As the number of children and young people coming into care climbs to an all-time high (4668 as of 31 January 2022), the number of enquiries for our advocacy team continues to escalate. Sometimes the calls are within our mandate and meet our threshold, and other times the calls are from people who are unsure who to talk to or need help with problems that sit outside the Guardian’s mandate.
What is a mandate? When we talk about the Guardian’s mandate, we’re referring to the things the Guardian has authority to do under the legislation. In short, the Guardian’s mandate is to advocate for and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people in care.
To ease some of the misconceptions about our office and define what we can and can’t do, we’ve decided to look at some of the common myths about our work and then set out the facts. Hopefully these will help answer questions you might have about the work of our office.
Myth: The Guardian for Children and Young People (Penny Wright) is the legal guardian for all children and young people and care
Fact: No, the Guardian for Children and Young People (Penny Wright) is not the legal guardian for children in care. Penny does not have any decision-making power in relation to children and young people in care. Penny’s role is to advocate for and promote their rights and best interests.
The Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection (DCP) is the legal guardian for children and young people in care.
If your enquiry relates to something that a legal guardian would normally manage, such as medical consent, you will need to talk to the individual child or young person’s allocated DCP worker.
Myth: We are part of DCP and are responsible for removing children and young people
Fact: We are independent. We do not work for DCP and we’re not affiliated with any other organisation or agency. We are not responsible for removing children and young people from their birth families and we do not have influence in the court processes that determine how long a child or young person will need to be in care. Our role is to advocate for and promote children and young people’s rights and best interests once they are in the care system.
Myth: We only advocate for children and young people that are old enough to call us and we don’t take adult callers
Fact: Adults who live and work with children and young people in care – such as teachers, mentors, health care workers, carers, and relatives – can contact us to talk about their concerns.
If you are an adult enquirer, we will ask you whether the young person could contact us themselves. Our preference is always to hear from the child or young person directly, so that we have their consent to become involved in their situation and their voice can guide our advocacy direction (if safe). If a child or young person does not have capacity to voice their views and wishes (ie too young, or may have a disability or other complex trauma-related needs), we will assess for potential ‘best interests’ advocacy (which is what we call advocacy where we do not have the child or young person’s direct voice or consent).
Myth: We can tell DCP what to do and we can make decisions about the child or young person’s care
Fact: We cannot tell DCP what to do and we ultimately do not have decision-making power – this lies with DCP. We use advocacy strategies to try to influence DCP decision-making in accordance with children’s rights and best interests. This includes liaising with the child and young person’s case worker, local DCP offices or DCP Executives to address the issues that are impacting the child’s rights, safety and wellbeing in care.
Myth: We are the first place you should call when issues arise
Fact: Before you call us (or support a child or young person to call us), it is important to try to address the concerns with the child’s carer or case worker first, or escalate the matter through the relevant DCP office.
If the issues can’t be resolved with the DCP office, you or the child or young person can also contact the DCP Complaints and Feedback Management Unit on 1800 003 305, and their staff will take further steps to resolve the matter.
If you have already done what you can to try to resolve the issues yourself, and you are still worried about the child or young person, you can call us (or support the child or young person to call us) and we will do our best to provide advice or advocacy.
Myth: We can investigate allegations that a child or young person in care is being abused or neglected.
Fact: If you have a reasonable suspicion that a child or young person (including a child or young person in care) is being abused or neglected, you must report the concerns to the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL) on 13 14 78.
If you have already reported to CARL and have raised your concerns with the child or young person’s DCP Worker, and you are still worried that the child or young person in care remains at serious or imminent risk, you are welcome to call us to discuss your concerns.
For more frequently asked questions raised by adults you can check out our website. We also have a list of commonly asked questions from children and young people that might be helpful for them to know about before they call us.