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Senior Practitioner Bill

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak briefly in support of the Senior Practitioner Bill.

This proposed legislation is broad in scope and defines providers as either a person or other entity who offers educational services, disability services or the care and protection of children. This means that it will involve children and young people in out-of-home care.

On this point, I honour the good families in Canberra who volunteer to serve as foster carers and kinship carers. This is a labour of love, but it’s not always an easy one. Carers take into their homes and into their lives children and young people who are at their most vulnerable, having been removed from their birth parents. In the best of circumstances, this is a complicated situation, and those in out-of-home care often enter the homes of foster or kinship carers having experienced trauma or having very high needs.

We expect our kinship and foster carers to meet those needs – sometimes for a long time, sometimes for a very short time – as if they are the actual parents. But they aren’t. And so we have an entire regulatory regime looking over their shoulders to make sure they don’t mess up.

Speaking from personal experience, parenting is hard. It can be especially so with someone constantly looking over one’s shoulder. But to secure the safety of children who are in the custody of this government, we can’t afford not to monitor these placements. So the best result is to give good-hearted, well-intentioned carers the clearest and most explicit guidelines to follow, and then help them to follow them.

This legislation will hopefully do just that. When a child enters a home requiring some form of restrictive practice, it will not be up to the carers alone to figure out what is best practice. Having approved Positive Behaviour Support Plans will provide kinship and foster carers the clear guidance they need to be able to best meet a child’s individual requirements, hopefully alleviating much of their worry. This is a good thing.

I also note, Madam Speaker, that this bill provides clear legislative guidelines relating to the complaints process and that virtually all important decisions made under this proposed legislation will be subject to external merits review. Those who may apply to ACAT for consideration of a reviewable decision are specified but also include ‘any other person whose interests are affected by the decision’.

As I have stated many times already in this chamber, decisions that have a significant impact on the lives of children and young people, their families, and/or their carers all need to be accompanied by a clear complaints process and access to external merits review. This would help avoid the situation, described by Commissioner Cheryl Vardon in her 2004 review of the territory’s care and protection system, where, quote, ‘Parents, carers and agencies relayed stories of frustration about having nowhere to go when they disagreed’ with decisions.[1] It would, in the words of former Children and Young People Commissioner Alisdair Roy, quote, ‘promote high quality evidence-based decision-making’.[2]

I look forward to seeing these principles applied to a far broader range of decisions by this government than just those relating to restrictive practices.

Madam Speaker, I commend this bill to the Assembly. Thank you.

[1] Cheryl Vardon, ‘The Territory as Parent: Review of the Safety of Children in Care in the ACT and of ACT Child Protection Management’ (2004), 138.

[2] Quoted in Laurie Glanfield, ‘Report of the Inquiry: Review into the System Level Responses to Family Violence in the ACT’ (2016), 74–75.

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