Calling for a united cross-border approach to child safety

Image (L to R): Nicole Hucks, Acting NT Children’s Commissioner, Margaret Smith, NPYWC chairwoman, Shona Reid, Guardian for Children and Young People, Jacqueline McGowan Jones, WA Children’s Commissioner

A few weeks back, Guardian for Children and Young People, Shona Reid, travelled to Mparntwe (Alice Springs) to meet with the NPY Women’s Council (NPYWC), alongside both the Northern Territory and Western Australia Children’s Commissioners, Nicole Hucks and Jacqueline McGowan-Jones.

The meeting focused on a longstanding issue, around concerns about child protection practices and systems in the tri-state area spanning Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Lands, and crossing borders between South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.  

The NPY Lands region covers 350,000 square kilometres across the central desert region of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Children and families living in these areas have to navigate three different Australian government legal systems – with different child protection systems, police powers and responses and criminal justice laws. 

For decades, Anangu and Yarnangu people have been advocating for law reform and improved coordination between the SA, WA and NT governments, to make child protection practices safer for children and young people, and fairer and easier to navigate for families and carers.  

Presenting a joint media conference, the Commissioners, Guardian and NPYWC called for a collaborative approach between State, Territory and Federal Governments regarding vulnerable children and young people moving between jurisdictions. 

“We ask families to do it, to navigate all these different systems and workers. And if we’re going to ask families to work through this, then it’s more than reasonable to expect that our governments can do the same,” Shona said.

“Ultimately, it’s the children and young people that bear the consequence for jurisdictional and bureaucratic misalignments, miscommunications and poor service coordination. That is unacceptable.”  

Information published by NPYWC indicates that 239 children and young people living in the tri-state area are engaged with child protection services, across three states. Some of the key issues Anangu and Yarnangu children and families are facing – which NPYWC have consistently highlighted to government since 1991 – include:

  •  Difficulties in knowing who to contact about their children in the system
  • Confusion about the different processes in each jurisdiction
  • Confusion in having to go through multiple processes if caring for children when their case is held in another region
  • Convoluted systems that become disempowering and difficult for Anangu parents and carers to effectively and actively participate
  • Lack of support to access visits to children if children are in a different state or territory.

Following the meeting and press conference, Shona is arranging to meet with SA’s Cross Border Commissioner, Liz McKinnon, who was appointed in April this year to advocate for cross border communities. 

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