Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Support for families and children, abuse and neglect of childrenSupport for families and children, abuse and neglect of children

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JENNY MACKLIN: We’re very pleased to be here. Jennifer Rankin, my State Ministerial colleague, my local Federal colleague, Nick Champion who represents this area with distinction. We’re very pleased to be here today to announce an additional $2.8 million for a program called Communities for Children Plus. The money is going to go to Anglicare South Australia and it’s all about doing everything we possibly can for non-government organisations to work in with Commonwealth services, the State services, and local government in the interests of children. Early intervention services, parenting support services, playgroups, the sort of play that we’ve seen here today. It’s all about doing everything we can to make sure that children grow up safe and well. We know that we do have far too many children in the child protection system who need to be removed from their families because of abuse or neglect. What we know too is that if you can intervene early you can sometimes prevent those children being removed from their families. So this is about getting in early, working with families, helping families, supporting children. But we also know that it’s critical to support the children if they have to leave their families.

JOURNALIST: So what will happen to them here? What’s the whole idea of the action plan?

JENNY MACKLIN: This is all about making sure that we’ve got all sorts of opportunities for families and children to get the support that they need. It will be entirely oriented to the needs of individual families and individual children. So the services could range right through the full spectrum, parenting support, learning how to be a new parent, making sure that children are involved in playgroups so that they learn how to play with other children. Making sure that parents do go and see their maternal and child health nurse, so whatever it is that the parent needs. The good thing is this will be about linking the local services together in the interests of parents.

JOURNALIST: And Minister why has this area been chosen?

JENNY MACKLIN: This is an area of high need. We know that there are many, many families in very considerable need. Many families where children are at risk so we do want to make sure that the services are working in the best interests of children. And they’ll do that if they link in well together. If the services are integrated, they know what each other is doing, they’re not climbing over each other. It’s all about working in the interests of children. There are a lot of children in need in this area.

JOURNALIST: And how do you see a centre like this reducing child abuse and child neglect?

JENNY MACKLIN: It’s all about early intervention. What we know is that if you get in early, the more you do, the earlier you do it for children, the more likely you are that you can prevent child abuse and neglect. We’re not going to be able to abolish it altogether. I wish we could. But we know that we can do better than we are and we can do that with improved services for children and improved services for families.

JOURNALIST: Just on that the Australian Institute Report you’d be aware of is out, and there’s been a substantial increase in the abuse and neglect rates. What do you have to say to that?

JENNY MACKLIN: In fact the worst statistic in the Report that’s just been released today is the very significant increase in the number of children in out of home care. So across Australia we’ve seen around a 9% increase in the number of children in out of home care, and over the last five years around a 44% increase in the number of children in out of home care. These are shocking figures. It demonstrates the urgent need for proper standards, national standards for out of home care because we have so many children now in out of home care. There are circumstances where children do have to be removed from their families because of abuse or neglect. Of course we want to prevent that wherever possible. But when they have to be removed we want to make sure that the standards of care that they get in foster care are as high as possible. For the first time we’ve agreed with the States and Territories and the Commonwealth that we will have national out of home care standards. No Government at the national level has ever done this before. The States and Territories have done their own, but now we have a national Government working with the States and Territories to develop national out of home care standards. So no matter where you live, every child should have access to very similar standards of care.

JOURNALIST: Are you surprised that these figures have risen so sharply?

JENNY MACKLIN: I certainly think they’re shocking. They are terrible figures and they do indicate I think, and from the advice that I’ve received from others, very serious levels of alcohol abuse, substance abuse, by parents. We do have serious problems in our community with alcohol and substance abuse and plainly we have a huge job to do in controlling the abuse of alcohol and addressing the results of that alcohol abuse.

JOURNALIST: The figures are also very much over-represented in Indigenous populations. Do you know the figures there and what’s the Government doing to try and fix it?

JENNY MACKLIN: We certainly are very aware of the over-representation of Indigenous children in the child protection statistics and also far too many Indigenous children, many, many more Indigenous children, being removed from their families than non-Indigenous children. We know that that means we’ve got to have specific projects in remote, urban and regional parts of Australia to address the needs of Indigenous families and Indigenous children. We’re putting very substantial increases in funding into family support services for Indigenous families, new playgroups for Indigenous children, a very substantial increase in funding for the Northern Territory. So the Commonwealth is doing its part alongside the States and Territories.

JOURNALIST: You’ve been a Minister in this area for a couple of years now. Do you feel that you’re doing enough, that you’re working hard enough on this issue in light of this Report?

JENNY MACKLIN: There’s an enormous amount to do and of course an enormous amount more to do. I think every time you see any child removed into care you recognise that it’s a very, very difficult situation, a terrible situation for that child and for that family. And of course, as a parent it’s very hard to deal with but we all have responsibilities as Ministers to do everything we possibly can. This is the first Government that’s decided at the national level to have a national child protection framework. I’m very pleased that we’ve taken this step but we do have a lot more to do.

JOURNALIST: Should the Federal Government have more powers when it comes to State based issues in light of this?

JENNY MACKLIN: I don’t think it’s a matter of that. I think it’s a matter of working in a cooperative way with the States and Territories. It was a National Child Protection Framework that was agreed at the Council of Australian Governments by the Prime Minister and the Premiers and Chief Ministers together, all recognising that together we need to do better by the children in our country.