Media Release by Senator the Hon Zed Seselja

Community Services Ministers’ Meeting Communique

Community Services Ministers met in Darwin today and unanimously agreed more needs to be done at all levels of government to improve the safety and wellbeing of children and young people.

Ministers agreed to boost efforts in two key areas: providing stability for children in child protection and ensuring the right services are available to prevent children entering child protection.

Permanency reform for children and young people

Ministers expressed concern about the significant growth of children entering the care system and the length of time children spend in temporary care and affirmed their commitment to provide these children with more stable and permanent care as soon as possible.

Ministers committed to reduce state guardianship of children in out of home care by securing permanency outcomes, including adoption, for children who cannot be safely reunified with their families within a reasonable time to ensure abused and neglected children are not denied the right to grow up in a family that is permanent, stable and safe.

To deliver on this commitment, Ministers agreed to take definitive action to secure timeframes for permanent care decisions for children at all levels including child protection legislation and/or policy and practice, and national public reporting on permanency timeframes that are achieved. Ministers unanimously agreed to adopt Guiding Principles for Best Practice in achieving permanency to guide these actions and ensure children’s best interests are protected. Ministers also agreed to a shared Outcomes Statement for all governments to achieve timely and more consistent permanency decisions for children and young people.

Ministers affirmed their commitment to ensure permanency planning commences as soon as children come into contact with child protection services (concurrent planning) to avoid any delays in cases where children cannot be successfully reunited with family.

Ministers agreed to invest in the recruitment, training and support of more permanent carers, including kinship carers, and to work together to achieve a consistent national process for reunification of children with their families where it is safe to do so.

Ministers agreed to uphold all five domains of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle to recognise the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be raised in their own culture and the importance and value of their family, extended family, kinship networks, culture and community.

Given the importance of ensuring stability and permanency for children, Ministers agreed to measure their progress through a national data and evaluation framework.

Ministers also agreed to support the roles and responsibilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations to ensure culturally appropriate placements and supports for Indigenous children and their families.

Commonwealth and state and territory officials will develop a National Work Plan to give effect to Ministers’ decisions on permanency reform and report to Ministers on progress.

Improving early intervention investment for children and families

All Ministers confirmed their goal of improving outcomes for vulnerable Australian children and families, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, through joint investment in services.

Ministers agreed to Joint Investment and Evaluation to identify required services, target governments’ investment and monitor and report on results.

Future investment will support targeted intensive family support services as well as infrastructure to support planning, service coordination, data sharing and engagement with local communities in up to ten locations across Australia.

To guide these actions, Ministers agreed to a Statement of Intent and a set of Prevention and Early Intervention Investment Principles to reduce the number of children entering out of home care. These acknowledge the social and economic costs of traumatic and unsafe childhoods and the need for a greater focus on prevention and early intervention.

Ministers acknowledged the efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations and stakeholders in coming together as part of the Redfern Statement Alliance to advocate for improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Ministers asked Commonwealth and state and territory officials to consider options to implement the priorities identified by the Redfern Statement Alliance for child development and safety and wellbeing, to work in partnership with Indigenous stakeholders in progressing these reforms and report back to Ministers on tangible actions.

Related national reforms

Ministers noted progress on actions under the Third Action Plan of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. Ministers discussed the forward reform agenda and agreed to sustained effort to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children entering out of home care. Ministers asked officials to focus and prioritise reform effort that has a significantly positive impact on Australian children and families. Ministers agreed that it was important to progress data sharing with the Commonwealth.

Ministers agreed that they would hold their next meeting in February 2018.