The release of two reports today into the child protection system in Victoria further underlined the importance of the Brumby Labor Government’s $77.2 million child protection workforce plan and pointed to new areas of reform to improve outcomes for the state’s most vulnerable children.
The Ombudsman’s Own Motion Report into the Child Protection system and a report from the Child Safety Commissioner into the death of two-year-old Hayley were released today.
The Minister for Community Services, Lisa Neville said that in September the Brumby Labor Government announced a $77.2 million child protection package, to roll out 200 more staff across the system, including more than 100 additional frontline workers, to reduce workload pressures on frontline staff.
Minister Neville said the Brumby Government had already taken major steps to recruit more staff and address problems identified in the child protection and care system in the Hume Region.
She said the Brumby Government had this year provided the Hume Region of north-east Victoria with an $14.37 million funding boost for child protection and care services.
The Region will get 8 new workers as part of the extra 200 frontline staff across the State being recruited and funded by the Government.
In the past year the Region received 2994 child protection notifications and 910 new referrals to integrated family services for families under pressure.
“Hume Region will receive an extra $2.66 million over 4 years to boost child protection staffing, with an additional $2.3 million to community services agencies to help children in care.
“An extra $8.83 million over the next four years will create more home based care for children removed from their families and increase residential care options.”
Ms Neville said Hume Region had 389 children placed in out of home care on 30 June.
Of the 775 cases that the Region’s child protection staff were involved with as of November 13, 165 were being monitored but had not yet been allocated to an ongoing case worker.
“Today’s Own Motion Report by the Victorian Ombudsman has further reinforced the importance of recruiting more child protection workers into a system that has experienced a 30 per cent growth in demand since 2004, with open cases rising from 8000 to 12,000 in the past five years,” Ms Neville said.
“The Ombudsman’s report contains many disturbing case studies of abuse of children. While so many of these cases are highly complex, it is unacceptable to me that they system has not succeeded in these instances to place children in a secure setting.
“The vast bulk of the issues raised in the Ombudsman’s report relate directly to the workloads and training of child protection workers.
“Like me, our child protection workers only want the best for vulnerable children. That’s why we are recruiting more workers to reduce workload pressures on child protection workers.”
Ms Neville said the Ombudsman acknowledged that the Victorian system is “considered a leader in terms of its policy framework.”
“But he also identified serious concerns relating to practices, service delivery, and how workers, police, the courts, and agencies work together to protect children from harm,” he said.
“The 42 recommendations cover four main issues – the quality of some investigations, data collection and storage, and accountability, including compliance with standards and interaction with the Children’s Court. We’ve committed to implementing every one of the recommendations.”
The Attorney General Rob Hulls and Ms Neville said the Brumby Labor Government said extensive reforms were underway in the child protection system and the Brumby Labor Government would now move to investigate and implement reforms of court processes.
“The Ombudsman estimates that child protection workers are spending 50 per cent of their time servicing the Children’s Court. We will take action, we will work with stakeholders on a less combative, less adversarial approach to resolving these matters,” Mr Hulls said.
The Attorney General has asked the Law Reform Commission to report back within six months on options for court processes in relation to child protection matters.
The Government will also establish a Taskforce comprising the President of the Children’s Court, the Managing Director of Legal Aid, the Child Safety Commissioner, the Secretary of the Department of Human Services and the Secretary of the Department of Justice to report back, in three months, on measures to immediately reduce court time and bring in less adversarial processes.
Ms Neville said further actions being undertaken by the Government included:
- Setting up an independent expert panel to scrutinise child protection’s performance and report to the Minister regularly;
- Reporting annually to parliament on unallocated case numbers;
- Specialist training in sex abuse cases for workers;
- Appointment of six new senior staff to oversee practice and compliance in the regions;
- Strengthening links between workers and police; and
- Establishing a privacy unit to protect people reporting child abuse.
Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary’s report into the state-wide implications of the tragic death of Hayley, who died in August this year also outlined how the system had failed to secure the safety of a vulnerable child. The case is now being investigated by the Child Death Review Committee and the Coroner.
“This is a distressing case and I again extend my deepest sympathies to the family and those touched by her death,” Ms Neville said.
Mr Geary makes a series of recommendations in his report and the department has accepted all of them.
“Importantly, we are responding to his concerns immediately with an extra $3.8 million to appoint 24 new early childhood development specialists,” Ms Neville said.