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Update to A Step Up For Our Kids

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I wish to thank the minister for the update she has just provided.

I certainly welcome the good news that the number of children entering out-of-home care in the last six months of 2018 was lower than the number entering care in the same period the previous year. Of course, I will need to see these numbers in context to have a greater sense of what the trend might be. I also welcome the news that permanency outcomes, after being appallingly low for so long, may finally be on the increase. Information about the early successes of Family Group Conferencing is likewise hopeful and strongly suggests that this government should be wisely investing to make access to these kinds of intensive family preservation supports more universal.

Madam Speaker, despite the modest amount of good news in the minister’s statement, all is not well in this government’s care and protection system, as revealed by those who know it best: the children and young people in the system. The CREATE Foundation, which is the national body representing those in care and protection, has recently released a comprehensive survey subtitled ‘Children and Young People’s Views after Five Years of National Standards’. This survey has been endorsed by academic experts across Australia as ‘solidly researched’.

Like the minister’s statement, the survey has some bright spots, but it is also full of worrying results. Former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has recently worried aloud that people in Canberra don’t seem to be aware of or to care about serious failings in this government’s child protection system. Today, Madam Speaker, I wish to go on record that I care … and that I’m aware of what’s going on. Let me quickly list some concerns from the CREATE survey:

· Of all jurisdictions in Australia, the ACT has the lowest mean stability in placements and highest number of young people unhappy about how many placements they have experienced.

· The ACT by a long way has the nation’s highest rate of young people who are removed from placements against their wishes and, at the same time, the lowest rate of such young people who report being consulted in relation to removal. Madam Speaker, unwanted removals in Canberra are more than double those reported for either New South Wales or Tasmania and nearly double those reported for Victoria. Children are actually 25 per cent more likely to report being taken from a placement against their wishes than they are in the Northern Territory, which experiences the second highest rate.

· Young people in the ACT are the least likely in the nation to report that they agree or strongly agree that they feel safe and secure in their placements, and they also report greater unhappiness with their current placements.

· The ACT ranks at or near the very bottom of several interrelated factors: we tie with the Northern Territory for the fewest young people who report being listened to by the care and protection system, We are second last when it comes to the number of young people who report participating in formal meetings that involve them, and our kids are dead last for reporting being listened to in such meetings when they are allowed to participate.

· The ACT ranks last when it comes to kids in care reporting that they are able to do the same kinds of things as their peers who are not in care, and we are second lowest when it comes to young people feeling that they can get permission to engage in those kinds of normal activities.

· Young people in this government’s care and protection system rank last in the nation in how they feel about their health and reported the most difficulty in accessing doctors, dentists and counsellors. They also reported the lowest satisfaction levels with preventative health services.

· The territory’s children in care came in dead last again in assessing their learning at school, and they reported the second highest incidence of being bullied at school.

· Tragically, the ACT is the only jurisdiction in Australia where not a single survey respondent reported knowing about having a transition plan in place for when they exited care.

· Unsurprisingly, in light of all of the above, the ACT was ranked dead last by children and young people in care when it came to overall satisfaction.

Madam Speaker, in her statement the minister said that this government’s out-of-home care strategy aims to improve outcomes for children and young people by providing more flexible, child-focused services. The strategy itself states that it, quote, ‘will require changes and practice to ensure that the voice of the child or young person is clearly heard’. Well, the voices of our kids in care are saying that they aren’t OK and they aren’t being listened to.

I conclude by quoting Associate Professor Tim Moore, deputy director and head of practice solutions at the Australian Centre for Child Protection: ‘After 20 years of advocacy, it is frustrating to hear from children and young people that many are still not given opportunities … for their concerns to be taken seriously and dealt with in the ways that they would like’.

Madam Speaker, the territory’s kids in care have spoken. There is simply no excuse for this territory to be ranked dead last in the nation across so many areas of its child protection system. I now urge this government to hear them and then take action. Professor Moore again: ‘Without such action our systems fail to live up to the expectations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and to ensure that children are at the heart of the services and systems that are there to support them’.

Thank you.

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