Queensland is less than half way through the ten year road map recommended by the Carmody Child Protection Commission of Inquiry for reforming the child protection system. With the Inquiry having been commissioned by the former LNP Government led by Campbell Newman and the roadmap to reform having been initiated by that government and then continued and built upon by the ALP Palaszczuk Government, much has been achieved but there is more to be completed.

The Carmody Inquiry identified the major causes of systemic failures in child protection as too little money spent on early intervention, a risk-averse culture that focuses too heavily on coercive rather than supportive strategies and overreacts to hostile media and community scrutiny, and a tendency for all parts of society to shift responsibility onto the child safety department.

The child protection system is one where the stakes are high and children’s lives are often dependent on no mistakes being made. Understandably, there is little tolerance or forgiveness shown by the media or general public if and when a mistake occurs and any mistake almost inevitably becomes potential fodder for political mudslinging. There is a challenge to be faced by either a returned ALP government or an incoming LNP government in maintaining a reform agenda that emphasises the importance of prevention and early intervention when the price of even a single error or lapse in judgement can lead to not only a tragic outcome for a child and family, but also the de-railing of a whole program of reforms when the system reverts back to its risk-averse state. How can a newly formed State Government – of any political persuasion – deal with this challenge?

PeakCare’s Wish List

Irrespective of the outcomes of the forthcoming election, the following is PeakCare’s non-exhaustive list of matters that a newly formed Government must attend to:

  1. Government must continue to build on the reform agenda set by the Carmody Inquiry by increasing its investment in family support and early intervention, and the renewal and expansion of its investment in community and neighbourhood centres as hubs for the delivery of timely case work, referrals and other supports to stop unnecessary escalation of children and families into the tertiary child protection system;
  2. Government must increase its allocations to the Education Support Funding Program to match the increased demand for access to this program arising out of a welcomed broadening of the eligibility criteria;
  3. Government must increase its investment in the development and implementation of specialised child protection, mental health, housing, education and other support services specifically targeted to, and suitable for, young people to divert them from unnecessary, damaging and prolonged involvement with the youth justice system;
  4. Government must maintain its commitment to the 20 year Our Way strategy, continue to be guided by the Family Matters campaign, respect the right held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to self-determination reflected in recently passed Child Protection Reform Amendments legislation and act on the Queensland Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into service delivery in remote and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;
  5. Government must increase its level of transparency by making more commissioned reports and reviews, allocations of grants, performance data and accreditation reports publicly available;
  6. Government must seek to place complex areas of human service delivery such as child protection ‘above politics’ and invite bi-partisanship in seeking the best solutions identified by research and an evidence-base;
  7. Relating to the above point, Government is challenged to trial an alternative to the current Estimates Debate process. The manner in which this process is currently conducted does not honour the intentions of the debate in promoting Government accountability and transparency, has degenerated into an embarrassing display of bad behaviour by politicians, cripples government departments for weeks leading into the debates as they frantically cobble together information that may be needed to defend themselves and their Minister, and quite simply has become a waste of taxpayer money. Government is challenged to partner with academics, peak bodies, representative and other industry groups to develop and trial an alternative process that, through the involvement of these other parties, is better placed to facilitate a genuine, impartial and democratic inquiry. Contemporary trends in relation to the development of citizen juries that are attracting the interest of some prominent current and former politicians from all sides of politics may provide some worthwhile clues about the design of an alternative process. There can be no better topic than child protection to be made the subject of this trial.

Let us know your views about PeakCare’s wish list or the items you have on your own list, by entering comments below or by emailing lwegener@peakcare.org.au.

Lindsay Wegener
Executive Director
PeakCare Queensland