The ACT's child protection laws have fostered a culture of secrecy which doesn't serve the interests of vulnerable young people, a Legislative Assembly inquiry has found.
The parliamentary committee examining the ACT's care and protection regime handed down its final report on Thursday, making 44 recommendations for reform.
The inquiry was triggered by the ACT government's wrongful removal of five Aboriginal children from their mother, a case advocates described as reminiscent of the Stolen Generation.
The report found that authorities' "default prohibition" on the sharing of sensitive information, coupled with the lack of opportunities for decisions about a child to be reviewed or appealed, had created a system which was not transparent or accountable.
"Ultimately, such a culture is not in the best interests of a child or young person - the people to whom the system seeks to serve," the report found.
The committee recommended the territory's Children and Young People Act 2008 be amended to allow the sharing of information, such as a child concern report or a pre-natal report, if it was in the best interests of the child.
The laws should also be tweaked to allow for parties to challenge a decision to refuse the release of sensitive information. The proposal was among a number of recommendations to expand the scope of internal and external review options, the limitations of which emerged as a concern among lawyers and advocates during public hearings at the inquiry earlier this year.
The committee also recommended that all families be afforded the option of group conferencing before authorities intervene and the matter is referred to the children's court. The recommendation mirrors an election promise announced over the weekend by the Canberra Liberals.
The committee also called for ongoing training for Children and Young Person Services staff, including on culture and "unconscious bias".
The inquiry heard that a number of other groups, including teenage parents, parents with a disability or those with a history of drugs or alcohol usage, were more likely to have an "adverse experience" with child protection services because of assumptions about their capacity to care for a child.
"It is clear to the committee that assumptions about the parenting ability of certain population groups exist in the care and protection system, that result in care and protection workers acting in a way that presumably they see as being in the best interests of the child, providing stable parenting for a child, but in that process breaking down the relationship between the child and their parent," the committee found.
"The committee is firmly of the view that these in-built assumptions in the system need to be addressed as a priority."
Minister for Children, Youth and Families Rachel Stephen-Smith acknowledged concerns about the "power imbalance" that families encountered when they dealt with the child protection agency.
Ms Stephen-Smith said there was room to improve, but noted the government had directed significant attention and resources to the area through the Step Up for Our Kids program.
She pointed out that the number of children in care had decreased from a peak of 829 in 2017-18, bucking a national upward trend.
Opposition Families, Youth and Community Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Kikkert said the use of family conferencing would help to "soften" the adversarial relationship between families and the government.
"The government needs to stop making decisions for families and start making decisions with families - including listening to children's voices," Mrs Kikkert said.
"Families are the answer to many of the systemic issues we continually see in the ACT's care and protection system."
ACT Law Society president Chris Donohue called on the government to commit to implementing all 44 recommendations.
He said Ms Stephen-Smith could start addressing some of the problems immediately by directing the agency to start handling cases in accordance with the "spirit of the law".
"The committee that has heard the evidence got the message that something very significant needs to change in the culture to make sure the whole system works in the best interest of the child," he said.