The Select Committee on Child Protection was set up in October 2010 and reported in 2011. It found that the child protection system was under 'serious stress' and that as a result, children were not receiving the care and protection that they needed. The situation was not caused by child protection workers, who did a good job under considerable pressure, but by problems within the culture and organisation of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Select Committee was set up following considerable publicity and concern about the situation of one state ward. This led to a debate in the Parliament about the problems with the child protection system and how to deal with them.
The Report of the Committee depicted an over burdened system with 20,000 notifications and nearly 1000 children in state care during 2010. It received evidence that the current child welfare system was 'unsustainable' and unable to meet demand. Even though there had been 12 reports since 2005, followed by reforms, change had not taken place. Many of these reports had made similar recommendations.
Evidence was provided that despite reforms, children are falling through the gaps, serious notifications are not acted upon, children are being sent back into an abusive environment, and files are closed prematurely to improve statistics.
The Committee emphasised that child protection workers did a 'good job' even though they had huge workloads and worked in a 'highly stressful and unpredictable environment'.
The problems included:
The Committee found that the key areas to address were:
The Committee suggested that the best way of doing this was to adopt the Public Health Model recommended by the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children. The Public Health Model aimed to prevent child abuse and neglect by offering the right level of support to families. This support had three stages. The first, known as primary intervention, meant services that were available to all families. The next, secondary intervention, required more specialised services, such as counselling. The third and final stage was tertiary intervention which involved the removal of the child. Such an approach could reduce the numbers of notifications and children coming into care. This would ease the workload and be better for the children and their families. The Committee pointed out that this model required adequate funding.
The Committee also recommended increased powers for the Children's Commissioner, legal aid for parents facing the removal of their children, and a review of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act. In particular, it was critical of the crisis driven approach of the Act which meant that child protection workers tended to deal with an immediate crisis rather than consider the overall situation of the family and the number of notifications received about a child. This led to short term solutions and did nothing to prevent cumulative harm.
Sources used to compile this entry: Select Committee on child protection: final report, Parliament of Tasmania, Hobart, 2011, http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/ctee/House/Reports/Final%20Report%20CP.pdf.
Prepared by: Caroline Evans
Created: 14 March 2011, Last modified: 24 June 2014