Speech by The Hon Julie Collins MP

Speech delivered at the Child Aware Conference

Location: Melbourne

Thank you Prue.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge the many distinguished guests, presenters and keynote speakers with us for the conference.

We are all here because we share a commitment to children.

Because we believe that all children should be able to grow up safe, healthy and happy.

Because we believe that all children should have the best start in life.

And because we believe that, when children are vulnerable, it is the responsibility of everyone to protect and safeguard them.

That’s why I am thrilled to announce today that the Gillard Government is committing $1.3 million to fund projects under our Second Action Plan 2012-15 (Second Action Plan) of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 (the Framework).

This builds on the Commonwealth’s $63 million investment for the first three-year action plan and our $5.7 million commitment to Child Aware Approaches grants.

Our Second Action Plan aims to improve the safety and wellbeing of children by strengthening families.

This includes work to join up service delivery in mental health, domestic and family violence, drug and alcohol, education, health and other services.

The Second Action Plan emphasises the importance of developing local partnerships for local solutions.

Recognising that a one-size fits all approach does not work across Australia’s diverse communities.

Recognising for example that Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families and communities need strategies that are sensitive to their own needs and circumstances.

As part of the $1.3 million – $810,000 over the next four years will help embed and promote Child Aware Approaches.

We know the statistics on Indigenous child protection but there are some positive programs working. But where do we hear about those wonderful programs and the people from organisations like yours who are running them.

You have great ideas and are working with communities to strengthen them so that children can remain and be supported in their own communities.

Funding of $300,000 over four years will be provided to ensure we can share these stories. To make sure we can learn from these initiatives, I have agreed to provide funding of $150,000 this financial year to the Australian Institute of Family Studies to commence work building on the Indigenous Promising Practices initiative which shares promising approaches in a small way to build a much more comprehensive platform where more information can be shared.

This platform will include web seminars. I hope that workers from around Australian can come together via the web and share their ideas, talk about what works and create strong networks.

This is a really practical step towards building a better understanding of what works well across Indigenous child aware approaches.

Some funding will also go to progressing engagement with Indigenous community leaders to build support for protecting children and young people.

We also know that we need to progress conversations with leaders of new arrivals to Australia providing them with information about the child and family supports offered here and support the wellbeing of children within our communities.

$30,000 of the funding will progress each of these engagement processes.

I want to build on the amazing response to the child aware approaches grants program – and seeing you all here makes me even more sure that it is was the right thing to do.

That’s why I will provide $50,000 to fund a Good Practice Guide to Child Aware Approaches.

This guide will showcase the great work presented at this conference and will include a set of child aware principles so that we can have a lasting impact on child and family sensitive practice.

I have asked the Australian Institute of Families Studies to work with Families Australia on this Guide.

Funding of $400,000 over three years will also be invested in building Child Aware Local Communities. Communities will be supported to set up practical plans of action tailored to their own local needs to promote awareness and act on issues that affect children. I will provide funding of $100,000 this financial year to the Australian Centre of Child Protection to commence work on this important initiative.

Over the four years, twenty local communities will benefit from this support and they will be assisted to establish local, practical plans of action to promote awareness of, and to act on, children’s issues.

This is an important initiative and builds on the response from many of you about the impact of the child aware approaches grants on local communities.

And as some of you will be aware we have provided NAPCAN with $300,000 to deliver National Child Protection Week both this year and next, and to expand its successful Play Your Part campaign.

These initiatives are among a raft of programs and activities we are funding to progress the Second Action Plan of the National Framework.

They are all based on the crucial need to put the safety of children at the centre of everything we do.

And on making our communities aware that the safety of children is everyone’s responsibility.

The Framework itself is built on the premise that if we provide the right supports and services early to vulnerable families at least some child abuse and neglect can be prevented.

The Framework harnesses an unprecedented level of cooperation and commitment between all levels of government and non-government organisations.

The Framework is being implemented through a series of three year action plans.

The First Action plan led to a number of significant achievements. One of these achievements has been the development of National Standards for Out-of-Home Care.

The AIHW report shows that nearly 40,000 children were in out-of-home care in Australia at the end of last June.

The national standards are aimed at ensuring that these children and young people have a safe, secure environment and enjoy the same opportunities as other children to reach their full potential.

The standards are also aimed at reducing the disruption to children’s lives caused by moving from one home to another.

As we all know, this kind of instability can be very harmful to a child’s long term development and wellbeing.

Another very important achievement arising from the First Action Plan is the appointment of Australia’s first ever National Children’s Commissioner.

The Children’s Commissioner will have a clear focus on vulnerable or at-risk groups of children such as children with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, homeless children or those who are witnessing or subjected to violence.

The Prime Minister announced in February that Megan Mitchell would take on this role.

I know you are all looking forward to hearing Megan when she delivers the annual Families Australia Oration this afternoon.

The recognition of the need to make communities aware that the safety of children is everyone’s responsibility also drives our Family Support programs.

I know that you would like an update on where we are with the Family Support Program.

I launched a discussion paper on the future directions of the program last October.

We have had 110 written submissions and face to face consultations across the country.

The department is currently compiling the comments and suggestions and I am looking forward to considering them shortly.

We will also be posting summaries of the submissions and consultations on the FaHCSIA website and circulating them through the Family Support Program newsletter.

I think they will provide us some great opportunities to strengthen the design and delivery of the Family Support Program, especially for vulnerable families.

In the Northern Territory and in the APY Lands in remote South Australia, we have introduced Intensive Family Support Services.

The Stronger Futures program in the Northern Territory involves a $443 million investment to strengthen the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children and their families.

Intensive Family Support Services works with the most vulnerable and at-risk children and works with parents and caregivers in their homes and communities.

The program helps develop the skills, and access the supports families need to increase the safety, health and wellbeing of their children.

Along with the National Framework and Stronger Futures, we have a number of other key national reform agendas relevant to conference discussions.

These include National Mental Health Reform.

Late last year, the Government released a Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform and The National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

These represent significant developments in improving our response to mental illness.

They take a whole of life-span and social determinants of health approach to mental health and wellbeing.

As part of the Government’s reform package for mental health, Family Mental Health Support Services are being expanded with an additional investment of $61 million over five years.

This is to provide early intervention and prevention services to assist families, carers, children and young people affected by mental illness or at risk of developing mental illness.

The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children is another major reform.

This is a 12-year initiative of the Council of Australian Governments.

Importantly, the National Plan recognises that there is a relationship between domestic and family violence and child wellbeing.

It recognises that for children the trauma of witnessing domestic and family violence can be overwhelming.

I am passionate about the work the Australian Government is doing with state and territory governments and non-government organisations to improve the lives of women and children through the National Plan.

My colleagues in Government share this commitment.

This is why we have put $86 million into initiatives under the National Plan since 2009.

We have committed to reducing the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault and to reducing the proportion of children exposed to their mother’s or carer’s experience of domestic violence.

There are many initiatives taking place under the National Plan, and I’d like mention a couple briefly.

Last November, in conjunction with NSW Minister for Women Pru Goward, I announced funding of $3 million a year for a new National Centre of Excellence, to be based in Sydney and opening this year.

And in February, I announced that Emeritus Professor Anne Edwards, former Vice-Chancellor of Flinders University will be the first Chair of this Centre.

One of the first tasks for the Centre is to develop a national research agenda for domestic and family violence and sexual assault.

This will help to grow the evidence base around violence against women and their children, particularly in the areas of primary prevention and service provision.

Many of you of course would be aware that the Gillard Government announced a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

The Government formally established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in January.

It will inquire into how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

It will also investigate where systems have failed to protect children, and make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices to prevent and better respond to child sexual abuse in institutions.

We all know this will be a very difficult process for so many involved and we will also be providing support throughout the Royal Commission.

Responding to sexual abuse is another key national priority under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.

The National Framework, the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, National Mental Health Reform and Stronger Futures all recognise the need to respond to the specific needs of children and young people.

The Child Aware Approaches initiative draws together efforts under these key national reforms.

Conferences like this, and the topics you are addressing, also demonstrate that as a society we have developed a deeper understanding of risk factors for child abuse and neglect such as domestic and family violence, mental illness, and drug and alcohol abuse.

And that we are willing to confront them.

This conference is an opportunity to further advance our thinking on these issues.

As you discuss and explore new ways of protecting Australia’s children, you will help us chart our way in four critical areas:

  • Promoting child and family wellbeing and safety;
  • Responding to risk factors such as family violence, mental illness and substance abuse;
  • Integrating service delivery to families and children, including place-based solutions; and
  • Importantly, spreading the word that child awareness is everyone’s business.

I approved funding of $200,000 for Families Australia to host the conference in recognition of the importance of bringing outstanding people in the field together to share their knowledge and experience of all these issues.

The Australian Government will build on the success and momentum of this conference by continuing to work closely with governments and the non-government sector to:

  • keep child safety and wellbeing at the centre of public discussion;
  • ’embed’ child awareness by placing the best interests of children and their families at the centre of all we do; and
  • improve understanding of the relationship between risk factors for child abuse and neglect.

Because keeping children safe is a universal obligation and responsibility.

To be safe and protected is the most basic of human rights.

Conferences like this are an opportunity to spread that message far and wide.

It’s my pleasure to formally open your conference today and I wish you all the best with your deliberations.