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Commissioner for Children fact sheets

EVERY Tuesday for the next five weeks Tasmania’s Commissioner for Children Aileen Ashford will release a fact sheet about Tasmanian children and young people.

Fact sheet 1 on Child Protection in Tasmania was released this week. You can find it here: http://www.childcomm.tas.gov.au/resources/

Those to follow are:

  • Out of Home Care
  • Youth Justice – Young People in Detention
  • Youth Justice in the community
  • The Early Years
  • Education

The CPSU sat down with Ms Ashford and spoke to her about these releases and what they say about vulnerable Tasmanian children and young people.

The fact sheets serve a number of roles including raising awareness about important issues affecting young Tasmanians.

“They’re to really get some attention to those areas in the community because often the only attention they get is when something goes wrong,” Ms Ashford said.

Releasing the information bit by bit means the facts from the Institute for Health and Child Welfare Institute data don’t get lost in a swathe of pages and numbers, and dot points mean reporters don’t have to wade through reports to find the facts.

The plan to attract media seems to be working as there’s been print media and ABC and commercial radio coverage since the first fact sheet was released.

The fact sheets are also about applying pressure to the State Government for resourcing.

Ms Ashford said a number of questions arise from the first set of data.

“One is that nearly 7,500 children were notified to Child Protection but only 1132 were substantiated after they were investigated. So the question is, where did the rest go?”

“What we hear anecdotally is that it’s because of the Gateway and Family Support that some families are going in there. But there’s no published data from Gateway and Family Support, which is something that the AIHW questioned in their last report.”

Like other states, the number of Tasmanian children in care is increasing but there’s been no increase in resources.

“There are very limited support options for kids, particularly for teenagers, because the main form of care we’ve got for most of the children in the state is foster care,” Ms Ashford said.

“So for teenagers, who are often very troubled or traumatised, the foster care placement might break down. So there’s nowhere else for them to go. There’s residential placement but there are only 32 beds in the whole state.”

Ms Ashford said there’d been no increase in resources for Child Protection in the five years she’s been in the state.

Data in the first Fact Sheet shows Police make the highest number (24.5%) of notifications, mainly due to Safe at Home where they report if there are children at a family violence incident.

“Those children might not be at risk at all, but still Child Protection has to respond to the notification. I don’t know if there’s any plan in place to review that component of Safe at Home. And maybe they should be referring to the Gateway if it’s not a notification, rather than to Child Protection.”

Another major concern from the data is that 42% of children covered by notifications were under five and 27% were 5-9-year olds.

These statistics really concern the Commissioner and she’s asked the department what its strategy is for these young children.

“At the moment you’ve got CHAPS , Child Health Nurses, but they’re pretty thinly stretched on the ground. You’ve got your unborn alerts, so you can notify that if a woman is pregnant that the child might be at risk – but Child Protection can’t intervene until after the child is born. But what are we doing about that mum who’s pregnant – what supports are we putting around her?

“In other states they have a high risk infant strategy but we don’t have that here. I think that’s a major issue.”

The Commissioner would also like to see Child Protection Staff offered more comprehensive training.

In Tasmania there’s some training that’s happening in the Department but Ms Ashford can’t find anything about it on its website. She said the induction training’s improved but there needs to be more training about working with traumatised kids.

“Bruce Perry came this year, he’s a psychiatrist from the States who’s really highly regarded for his work with traumatised children, and 480 people came to that one day seminar. That tells you there’s a real thirst for knowledge in Tasmania about trauma and how you work with kids who are traumatised. They have done some training in trauma and abuse but there needs to be a change in how Child Protection is viewed – it’s not just ticking boxes. I think that sometimes that the paperwork becomes the extraordinary task. You’ve got people trained as social workers, and when they come into Child Protection, they’re not really using the training they came in with.”

An interdisciplinary team approach, child Protection working with a CHAPS nurse, a Gateway Family Support Worker, Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol, is something else Ms Ashford wants to see.

 

What’s happened? The parliamentary inquiry was released in December last year and it took the government six months to respond.

“We still haven’t heard what they are doing. A lot of resources went into that, a lot of time, a lot of families talked to them. We have an issue – we have a very underfunded service.”

Another issue is no secure facility for  young people in the Youth Justice system, instead of going to Ashley on remand they can be bailed to a secure facility with no bail option

The new Youth Justice Act also doesn’t include deferred sentencing, which Ms Ashford said means there are no options for young people. There’s also no state funding to help these young people settle back into their community after Ashley and many end up there again and again because of a lack of support.

“I haven’t had any information given to me about the cabinet sub-committee that’s supposed to be enacting the recommendations of what they accepted of the inquiry. One of the issues is usually something bad will happen to a child, and then you’ll get some action. What do we have to do – wait for something to happen so money’s put into the system for things to change? Why are we waiting for that? That’s what happened with the 12-year-old girl, that’s why the inquiry was set up – now it’s all gone quiet. Well, we’re not doing anything.”

“Then when something happens to a young child, there’s the scapegoat blame process that happens.”

When asked what her message to Members in this area would be the Commissioner said:

“Sometimes they possibly think I’m sitting there having a go at them, but I’m not. What I’m saying is the government needs to take Child Protection seriously and it needs to resource it.”

“The Government has a responsibility – it is the guardian of those children in care, the parent. So it should really be the exemplary parent for those kids. At the moment we don’t have that because we don’t have the option for those kids.”

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