Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Helping protect Australia’s children from abuse and neglect

Boosting and retaining high-quality foster carers is one of a range of measures canvassed in a discussion paper released today by the Australian Government aimed at helping protect children from abuse and neglect.

The ‘Australia’s children: safe and well’ discussion paper outlines options to address the substantial increase in the number of child protection substantiations.

The number of occasions where authorities found that a child either was or was likely to be harmed, abused or neglected increased by 45 per cent from 40,416 in 2002-03 to 58,563 in 2006-07.

State and Territory child protection systems are dealing with an unprecedented number of reports of child neglect or abuse.

These trends are deeply alarming. We must harness every resource we can to better protect vulnerable children from abuse and neglect.

The Government is committed to providing national leadership to protect Australia’s children. A National Child Protection Framework is key to the Government’s child-centred approach to family policy. Central to the Framework’s approach will be a stronger focus on prevention.

The Australian Government wants to work closely with the States and Territories to improve the way agencies, payments, and programs interact with each other to help prevent abuse and better protect children identified at risk.

The paper discusses a range of child protection issues including:

  • A stronger prevention focus
  • Better collaboration between services
  • Improving responses for children in care and young people leaving care
  • Improving responses to Indigenous children
  • Attracting and retaining the right workforce
  • Improving child protection systems

Under the Framework, the Australia Government will give State and Territory child welfare authorities the power to advise Centrelink to quarantine government payments to ensure children are provided for.

Practical measures such as income management ensure that welfare payments are spent in the best interests of children.

The paper considers how to better use existing resources, such as child care, to provide more support for children at-risk and respite for parents under stress.

Another option canvassed in the paper is rigorous performance monitoring and accountability of the current systems.

Definitions, standards and practices seem to differ across the country. We must do better to make sure the best practices are being used in all jurisdictions.

Supporting and training skilled and dedicated workers in child protection is another measure outlined in the discussion paper.

The best child protection system in the world won’t be effective without highly skilled and dedicated workers, and this may be an area where a national strategy could help significantly.

The Government has committed $2.64 million towards the development of the Framework.

Australia’s children: safe and well is available on the FaHCSIA website or by calling 1800 050 009. Feedback is sought by 30 June 2008.