26 September, 2016
Themes from Nyland #4
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. Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process. The first three in the series are also available from the Guardian’s website.2 We will post the rest of the series over the next few weeks. 
About 80 percent of children and young people under the guardianship of the minister are cared for in home-based and relative care with the remainder in residential care and emergency care.
Commissioner Nyland recommended a ‘wholesale reform of residential care’. She said that it should, ideally, be reserved for the few adolescents for whom home-based care is not suitable and for the short-term assessment of children entering care. She condemned the ‘warehousing’ of children, some as young as nine years, in larger facilities. She recommended facilities housing more than four children should be closed because they created an ‘institutional atmosphere’ in which children did not feel safe and were vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, including by other residents.
Large units do not provide the homely environment that children need, and the warehousing of a large number of children with complex behaviours under one roof inevitably leads to residents learning new behaviours from each other. It creates an unsafe living environment.
Standards of residential care needed to be addressed by the application of more consistent care standards, recruiting of additional staff, better staff training and supervision and the application of a therapeutic model of care. Single person shifts should be abandoned.
a fundamental change in the organisational culture in the residential care directorate…that helps develop a culture of openness where concerns are routinely discussed and addressed…
She observed that ‘records of the use of violence against residents have been systematically ignored’ and recommended that processes should be tightened to improve the reliability of reporting. Children in residential care should have the opportunity to have their version of events recorded. Their right to express their views and concerns should be supported with an education program about their rights.
Commissioner Nyland acknowledged that the ‘home-based care sector is…unlikely to experience sufficient growth in the immediate future to enable residential care to shrink quickly’ so she proposes a raft of reforms to residential care to improve the lives of children within it and increase their safety.
She also recommended that the Guardian be requested to develop an education program for children and young people to explain and promote their rights and the establishment of a community visitors’ scheme.
As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:
- The closure of all residential care facilities housing more than four children except where necessary to keep siblings together.
- The ‘streaming’ of residential care to allow better placement matching, the provision of appropriate care for residents with high and complex needs and short-term assessment units. 4
- No child under ten years being housed in residential care except where necessary to keep siblings together.
- The abandonment of single-handed shift.
- The recruiting and training of additional residential care staff.
- The training of all staff in a therapeutic care model to provide the theoretical basis for care decisions.
- The training of all staff in the dynamics of sexual abuse and how to respond and the formalisation of greater requirements on staff to report suspicious behaviour.
- The establishment of a monitoring unit within the new department to review information on the conduct of carers, from care concerns, critical incident reports, supervision records and reports from staff.
- Reforms to enable young people in residential care to express their ideas, concerns and preferences. See our post The voice of the child .
- Regular reporting about systemic issues to the Guardian and Minister.
- Conversations about the scope and resourcing of a rights education and community visitors scheme for residential care.
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1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,
3 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.
4 Commissioner Nyland also recommended the establishment of secure therapeutic care facilities where young people in care can be detained for a period of time during which they will receive therapy. Although the Commissioner sets out a number of safeguards and conditions, the Guardian believes that this intervention will not produce significant long-term benefit for the young people so detained and that the detention of young people who have committed no offence raises important human rights concerns.