6 September, 2016
Themes from Nyland #1
The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report1. We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work. There is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for as reform progresses. We will post the rest of the series over the next few weeks. 2
Children are affected by very many services on their journey into and through care. The ease of their passage is largely determined by how well those services work together.
In her report Commissioner Nyland states:
The new agency cannot operate in isolation. It should coordinate and collaborate with all other relevant departments and organisations, both government and non-government, to give children better outcomes. It must also be proactive and engage the community to play its part in developing programs and systems…
Services are often fragmented and poorly coordinated, leaving areas of duplication and service gaps … People find it difficult to navigate the system to access the services they need.
Although guidelines exist for the sharing of information between agencies to protect children, the Commissioner describes major cultural barriers and legislative barriers to its use. She favours the NSW model in which prescribed agencies are required by legislation to share.
Information sharing between agencies is often poor and there is a siloed approach to service delivery, as opposed to a coordinated, multi-agency response, which may often be required.
This is also apparent in the investigation of care concerns, where children have been poorly served by a failure of clarity, rigor and consistency among the agencies designated to address them.
She observes that effective collaboration between levels of the Families SA hierarchy has been undermined by the progressive withdrawal of resourcing decisions from the professional staff who work directly with children to an unconnected management stream with a focus on budgetary matters.
She notes the progressive weakening of Rapid Response.
… gains made in service accessibility for children in care through the government’s Rapid Response plan have not been sustained. The plan should be renewed and reinvigorated.
The Report notes that effective collaboration between professional staff and foster carers is lacking in a significant number of instances. The Commissioner gives credence to examples where ‘carers were treated poorly and the value of their contribution was minimised.’
Foster parents consistently complained about receiving insufficient information to help them manage the needs of the children.
[carers live] in fear that the Agency will remove the child from them at any time.
With reference to challenges facing residential care the Commissioner observes that
…change will only be effective if it is sustained and helps develop a culture of openness, where concerns are routinely discussed and addressed, and the issue of the ongoing risk to children is kept high on the agenda.
As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:
- Heads of relevant departments being required to meet at least quarterly and putting in place protocols to ensure interdepartmental coordination and cooperation and key performance indicators against which their performance in this area can be measured.
- Revitalisation of Rapid Response including ‘establishing an inter-departmental committee to oversee Rapid Response and review its operation at least biannually’.
- Legislative change to remove barriers to sharing of information between agencies and ‘an amendment to the Children’s Protection Act [that] could impose a duty on the prescribed bodies to coordinate decision making and delivery of services for children.
- The child protection agency leading state-wide workforce planning in collaboration with NGOs and the tertiary sector.
- The establishment of new bodies to manage care concerns including rigorous guidelines for the allocation of responsibilities between agencies.
- Some devolution within the child protection hierarchy of decisions about the resourcing of care to field staff and away from senior management.
- Concrete and sustained efforts to improve collaborative relationships between foster carers and professional staff where carers are more informed and consulted and workers and foster carers collaborate more effectively in the interests of children in their care.
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1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,
2 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary. Because of the Guardian’s mandate, our analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.
Excellent work. I look forward to hearing how agencies will be held publicly accountable.
I look forward to reading more in the series addressing the themes from the SA Royal Commission Report. A key theme (perhaps the key theme in my view), is the need for the Agency to be social work practice-led . Whilst this theme is not well articulated in the findings it finds its expression in the commentary around the culture of the leadership and the need for reform in the training and development of staff. Relationship-based practices are central to both management and work with families . This theme was particularly evident in the preliminary finding released by the Commission and the desired characteristics of the new CE. Unless Families SA addresses this overarching consideration it is difficult to imagine the changes currently in train having the desired long-term impact.
I agree with the person who posted on 8th September. Social workers are bound professionally by their code of ethics to point out service gaps and advocate for social justice. Historically, this organisation has discouraged this and budget restrictions have been at the centre of most decision making. Collaboration needs to start within the agency and needs to be role modelled by all levels of leadership.
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