19 September, 2016
Themes from Nyland #3
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 Report. 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. What follows is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process. We will post the rest of the series over the next few weeks. 
About 80 percent of children under the guardianship of the minister are cared for in home-based care arrangements with the remainder in residential care and emergency care.
In emergency care children are housed in temporary accommodation (such as motels, caravan parks and short-term rentals) by rotating shifts of workers with minimal training who are provided by commercial organisations. 
These ‘emergency’ arrangements are intended to be short-term and stop gap until a more suitable placement can be identified. However, children remain in these circumstances for much longer than the term ‘emergency’ implies.
These arrangements are very unsuitable for children coming into care, do not support their psychological needs and social development and place them at risk of abuse.
The risks of sexual abuse in rotational care have been well known by the Agency for many years.
Commissioner Nyland observes that not only is this style of care unsuitable for most children it is significantly more costly than either home-based or residential care.
Reliance on emergency care by commercial carers should cease in all but genuine emergency circumstances. This will take some time, and require considerable investment in building other care options, including the capacity of the residential care workforce in the Agency.
While this is being done she recommends ‘greater scrutiny and supervision’ of staff, their pre-registration with the responsible government agency and a tightening up of standards for their selection and appointment.
The risk of children being cared for by commercial care workers on single shifts (that is, working alone) is substantial. Single shifts should cease immediately. Carers employed through a commercial agency should be restricted to shifts with two workers at any one time.
As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:
- Plans and a schedule for reducing the numbers of children in emergency care to emergencies only, aligned with plans to proportionately increase the supply of quality residential and home-based care.
- The immediate ending of single person shifts.
- A review of service agreements with commercial agencies who supply emergency care staff to tighten up staff selection criteria, prevent staff from working in emergency care for multiple agencies, seek pre-approval prior to placing staff and require agencies to report concerning behaviour.
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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.
3 Numbers in emergency care have grown to over 200 since the Commissioner considered the matter has become the defacto permanent care arrangement for numbers of children and some young children.
4 Efforts to ‘get the numbers down’ in the past without growing capacity in other areas have led to children being placed into unsuitable home-based or residential care placements. The experiences of children when moving placements must be central. Movements must be planned, new placements matched to the needs of the child and the child must have the opportunity to view and discuss the placement.