwards from there - start with the outcomes and then look at the sorts of services and the sorts of performance indicators, and the like, that would reflect those.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I just understand: you are working to a document that's known as the outcomes framework for out-of-home care that was part of the body of work that Ms Enkelmann's referred to in the commission of inquiry? It's in place? Is it a publicly available framework?

Ms LOVELL - I believe it is. We certainly use it internally as a guide at the moment for the purpose that I just described. But also, there are some other pieces of the puzzle that are under development at the moment, one of those being standards for out-of-home care, which are currently under consultation. Obviously, the standards need to link to the outcomes that we aspire to. Following that, I can only imagine there will an accreditation framework to follow. They are the pieces that match up.

Another important thing to note regarding the outcomes framework is that as we develop our client information management system, we're mindful that we need to capture the information so that we can evaluate the achievement of those outcomes and that can be reportable. At the moment, the outcomes are high-level, they're aspirational, but there's more work that needs to be done so that we can fully achieve those and report on our progress.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is fair to say that progress is very slow.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, we have established that the outcomes framework for out-of-home care body of work is largely applied internally within the agency. My understanding would be that that's not shared with service providers who are providing child safety or therapeutic services to children.

Mr JAENSCH - I don't know if that's true. I am happy to ask. Is the outcomes framework available to our third party providers or is it used in the commissioning of their work?

Ms LOVELL - It's used through the commissioning process but I'm not actually sure where it is held.

Mr JAENSCH - But it would be reflected, in that case, in the performance requirements that they have under our contracts with them. So, it's informing that whole body of work and what we buy from who and how we measure it.

Ms O'CONNOR - But five years after that body of work started, it's still not a widely publicly available document or framework that can guide providers in out-of-home care and we've got the same issue with the model for family based care. Ms Enkelmann told the commission of inquiry there was a discussion paper that was released by government in 2018, so that's four years ago. Consultation forums were held; we received about 15 submissions. A lot of work was undertaken through 2019 in finalising that model but it hasn't been released.

This work on a model for family based care was about improving outcomes for kids in family based care, whether they be in foster care or kinship care. So, again, another significant body of work designed to improve the wellbeing and the outcomes of young people in out-of-home care has apparently gone into a vacuum within the agency. Why is it taking so long to deliver real reform? Why are you as minister, and your agency, dragging your heels on doing this work to keep children safer?

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you for the question. When I've answered your first questions, I went through a range of initiatives being undertaken as part of continuous improvement informed by the bodies of work that you are speaking to. I'd invite Ms Butt if she wants to add any more detail that can answer your question.

Ms BUTT - I think in my view it's incorrect to suggest that there hasn't been continuous movement in this area. The suggestion that the actual outcome framework document that work ceases if we don't have that document, it's moved on since that time. We have a capability framework; we work with our providers when we're actually developing and securing the services. There's been significant reform work occurring in the out-of-home care. My view is that the documents are not necessarily markers of the continuation of the work. The outcomes framework document is not a document that we would not share or provide. It would also be that we have significantly moved on from that time. The outcomes drive what we commission and purchase from our non-government providers.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, what has happened to the finalisation of the model for family-based care? Stakeholders have made submissions. There was public consultation. Significant resources within the department were invested in developing this model. It has not been released, where is it? What is guiding family-based care at this point if you do not have this new model finalised?

Mr JAENSCH - That quality of the out-of-home care is going through continuous reform and improvement. I mentioned earlier a therapeutic out-of-home care framework. There's revision of the service delivery model to provide supports for carers and inclusion in care teams for children, modifying the carer review process to ensure that aspects of quality and safety of care are delivered by each care household, which are examined annually and are contemporary, and informed support needs and continuous improvement.

I think that where Ms Butt went to is that the bodies of work you're referring to that were mentioned in the commission of inquiry evidence -

Ms O'CONNOR - Commissioned by the department.

Mr JAENSCH - Are doing their work. There is work that has been done which is informing how we continuously improve and commission services that the department uses for the safety of children. It's not necessarily a book that is published that becomes the workshop manual that everyone goes to. There are other ways of providing that. In this Budget we have an allocation of $2.2 million to develop and implement an out-of-care accreditation framework and a carers' register.

That work and that Budget allocation commences in 2023-24, goes through to 2025 26. But the processes under stage one of that will start sooner. We are going to go through a development and improvement process with our out-of-home care provider network to grow their capabilities, so that by the time we get to formal register and standards that we have our system working at a higher level and consistently. That will become a formalisation of good practice then in place. Is that something that you would like to add any detail to and has that been informed by the framework?

Ms O'CONNOR - That is enough of an answer I think. I have just another brief question. The commission has also heard that the delivery of child-safe organisations legislation, as well as a reportable conduct scheme, which is a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The commission was told that that recommendation, which was made four years ago, is not likely to be implemented in Tasmania for another three years. We had some evidence in a previous Estimates committee that that work may be brought forward somewhat.

I understand that this is part of the Attorney General's responsibility from a legislative point of view, but it is a core responsibility of yours. What we are seeing here again is heel-dragging, is delay. I do not know if it's a question of resources, or it is a cultural issue, or a belief that everything will be okay if we just make this incremental shifts. Are you satisfied that it would take another three years to deliver child-safe organisations and a reportable conduct scheme?

Mr JAENSCH - I am in regular contact with the Attorney-General on her work. I have every confidence in the Attorney-General and her team -

Ms O'CONNOR - That was not the question.

Mr JAENSCH - Also the statements that she has made about accelerating that work. I understand that she has also reprofiled it, to some extent, in response to strong advocacy and

Ms O'CONNOR - Evidence to the inquiry.

Mr JAENSCH - Evidence to the inquiry, but also matters raised by the Commissioner for Children and Young People and others. That work is progressing and we will be supporting it and working alongside it without a doubt.

In the meantime, we are aiming, through our investments in safeguarding in ensuring that our school system, in particular, is a model child-safe organisation. I'll be happy to spend some time talking about the safeguarding initiative we are bringing on there.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you talked earlier about establishing a system accreditation of out of home care providers. It is my understanding that in places like New South Wales and Victoria, where they already have such systems in place - accreditation systems this work is done independently of government, which is conflicted in a way because it is both parent under law and purchaser of a service, that the accreditation structures are independent of government, properly resourced and have statutory powers. Is that the model we are talking about here?

Mr JAENSCH - As I referred earlier, there are a couple of stages this will go through. The earlier stages' deliverables include releasing a set of standards and a self assessment tool, establishing policy settings, including how oversight and regulatory functions will be delivered and by whom, which goes to the issue you are referring to; identifying preferred options and scoping the accreditation framework and the carers register; undertaking comprehensive stakeholder consultation; identifying the required legislative amendments to the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act and working closely with the out-of-home care sector to build sector readiness and capacity.

Under stage two, which is commencing in 2023-24, key deliverables will be commencing the phased formal implementation of the accreditation framework and register, finalising the necessary legislative amendments to the act, and establishing the oversight and regulatory function for the out of home care framework. That oversight and regulatory role question is a matter that will be considered in stage 1 and delivered in stage 2, with the view to being in place in the 2025 26 year, as I understand it.

Ms BUTT - We'd also want to look at the alignment with the child-safe framework and what the opportunity might be there with the longer term of the accreditation framework. Our key focus at this stage is supporting our providers and working with our providers on what the standards will look like and what our expectations will be, so that they are able to respond and move with us into an accreditation process.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it correct to say that the accreditation framework won't be fully in place for another four years?

Mr JAENSCH - No, the implementation -

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm talking about when it's finally in place - when we have an accreditation framework for out-of-home care providers, which, frankly, we should already have.

 

Mr JAENSCH - Implementation and establishing the oversight regulatory functions are in that period 2023-24 to 2025-26. However, as we've laid out, what we want to be able to do is progressively implement the improved practice as we go, particularly as a developmental process with our out-of-home care sector.

Ms O'CONNOR - I hear that and it's not unreasonable. It's just that, again, I question the time frames in this portfolio, where things drag out four, five and six years after a royal commission recommendation, years after works already begun. Will the department be looking to the models that are in place in New South Wales and Victoria where you have independence and statutory strength, to make sure that when we have this system finally and belatedly in place, we've learned from interstate and its best practice?

Mr JAENSCH - Yes, absolutely. Certainly we would want to be learning from what everyone else has done, what's worked elsewhere, any pitfalls that we can avoid. Also though, bearing in mind we are a very small jurisdiction and some of the machinery that's been put in place in much larger states with larger numbers and different sorts of resources may not be a perfect fit here.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sure.

Mr JAENSCH - But we can still learn from their design.

Ms O'CONNOR - But the principle of independence from government is something that you would surely be favouring.

Mr JAENSCH - That - who's the regulator and where's the oversight - are critical questions.