Only five weeks into my new position as Guardian and already I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked ‘what is your vision?’ Having been with the Office for eight years as the Senior Advocate, working with the remarkable Pam Simmons, it’s probably not surprising that my vision is the same one I have shared with the staff team in that time, that our work continues to be about children and young people in care, for those children and involve their views and experiences.
We want a child protection system that works for each of the very diverse group of children and young people it serves. We want a child protection system that makes decisions based on the child’s needs, rather than what the system is currently capable or willing to provide.
We want to see the active participation by the broadest range of concerned and knowledgeable people in decision-making, planning and action. We need children, families, carers and other agencies such as health, housing, education and disability working collaboratively and sharing the responsibility to achieve the best outcomes for children and young people growing up in care.
Child protection workers provide a critical and significant role for children in care; children and young people have told us so many times. Lack of morale, stress and fatigue amongst child protection and out of home care workers can translate into poor services for young clients. Our best workers are doing good work in spite of high caseloads, increasingly complex cases (and multiple complex cases on the same caseload) and the unallocation of cases due to insufficient resources.
Having Senior Practitioners and Supervisors with case work responsibilities – in effect a caseload – diminishes their ability to support workers, to provide a focus on continuous practice improvement and reflective supervision.
We have heard and seen children and young people thriving in family-based placements yet our state falls back to less satisfactory options like residential and emergency care more than other states in Australia. Why are we unable to attract and retain good foster carers while other states continue to do so?
We need to see a spectrum of placement options so that workers and children together can find a placement that meets the child’s needs. Aboriginal children need dedicated and consistent support to be genuinely connected with their culture and communities.
As this office has done for ten years, we will continue to promote the voice of children and young people in our work and within other agencies. We will continue to monitor what is happening in residential care and the Adelaide Youth Training Centre and audit the annual reviews of children and young people in long-term care. We will continue to find examples of great practice and positive experiences for children and to celebrate the achievements of young people themselves. We need to harness those examples to demonstrate what can be done and share those success stories with others.
In 2016, I’m looking forward to the tabling of the revised Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Parliament in February and rolling it out with a new range of promotional materials. This year Parliament will be deliberating on the Youth Justice Administration Bill which will bring substantial changes. I’m also looking forward to our contribution to Commissioner Nyland’s considerations and ultimately her recommendations on improvements for the child protection system, in particular by contributing the child’s perspective and monitoring progress.
It’s going to a big year!
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.