A report into the scheduled review of South Australia’s Children and Young People (Safety) Act has just been released by the State Government to help shape new laws to improve the system and the lives of children and young people.
After providing an extensive submission to the review, we were keen to see what key themes would arise and what recommendations would be suggested for legislative change. You can read our submission here.
We welcome the report’s focus on legislative change to implement the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle to the standard of active efforts, and the resolve to strengthen the community-controlled sector through powers for the Chief Executive to delegate authority to Aboriginal organisations to exercise child protection functions. We know too well that First Nations children are over-represented within the child protection system and that inadequate cultural support is detrimental to their identity, connection to family and wellbeing.
In line with many of our recommendations, the report considered improvements to how we meet the rights of children and young people to participate and be heard in decisions that impact on their lives. We also welcome a whole-of-government approach for care leavers, which would identify priority government services to be part of the support network once young people leave care.
While several suggested amendments to the Act reflect matters raised in our submission, the report was silent about a considerable number of our 26 recommendations. This means we do not really know whether they are being considered by government, or not. Which, experience suggests, means that they may not inform development of the next stage in drafting an amendment of the Bill.
Some other child protection matters that we believe warrants clarification or more focus include:
- affirmation that meeting the best interests of children and young people is the overall object of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act, with safety and other core elements critical components of what this entails
- the importance of sibling relationships and that these should be considered when determining the best interests of the children and young people (for example, as an imperative for care placements), including with the concept of ‘sibling’ being responsive to cultural norms
- guaranteed rights to supported placements and financial assistance, to prevent young people exiting to homelessness
- strengthening civil rights for children in care, including through improved redress options for young people when there is a breach of the applicable Charter of Rights commitment
- the rights and needs of children in care who have disabilities and a range or psychosocial and developmental concerns, including children who have suffered sexual abuse while in care.
We look forward to the development of a new Bill. In contributing to this process, we will, as always, draw on the knowledge and talents of our office and the insights we get from children and young people themselves: they have the most to gain … or lose … from any legislative change. We will seek clarification about matters highlighted above, but most of all, we want to play our part in getting this right for the people that matter most in this situation, the children and young people who deserve that we have their best interests at heart.