Responding to abused or neglected children

8 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #10

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 nine in the series are available.[2] We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 3 

Commissioner Nyland proposed no change in the current responsibilities of mandated notifiers but recommended that there be two quite different pathways through which those duties can be fulfilled by notifiers.  The Child Abuse Report Line (CARL), would be maintained and improved and another, non-statutory option, added.

She acknowledged the shortcomings of CARL, particularly the extended wait times for callers and the closing of cases due to workload issues which sees ‘children left in unacceptable circumstances in which they needed help’.  She recommended the addition of extra call centre staff, making the call-back system widely available and promptly advising notifiers of the intended response so that they can take other action if required.  The setting of service delivery standards for call answering times and call-back times are other measures aimed at restoring confidence in the system.

Once notifications were received by CARL, more problems were evident.

…consistently poor quality assessments undermined by excessive optimism, lack of focus on the child’s experience, too little reliance on the expertise of other practitioners and unrealistic reliance on informal agreements in which parents promise to reduce their dangerous behaviour. 

She recommended substantial increases in and upskilling of the workforce, development of more rigorous and standardised assessment tools and giving greater powers to acquire information from government and non-government sources.  Targets should be set for the reduction of backlogs and progress publicly reported.

For matters that proceed to court, she proposed a greater reliance on independent expert opinion to inform court decision-making and the granting of orders.

To take the load off CARL and to provide a way to divert appropriate families away from the statutory system, Commissioner Nyland recommended legislative change to allow mandated notifiers to discharge their obligations by referring concerns to one of a set of ‘child and family assessment networks’ to be established in metropolitan and larger regional locations.  Specially trained staff in government agencies could assist and guide colleagues to understand their obligations to notify and the best options for troubled families.

The Commissioner recommended ways of reducing the numbers of children coming into care while still protecting those who need to be protected.  This will require a substantial investment in preventative and early intervention services and a solid strategy to guide funding and service design and delivery.  A cross-department Early Intervention Research Directorate would identify innovative and evidence-based services.  They would be to be provided by non-government organisations and be of the type and in the locations identified by an analysis of needs.

A particular priority she identified was the need to provide services that were culturally appropriate for Aboriginal families and communities.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • Improvements to the CARL service including system and staff changes to meet published service standards for call-answering and call-backs.
  • Upskilling of investigation staff to ensure that the voices of children are sought and heard in the investigation process.
  • Setting of service standards for the commencement and completion of investigations as set out by Commissioner Nyland4
  • Establishment of a set of ‘child and family assessment networks’ in metropolitan and major regional locations and legislative changes to allow mandated notifiers to discharge their obligations by referring to them.
  • Setting out a five-year strategy for the provision of prevention and early intervention services that is evidence-based and suited to local needs and conditions.
  • Development of prevention and early intervention services that are culturally appropriate for Aboriginal families and communities.
  • Regular training and the development of training tools to improve the knowledge of mandated notifiers about their responsibilities.

Please join the discussion via the reply box at the foot of the page.

1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

2 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal childrenEducation and Stability and certainty in care.

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, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

4 Recommendation 177: Ensure that all care concern notifications are investigated in a timely manner:

  1. investigations should commence within 48 hours of the receipt of a notification; and
  2. in the absence of ongoing criminal proceedings or special reasons, investigations should be completed within six weeks from receipt of the notification.

2 Responses

  1. Speaking about these implementations is one thing but seeing the action and effectiveness of them is where the main interest lies. It concerns us that the avenues available for children in care to raise concerns about their treatment or well being, are the same avenues they may well already not be being listened to through. If children in monsters like Shannon McCoole’s care could only complain to him or his supervisors about their treatment, how would they ever have their concerns and worries heard? The Stop Child Abuse Australia Team wants to see external independent avenues for children in care (and any other children) to reach out to.

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