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Anglicare supports national calls for greater involvement by the Federal Government in child protection

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on Sat, 03/10/2012 - 04:23

Anglicare supports national calls for greater involvement by the Federal Government in child protection

Anglicare Victoria has called on Federal and State Governments to work collaboratively with welfare agencies to improve child safety and the nurture and care of all Australian children after a recent report revealed child abuse and neglect cases have more than doubled in the past ten years.

?The Victorian government, in partnership with community agencies and local government, is tackling the issue in a creative and effective way with additional resources, staff training and changes to legislation to reflect the best interests of the child,? said Anglicare Victoria CEO, Dr Ray Cleary.

?The increased emphasis on early childhood development and the recognition of the importance of secure and safe care are vital if we are to stem the growing tide of neglect.

"The changing structures of families, pressures in the work place, financial insecurity and mental illness alongside the high incidence of marriage and relationship breakdowns including cultural and identity issues is leading to a growing number of families and individuals who struggle to care and nurture their children,? he said.

?Problems such as drug and alcohol abuse or domestic violence need to be recognised early and acted upon immediately to help families get back on track and to keep children safe.

?The Victorian government?s early intervention initiatives, Best Start and ChildFIRST, are a good start but they must to be supported with further resources to ensure they extend beyond good intentions and deliver real protection and family strengthening. Identification of neglect and abuse is one thing, backing it up with specialist services is another.?

Dr Cleary also suggests that the staggering rise in the number of children removed from their homes has other implications.

?These children are in need of long term care and quality support,? he said. ?Currently, it is foster care programs and our dedicated volunteer foster care families who pick up the care and nurture role when a child is removed from their biological parents.

?But foster care parents are becoming harder to find as the modern economy demands dual income households and children entering the foster care system require a higher level of care.?

Anglicare Victoria is calling on the Federal Labor Government to take a lead on the issue and work together with State Governments and welfare agencies to introduce greater early intervention programs to significantly reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect throughout Australia.


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Children's Court process needs reform

Anglicare Victoria has made a submission to the State Government recommending changes to Children's Court processes to respond to family's needs faster, improve outcomes for children, reduce cost and minimise the adversarial nature of the current system.

The recommendations were made in a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission's Review of Child Protection Legislative Arrangements.

Anglicare Victoria CEO Dr Ray Cleary said the introduction of an alternative dispute resolution process could help assist children and families faster than the current system and achieve better outcomes for all involved.

"Any situation involving sexual abuse or violence should still be referred through the courts but the vast majority of cases would benefit from a more collaborative approach where services are brought in to assist families to overcome less serious issues," said Dr Cleary.

Anglicare Victoria believe the current system makes it difficult for Child Protection to effectively intervene on behalf of children suffering low impact but high frequency abuse or neglect.

"The only legislative action available to a protective intervener once a child has been identified as needing 'protection from harm' is an application to the Children's Court," said Dr Cleary.

"This requires proof that the child is indeed in need or 'protection from harm' and therefore sets in motion an adversarial and often unhelpful battle between parents and protective workers.

"There is room for a new level of response to be introduced in appropriate circumstances which would see community services become involved with a family where a child is deemed 'in need of assistance' rather than in need of 'protection from harm'.

"Where parents continue to fail to engage with services or meet their requirement, only then would the case be referred to the Child Protection program."

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National child protection framework urgently needed: Anglicare Victoria

Anglicare Victoria has commended the Federal Government for its commitment to develop a national framework for child protection but has stressed the need for stronger prevention strategies, better collaboration between services, improved support for children in state care, improved responses for indigenous children and more rigorous child protection data collection systems.

The comments come in response to the Federal Government discussion paper, Australia?s children: safe and well.

Anglicare Victoria CEO, Dr Ray Cleary, said there are two main areas the new framework must focus on; keeping children safe from abuse or neglect and better care for children entering and exiting state care.

?Prevention of abuse and neglect is paramount,? said Dr Cleary. ?Our experience as one of the State?s largest child and family welfare providers tells us that universal services such as maternal child and health nurses, long-day care and family support services are critical in keeping children safe, happy and healthy in the family home.

?In addition, specialist services, such as intense family support targeting the most vulnerable families and children are essential.?

Dr Cleary said child abuse and neglect are often linked to other major social issues such as mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, financial hardship, unemployment and housing difficulties.

?Since services treating these issues do not have a child protection focus, it is important that governments encourage improved collaboration between agencies and departments to treat the core issues while keeping children safe,? said Dr Cleary.

Dr Cleary also called on a review of the out-of-home care system including foster care, kinship care and residential care to better support children under protection and young people moving to independent living.

?We urgently need more and better resourced foster carers and we need to support these children, many of whom have little or no natural family to rely on, as they establish themselves independently,? said Dr Cleary. ?These young people receive little support once they turn 18 but our experience shows they need consistent and trusted support into their mid 20s.?

The full submission from Anglicare Victoria is available upon request.

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Protecting children more complicated than mandatory reporting

Increasing child protection notifications through an expansion of mandatory reporting is no gold coin to child safety, Anglicare Victoria said today.

Anglicare Victoria CEO Dr Ray Cleary said that while more could be done to enhance the reporting system, the real focus should be on better training for child protection staff and improving outcomes for vulnerable children in out-of-home care.

"The current system of reporting could be fine-tuned but there is more to be gained through improved resources for child protection staff and access to a range of high quality out-of-home care options," said Dr Cleary.

"Receiving a notification of abuse or neglect is just one step in a long process to protect children.

"Once a notification has been received, staff need to be available to effectively investigate the claim and trained to make the right decision.

"If a child is removed from the family they need to then be placed in a nurturing foster family or in a residential unit and supported through a very difficult time."

Over the past three years there has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of children who need care but a steady decline in the families available to care for them. In 2006/07 there was a net loss of 400 foster cares.

"Without clear pathways to quality care, we risk creating a logjam as child protection staff assess increasing numbers of notifications but lack appropriate alternatives to care for the children.

"It's an issue that needs the commitment of the whole community to overcome.

There is the need for more financial assistance but this alone will not prevent children from abuse and neglect. All families must accept responsibly for the nurture, care and well being of children and not shift responsibility to the child protection system alone.

"Child protection systems alone cannot ensure safety. We, the community, must also play our part in ensuring our children are protected within our families."

Dr Cleary said calls for a Judicial Inquiry into Victoria's child protection system were premature and could divert crucial funding.

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Recommendations to overhaul the system and offer the right kind of support for the state's most vulnerable children Victoria Australia. Ombudsman's report stops short of recommending fundamental shift.

The Ombudsman's report into out-of-home care in Victoria does not go far enough in its recommendations to overhaul the system and offer the right kind of support for the state's most vulnerable children, Anglicare Victoria said today.

Anglicare Victoria CEO Dr Ray Cleary said the recommendations were useful but stopped short of driving the fundamental shift needed to attract more foster careers and give children who have suffered significant trauma the support they need to grow and thrive.

"As the report highlights, the recruitment, preparation and support of carers is critical to the outcomes for these vulnerable children," said Dr Cleary. "Anglicare has been calling for more carers and improved support for those carers for many years.

"We need to move towards a model of professional foster care in addition to the current volunteer program that would see carers paid around 70,000 a year to care for a child.

"As the number of volunteer foster carers plummets, the Victorian government has turned to extended family members to shoulder an increasing responsibility to care for family members with limited support as identified by the Ombudsman."

Dr Cleary says that children's life-chances are greatly improved through a combination of therapeutic care to overcome trauma and a focus on education to provide children with opportunities later in life.

"Therapeutic care needs to be regarded as the standard form of foster care to identify and effectively treat the complex needs of children forcibly removed from their natural family.

"We also need to see the introduction of education support plans and funding to aid children's learning through tutors and other out-of-school support to help children and young people reach their education potential."

Anglicare Victoria, in conjunction with Wesley Mission Victoria, is currently completing the state's largest review of education outcomes for children in care and have found significant gaps between the achievements of children in care compared with the state average.

"Children in care often start falling behind when they are very young and this contributes to disengagement during adolescence," said Dr Cleary

"We need to develop a tight network of support at home, in school and in the community that keeps children engaged and learning. And we a commitment of funding to ensure children in care are supported to complete VCE or vocational training even after they turn 18."