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Protecting Victoria's Vulnerable Children Inquiry

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Reference Group

The Inquiry’s Terms of Reference provided that the Inquiry may request input from a Reference Group on any matter it deems fit.

The Inquiry established a Reference Group to provide advice on key issues, issues analysis, policy options and stakeholder engagement.

While the Reference Group members were drawn from peak bodies, experts, representatives of the service system and of client groups, they participated as individuals rather than as representatives of their specific organisation. The members were:

  • Mr Kevin Zibell, Board President, Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare and CEO, Child and Family Services Ballarat
  • Dr Lynette Buoy, CEO, Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (represented by Ms Marilyn Webster, Director of Research and Social Policy at the 1 August meeting)
  • Professor Chris Goddard, Child Abuse Prevention Research Australia, Monash University (represented by Dr Neerosh Mudaly, Senior Research Fellow at the 6 June and 1 August meetings)
  • Ms Bernadette Harrison, Outreach and Enhanced Maternal Child Health Team Leader, City of Greater Dandenong
  • Ms Ann Rowley, Acting State Coordinator, CREATE Foundation
  • Ms Chris Asquini, Executive Director, Children, Youth and Families Division, Department of Human Services
  • Professor Cathy Humphreys, Alfred Felton Chair of Child and Family Welfare, Department of Social Work, University of Melbourne
  • Ms Fiona McCormack, CEO, Domestic Violence Victoria
  • Ms Katie Hooper, Executive Officer, Foster Care Association of Victoria Inc
  • Ms Anne McLeish OAM, Director, Kinship Carers Victoria
  • Ms Caroline Counsel, President, Law Institute of Victoria (represented by Mr Michael Brett Young, CEO)
  • Mr Greg Hancock, Principal, Lilydale Heights Secondary School
  • Dr Sandra Radovini, Director, Mindful
  • Ms Jan Black, Policy Adviser, Municipal Association of Victoria
  • Dr Stefan Gruenert, CEO, Odyssey House/FADNET
  • Dr Peter Eastaugh, Paediatrician, Shepparton
  • Mr Bevan Warner, Managing Director, Victoria Legal Aid (represented by Ms Judy Small, Director of Family, Youth and Children’s Services at the 6 June meeting)
  • Ms Wendy Steendam, Assistant Commissioner, Victoria Police
  • Ms Muriel Bamblett, CEO, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA)
  • Mr John Zika, Executive Director, Victorian Cooperative on Children’s Services for Ethnic Groups (VICSEG) New Futures

The first meeting of the Reference Group was held on 13 April 2011. Priority issues raised in the discussion included:

  • The importance of, and strategies for, improving early intervention
  • Creating a service system around the needs and rights of the child
  • Service responses for Aboriginal children and young people
  • Opportunities for improved inter-service collaboration
  • Overall service system funding and structure
  • System capacity and capability
  • Relations between the Children's Court and the child and family welfare system
  • The value of cultural competence
  • Improving services for children in care
  • Oversight and transparency

The second meeting of the Reference Group was held on 6 June 2011. The Reference Group discussed six topics derived from the first meeting and a range of ideas and other comments.

The points listed below reflect in summary form the discussions, and will be considered by the Inquiry in its deliberations for the Report. Note that the points reflect the views of individual participants and do not indicate a consensus position of the Reference Group. The points listed below are not the views of the Inquiry.

Topic 1: Creating a service system around the needs and rights of the child

  • Enhancing the role of local government in building up a one stop shop ‘hub’ for the community.
  • Complementary codes of practice that stipulate each of the sectors’ roles in relation to the child and family.
  • Developing a data collection system to increase knowledge about ethnically and culturally appropriate services.

Topic 2: Improving services for children in care

  • Early placement assessments need to be more comprehensive, and should include the whole family, not just the household.
  • Once a placement is made, there should be backup services available such as respite.
  • There should be opportunities for more individual mentoring for children and other personal development opportunities.
  • Increased and improved therapeutic supports and services are needed for children and families.
  • For children transitioning from out of home care, transition plans should consider broader social issues such as education and economic participation.

Topic 3: Inter-service collaboration and Topic 4: Service system funding and structure, system capacity and capability

  • Improved collaboration would arise from increased availability and access to secondary consultations with specialists.
  • Improved collaboration may also be achieved through the establishment of common entry points.
  • Greater use of peers and formalised groups for sharing information and will lead to efficiency gains.
  • A brokerage service may allow more flexible application of funding.
  • Output based funding models can save money, but it can also value those people who are ‘less vulnerable’ over those with complexity.
  • It is not appropriate to transfer metropolitan solutions to regional areas.
  • Implementation processes are critical to any reforms; this includes the approach to contract management and identification of accountabilities.

Topic 5: Relations between the Children’s Court and the child and family welfare system

  • Collaboration is needed to ensure that the best interests of children are front and centre of all decision making (with some eye on the rights of families etc).
  • There are differences between rural and metropolitan locations, specialist versus generalist magistrates.
  • The protection system, including the Court, needs to take into account the level of trauma experienced by the child.
  • More transparency of Court decisions is required so that children and families can understand the outcome.
  • The processes of the Children’s Court are designed for a very limited number of cases that go to trial, not those that are settled without trial.

Topic 6: Oversight and transparency.

  • The need to have an environment in which transparency and accountability are encouraged and normalised.
  • Oversight and transparency needs to be applied across entire service spectrum, including DHS, community service organisations and the Children’s Court.

The third and final meeting of the Reference Group was held on 1 August 2011. The Reference Group members discussed Child FIRST, the Children’s Court, children in out-of-home care, the need to hear the voices of children and carers, and skills and training of the workforce.·Note that the summary points reflect the views of individual members and not of the entire Reference Group. The summary points listed below are not the views of the Inquiry.

Following are some of the points that were raised in the discussions:

On Child FIRST:

  • Because of the voluntary nature of the service there is a need to promote the value of Child FIRST to the community to increase the engagement of vulnerable families.
  • Broaden multidisciplinary skills across child protection and Child FIRST, such as including family violence workers, risk management and response to high-risk cases. Strengthen collaborations and interventions and the tools to make these possible.
  • There is a need to have a specific arm for Aboriginal children and for kinship carers struggling with more complex cases.
  • There is a need for cultural advice and engagement support for families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, especially refugees. Protocols should be established with migrant and refugee communities, not just on an ad hoc basis.
  • Need to clarify whether Child FIRST should be child protection-facing, or community facing.
  • There is also a question of whether Child FIRST has the capacity to engage families with the service system. The system is not geared towards dealing with complex cases.
  • It is important to consider the wide-reaching issues that affect families such as homelessness and family violence and connect these to the responses given to a child in need.·Child FIRST and its relationship to broader services must consider the social and economic factors that affect the child.
  • Therapeutic support, long-term service need to be responsive to individual family needs.
  • Growth areas of Melbourne require a different approach. Community development needs to be a focus. Models of support need to be created to deal with this expansion.
  • Some children need far greater intensity of services than the family support that is currently offered. This is about stopping generational abuse. Thus there is a need for proper behavioural therapies.

On the Children’s Court:

  • The physical space within the Children’s Court is not appropriate. There is a gross inadequacy compared with other Courts.
  • Training is very important and lawyers do need to comprehend the concepts and needs of children. There is a need for common language.
  • Lawyer -assisted mediation can be engaged earlier to encourage greater involvement outside the Court room. Judicial intervention should be a last resort.
  • It is never too late to commence therapeutic approach with families and cases presenting in the Court system.
  • Kinship carers need to be recognised as experts in relation to the child.
  • Cost of Court processes is a barrier, parents can get access to financial support but carers cannot. There needs to be a relaxation of legal aid provisions.
  • Make the decision early to assist the child. Delays come at the cost of a child’s wellbeing. Court management processes can make a difference.
  • Need to share knowledge about a case when it is brought to the Court.
  • Cases end up being about child safety versus child wellbeing. This needs to be defined and understood by the Court system.
  • The reason why children come to Court is often due to their home situation. Children’s interests are not always aligned with those of their parents, and this is hard for the parents.
  • Legal practice in the Court is informed by working with juvenile crime. Practice has to recognise the nature of the child or young person.

On children in out-of-home care, their voices and those of their carers:

  • There is a need to ensure young people are included in the development of their care plans and leaving care plans. It is not just about leaving care, but transitioning into adulthood. Many young people are not aware of what is available to them.
  • Responsibility for undertaking a needs assessment when a child enters care needs to be clarified. There are many professions involved such as primary health, education, therapeutic specialists. Needs assessment is not a one-off process and must include follow up. Agencies and services need to share information about the child.
  • Children in residential care should be the highest priority as they are the most vulnerable.
  • How high-risk children can access services while they are with their families instead of starting only when they reach out-of-home care needs to be considered.
  • Having young people as advocates in agencies has had positive results.
  • More investment and support is needed for carers. They are part of the “workforce” to protect children even though they are volunteers. Carers need to get support when case loads are high. Agencies need to be funded appropriately to do this supportive work.
  • Cultural awareness training is needed for carers. A child’s culture must be respected in all decisions. Although this is in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, there is currently no system for knowing the number of children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

On skills and training:

  • There is a need to invest in the workforce and make them highly skilled.
  • There is a need to provide specialist cultural competence training of the whole workforce. Also training on how to talk to children and listen to what they are saying is required.
  • Skilled staff are being poached by other professions. Child protection does not have a labour market. There is a need to create career structures that encourage staff to stay, as well as entry level training.
  • The graduate certificate has been a great innovation, helping improve retention rates. Increased professionalism helps retain professionals.

The Reference Group was part of a broader consultation process that included Public Sittings throughout the State, written Submissions, visits and meetings.

Media Releases

Extension granted for vulnerable children inquiry

Wednesday 22 September 2011

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge today announced that, at the Inquiry panel’s request, the reporting date for the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry has been extended to 27 January 2012.

Child Protection Inquiry hears Submissions in Melbourne

Tuesday 28 June 2011

The Inquiry into child protection has begun holding its metropolitan Public Sittings, with Sittings in Melbourne on 28 June and 5 July as part of its consultations with the community.

Child Protection Inquiry starts Regional Sittings

Wednesday 18 May 2011

The Inquiry into child protection has begun holding Public Sittings across regional Victoria as part of its extensive community consultation, starting in Geelong today.

Child Protection Inquiry calls for Submissions

Monday 28 February 2011

The Inquiry into child protection has invited written submissions and outlined the processes the Inquiry will follow, at its first public meeting in Melbourne today.

Protecting Victoria's Vulnerable Children
: inquiry launched

Monday 31 January 2011

Premier Ted Baillieu today launched the inquiry Protecting Victoria's Vulnerable Children to comprehensively investigate systemic problems in Victoria's child protection system and make recommendations to strengthen and improve the protection and support of vulnerable young Victorians.

Read all media releases