A review of the ACT’s youth care and protection services has revealed widespread failings in the system designed to protect the territory’s most vulnerable children, from inadequate risk assessments prior to removing children from families through to virtually non-existent early intervention and prevention for those at risk of harm.
ACT Public Advocate Anita Phillips released her final report into the ACT’s emergency response strategy for children in crisis yesterday, noting a raft of problems and a reactive, defensive culture that had emerged from an over-worked and under-supported Care and Protection Services staff.
Ms Phillip’s report found poor record keeping, little evidence of case supervision or transparent decision-making and a large percentage of staff who had been brought in from overseas who had little understanding of the ACT community who were likely to leave their jobs unless the culture of Care and Protection Services improved.
‘‘Staff, despite their best efforts and hard work, were often battling against systems that failed them and as a consequence the case files reflected a defensive workplace environment.’’
Ms Phillips said the review of 100 cases confirmed the crisis situation identified in an interim report released in October was not an aberration and was systemic, although there had been some improvements with a number of early recommendations already implemented by the Community and Services Directorate.
The report recommended immediate changes including developing a strategic framework to improve case supervision, improving record keeping procedures and training and reviewing all kinship care placements to ensure young people’s voices were heard in the decisions that were being made about them and their families.
It follows the Public Advocate’s not been qualified for such work.
Community Services Minister Joy Burch said the ACT Government would agree to all but one of the report’s seven recommendations and would pledge a combined $25 million of extra funding to the sector in next week’s ACT budget. More than $15 million would be spent over three years on out-of-home care, including kinship care and foster care, $5.3 million would be spent over four years on additional staff, and another $5.5 million would go towards supporting youth justice services.
‘‘As the Public Advocate has recognised and welcomed, there has already been considerable reform within the Directorate in the past six months following her interim report and the Government will continue to implement these necessary reforms,’’ Ms Burch said.
But opposition and crossbench spokespeople said simply throwing more money at the problem would not fix it.
ACT Liberals Family and Community Services spokeswoman Vicki Dunne said there had been little progress since the highly critical 2004 Vardon report, despite significant spending to address staff shortages of staff, growing workload and failures to properly protect vulnerable children and young people.
‘‘I speak to kinship carers who tell me they have never been police-checked. The culture is wrong, and that goes all the way to the top. It has to be asked, what have they been doing for the last eight years?’’
Greens spokeswoman Meredith Hunter said the government appeared to be taking the same approach that had failed in the past. Young people would continue to end up in the justice system, unemployed and homeless unless the failings could be addressed.
‘‘We can’t keep coming back here in six months, two years, three years and just throw more money into this bottomless pit. We need better training, support and to have the voices of children, foster and kinship carers respected and listened to,’’ Ms Hunter said.
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