A key group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders are playing a central role in guiding, monitoring and reviewing progress under the Third Action Plan of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 (National Framework). The National Forum for Protecting Australia’s Children was held last week in Melbourne, bringing together representatives from the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments, the non-government sector, key researchers and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled sector through the participation of SNAICC – National Voice for our Children.
The National Framework, endorsed by COAG in 2009, is a twelve-year collaboration between governments, the non-government sector and key researchers that is aimed at ensuring Australian children and young people are safe and well. In the third stage of the National Framework’s implementation (2015-2018), the Third Action Plan sets out an ambitious agenda for addressing the over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.
The Third Action Plan includes a commitment from all state and territory governments for full implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (the Principle). The Third Action Plan recognises that full implementation of the Principle covers a much broader and holistic scope than placement, identifying the five elements of prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection.
To support this work, the Third Action Plan has established an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Working Group (Working Group) to guide and monitor this commitment. The Working Group has been meeting regularly to guide and review progress to incorporate a holistic understanding of the Principle throughout each action under the Third Action Plan.
The Working Group has welcomed the commitment and goodwill of all partners and collaborators under the Third Action Plan, but has noted key gaps to date in the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in the design and development phases of initiatives under the plan and has called for a stronger inclusion of cultural knowledge and leadership.
A key focus of the Working Group to date has been the development of a baseline analysis of compliance with the Principle in each jurisdiction. The Working Group has identified the lack of clear data on governments’ compliance with the Principle as one of the key obstacles to monitoring and guiding a sector wide change in child protection practice under the Third Action Plan. Many jurisdictions do not have publicly available policies on the implementation of the Principle, and clear and detailed data on how policy commitments are translated into practice remain even rarer. This baseline analysis will enable the Working Group to effectively support and monitor progress of states and territories against their commitments under the Third Action Plan.
The only comprehensive and accessible data source available in the country is the recently tabled reports from the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos, (Always was, always will be Koori children: a systemic inquiry into services provided to Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care in Victoria and In the child’s best interests – inquiry into compliance with the intent of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle in Victoria) which interrogated the Victorian government’s compliance with the Principle. The Working Group noted that the presence of a specific Commissioner for Aboriginal children in Victoria was playing a significant role in driving a shift in practice to provide more effective and targeted supports for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. As of March 2017 Andrew Jackomos has been invited to join the National Forum to share his knowledge and expertise.
At the National Forum last week two key recommendations by the Working Group were considered and actioned:
- The development of an agreed set of indicators on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child safety and wellbeing to address the priority data gaps about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s experiences of the child protection system that were identified in the Family Matters Report. This work will commence in mid-2017 through a workshop in Canberra between the Working Group, the National Children’s Commissioner, Children’s Commissioners in each state and territory and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
- Consideration of a full proposal on a culturally safe intensive family support and reunification program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families by the Commonwealth.
The Working Group has also encouraged ongoing discussion by the National Forum on how it can support the following matters:
- Increased investment in early intervention to ensure that:
- COAG target to eliminate over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, ensuring all children grow up safe and cared for within family and culture.
- a minimum of 30 per cent of all child protection funding is channelled into prevention and early intervention; and
- a new federal program for effective and culturally safe intensive family support and reunification programs
- Prioritising investment in family and community participation through:
- State-wide Aboriginal family led decision-making programs
- A federal program to trial local community strategies to redress local risks for children and mediate child protection intervention.
- Prioritisation of community controlled services
The Working Group has identified that there was still a long way to go for the National Framework to adequately capture and recognise cultural ways of strengthening families and children, but the goodwill and commitment of the National Forum has already shown a shift and movement in policy thinking and practice. The Working Group will be continuing to play an active role in guiding the Third Action Plan to engage in strengths based approaches to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that values and recognises the protective role of culture for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our children.