Three reports of interest were released last week: the Australian Government’s and the Queensland Government’s responses to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission), and the ‘Independent review of out of home care in NSW: Final report’, the Tune Report. Government responses to the Royal Commission’s reports were expected and assert that responses to ‘accepted’ recommendations are underway. Having reluctantly and belatedly released a specially commissioned report, the NSW government is asserting they are “implementing the recommendations of the Tune report, either as framed or by other means”, to cover off responses different to those that Tune argued would allow the system to independently, transparently and flexibly target cross-agency funds to the children and families who need personalised support packages.

In relation to the recommendations from the Royal Commission, the final report included 409 recommendations: 220 recommendations from previous reports – Working with Children Checks, Redress and Civil Litigation, and Criminal Justice – and 189 new recommendations. Of the 409 recommendations, 84 deal with redress matters that are being addressed through a National Redress Scheme scheduled to commence on 1 July 2018. Of the remaining 325 recommendations, 122 were directed wholly or in part to the Australian Government, which has accepted or accepted-in-principle 104 recommendations, with the other 18 noted or requiring further consideration. Commonwealth measures include a National Office for Child Safety, National Redress Scheme, National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, Commonwealth Child Safe Framework, Australian Government support for a database to share working with children checks outcomes, Guiding Principles for Commonwealth entities when responding to civil claims concerning allegations of child sexual abuse, and a National Apology to be delivered on 22 October 2018. Key themes for national consistency or coordination across all governments are supporting child safe organisations; improving information sharing, record keeping and data collection; addressing the complex issue of children with harmful sexual behaviours; and annually and publicly reporting on progress. A Taskforce of government agency members will oversee implementation. As recommended by the Royal Commission, the Government will report on its progress in implementing recommendations in December each year for the next five years. A comprehensive review will be conducted after 10 years. A stand-alone webpage will be established by December 2018 for reporting on progress towards implementing recommendations. Click here to read the Commonwealth Government’s response.

In contrast, the Queensland Government’s response to the Royal Commission incorporates feedback from Ministerial-led roundtable meetings with non-government organisations, people who experienced child sexual abuse, and others. Of the 409 recommendations, 88 have been accepted, 156 accepted in-principle, 89 require further consideration, and 76 have been noted. Queensland’s participation in the national redress scheme had already been announced (and legislation is currently before Parliament), as had a Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Taskforce to assist the government implement the recommendations and support government efforts in making the recommended attitudinal and cultural change. The Taskforce will comprise of people who experienced institutional abuse, religious institutions, out of home care providers, and service providers that support people who have experienced child sexual abuse. The government’s response referred to continued implementation of responses to inquiry reports (eg. QFCC reviews of the foster care and blue card systems, Independent Review of Youth Detention in Queensland) and intersecting actions and strategies around, for example, trauma-informed therapeutic residential care (eg. the Hope and Healing framework), youth justice, domestic and family violence, the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families in the child protection system, and the Partners in Care project.

Highlights include references to a comprehensive review of regulation of care including carer approvals, licensing of care services, and interviews with children to inform annual reviews of carers (recs 12.6 and 12.7) in the next stage of the review of the Child Protection Act 1999; specific content in training of all carers and workers with children in out of home care (recs 12.11 and 12.13); and placement matching using a strong therapeutic lens (rec 12.16). A priority for Working with Children Checks (WWCCs) is legislative change to make it an offence for an employer to engage someone in child-related work if they don’t already hold a WWCC, i.e., No card, No start. A Reportable Conduct Scheme will be established to embed a process for reporting allegations of harm and set out how complaints and allegations are managed.

The Tune Report made the observation that, like previous reports about the NSW child protection system (and reviews in other jurisdictions), significant systemic change is needed. Four findings were made in the Cabinet-in-confidence report: the system is not client-centred, the system does not deliver outcomes for children and families with complex needs, the child protection agency holds accountability but has little influence over the drivers or levers for change (i.e. addressing poverty and disadvantage), and expenditure is crisis driven (i.e. under-investment in family preservation and reunification) and not aligned to the evidence. Tune recommended personalised support packages, specified an approach to investment and commissioning, establishment of a statutory NSW Family Investment Commission to enable cross-agency funding across portfolios, re-working of Keep Them Safe (the reform strategy coming out of an earlier inquiry), and review of placement and support allowances to carers where Commonwealth financial support is available or in the absence of an order. The report argues that the cost of OOHC has increased following the transfer of service delivery from government to non-government agencies, and that government expenditure on ‘vulnerable children and families’ is difficult to disentangle and spread across at least 61 programs spread across the service continuum. When asserting the lack of alignment of interventions and the evidence base, the absence of evaluations and lack of outcomes information are stressed. The NSW government’s website about their reform strategy – Their Futures Matter – is described as both a whole of government reform and a cross-government agency implementation unit. The site includes a report about the new approach based on the Tune Report. Click here to read the actual Tune Report. Click here to read ACWA’s media release issued after the report was released. It comments on the difficulty of working collaboratively with government ‘if we are unable to see the blueprint they are working from’ and the report’s imprimatur for adopting a public health approach.