Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Launch of ARACY Report – Inverting the Pyramid: Enhancing Systems for Protecting Children

Location: Melbourne

*** Check Against Delivery ***

First, I would like to acknowledge the elders past and present of the Kulin Nations on whose lands we meet. Thank you for asking me to launch the ARACY Report: Inverting the Pyramid: Enhancing Systems for Protecting Children. Thank you too Fiona for articulating so clearly and effectively the great joint responsibility we have to bring about change and reform to protect Australian children.

You need only consider the 55,000 substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in Australia each year to know we are failing those who we have the greatest responsibility to protect. With substantiation rates doubling over the past decade, what we face is a serious problem. As Fiona says, to turn this around we must turn the system on its head.

This is what drives our commitment to develop the National Child Protection Framework – to take a coordinated, national approach that harnesses the resources, experience and energy of all levels of government and the non-government sector. Instead of waiting until abuse or neglect happens; instead of allowing families to reach crisis point – we must intervene early to prevent children being harmed in the first place. We must step up our early intervention and prevention efforts to break the cycle of abuse. Our systems must be integrated and coordinated – health, education, homelessness, mental health, domestic violence, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, family support – working together to identify children at risk to prevent abuse before it happens and stop children falling in the gaps. And when children do suffer neglect and abuse we must have care and protection systems that help them recover, through access to quality stable care, as well as health, education and social services.

What is needed is a shared agenda for change, with national leadership and a common goal – and that is what is driving the development of our National Framework for Protecting Children. The National Framework is the practical – and unprecedented – acknowledgement that the safety and wellbeing of our children is truly a national responsibility.

And I’m happy to be able to tell you that the National Framework – titled Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business – is on the agenda for Thursday’s COAG meeting. Central to the role of the National Framework is building a more integrated approach through improved collaboration across governments, non-government organisations, and all sectors involved with child and family welfare and protection. And central to its task will be addressing the system failures so clearly identified in the ARACY report.


  • The need for existing systems and processes to identify children at risk and provide the early intervention that can stop abuse and neglect before it happens; and
  • The persistent challenge of building a culture of shared responsibility for the protection of children – across all services, sectors and professional groups working with children and families.

To develop this culture of shared responsibility I can announce today another important step – Australian Government funding of $577,000 over the next 18 months to convene, in partnership with ARACY, a high level Taskforce. This Taskforce will advise us on developing a national, cross-sector approach to identifying and responding to children at risk. The Common Approach to Assessment Referral and Support Taskforce, or CAARS, will bring together practitioners from a number of fields engaged in secondary prevention including mental health, drug and alcohol, family support and homelessness, as well as experts in child welfare and child protection. Today I’m delighted to tell you that the organisations represented on the Taskforce include: Homelessness Australia, the Brain and Mind Institute, Lifeline, the Australian Association of Social Workers, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council, the Australian General Practice Network the Australian Guidance & Counselling Association, the Australian Medical Association and a number of key child protection and welfare bodies.

Of course, the Commonwealth and States and Territories will also have a critical role on the taskforce. To identify children at risk, the Taskforce will:

  • develop options for a uniform approach to assessment and referral processes. This will include consideration of a common assessment tool – a measure which has been adopted by many other countries; and
  • advise on mechanisms for better sharing of information between services so that when a vulnerable family walks in the door of one service, practitioners can assess their needs holistically and make sure they are connected to all the support they need.

Most importantly, the Taskforce will also drive cultural change by using its influence and networks to champion the need for a shift from ‘protection’ to ‘prevention’. I thank the Taskforce members who are here today for taking up the challenge as well as ARACY for using its strong networks to pull the taskforce together. And I look forward to working with CAARS in the near future. I can also announce today that the Australian Government is providing an additional $1.3 million in immediate funding to key non-government organisations for projects aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect as well as supporting those who have experienced abuse. This includes $175,000 to NAPCAN for a national survey to gauge community attitudes to protection children and $270,000 to Child Wise for a multi-media child abuse, prevention campaign. It’s great to have my colleague Michael Danby here today to make this announcement with me. Michael has and continues to be a strong supporter and advocate of Child Wise in this community. Other organisations receiving funding include Bravehearts, the Secretariat of National Indigenous and Islander Child Care, the Australian Childhood Foundation, Adults Surviving Child Abuse, Good Beginnings and Heartfelt House.

The announcements I’ve made today underline the Government’s commitment to strengthening and coordinating existing programs and services so we can identify children at risk and intervene to act early, rather than waiting to deal with the inevitable tragedy. They also recognise the important contribution made by the ARACY report – the critical need for a coordinated, integrated approach across all sectors so we can start ‘inverting the pyramid.’ It’s great to be here today to launch the report. Congratulations to all involved and thank you for your outstanding commitment to Australian children and their well being.