The Guardian for Children and Young People welcomes the release of Commissioner Nyland’s report ‘The Life They Deserve’. The Guardian also welcomes the Premier’s commitment to providing a considered, thorough and methodical approach to addressing the complex matters raised in the report.
Comments about recommendations that bear directly upon this Office are provided below to address the report’s headline issues on the day of its release. The Guardian will be available for further comment once she has had an opportunity to read the full document.
“The Life They Deserve can be the impetus for a necessary and bold transformation of our child protection system”, said Guardian Amanda Shaw. “The care and protection of children and young people must be our priority.”
“This is not the job of just one Government agency. All political parties, government agencies, non-government organisations and the broader community must be part of the improvement process.”
“Importantly, and as Commissioner Nyland has recognised, children are at the heart of this process. We have to support them to understand what is happening in their lives, and empower them to tell us their views and what they want to happen.”
Children often tell the Guardian and her staff that they want to stay with their family within their local networks if this can be done safely. Where children can safely remain, intensive and flexible family support programs that employ skilled staff are needed. Early identification of vulnerabilities and additional support needs is critical.
“If the safety and best interests of children and young people cannot be assured at home, then we must provide a high quality out of home care (OOHC) system that focuses on their diverse needs. This is especially true for the seriously over-represented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people who must have access to culturally appropriate support.”
Children and young people tell us that if they cannot stay with their family then they want to stay with a second family that provides a loving home. While many children receive loving care from excellent carers, the Guardian has been, and remains concerned about two out of every ten children who are in unstable or unsuitable care arrangements. The OOHC system has not been working as it should and South Australia has been overly reliant on non-family based care. The Guardian provided detailed information to the Commission about the necessary safeguards for children living in out of home care.
The Guardian has recommended the closure of residential care facilities that accommodate more than six children because of the high risk to safety of residents since 2005, yet South Australia continues to rely on this model. There is no convincing argument that larger facilities are a good choice for children.
Noting the need to retain a statutorily independent Guardian (as currently provided for by the Children’s Protection Act, 1993) the following comments refer to Commissioner Nyland’s recommendations that will impact directly on the Guardian’s role –
- The Guardian welcomes the recommended establishment of a Commissioner for Children and Young People (Recommendation 245).
- The Guardian looks forward to discussing associated matters relating to possible statutory change (Recommendation 246) and administrative arrangements (Recommendation 249 and Recommendation 250).
- The Guardian welcomes the opportunity to discuss potential new procedural avenues that may be created such as the capacity to refer matters to the Commissioner (Recommendation 247) and the Ombudsman and HCSCC (Recommendation 251).
- The Guardian welcomes the recommendations that should enhance the Office’s capacity to meet its support, advocacy and monitoring functions in areas such as –
- compliance with Standards of Alternative Care in South Australia and related matters (Recommendation 96 and Recommendation 198)
- treatment of complaints (Recommendation 135)
- empowerment of children and young people (Recommendation 136), and
- systemic analysis through the provision of adequate data (Recommendation 186).
These and other recommendations raise capacity issues: for example, the proposed development of a community visitor’s scheme for children in all residential and emergency care facilities (Recommendation 137 with discussion on page 583) could only be implemented by the Guardian’s Office should new recurrent funding be made available. The Office currently operates on the basis of 6.8 FTE (including the Guardian).
The Guardian welcomes Commissioner Nyland’s suggestions for systematic implementation and reporting on progress with the anticipated reforms (Recommendations 257 through to 260).
For further information / comment:
Amanda Shaw, Guardian for Children and Young People 8226 8570
Published date: 8 August 2016