Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons

Tasmania's child protection system has a problem. It is designed to intervene only when things get truly terrible for children and young people.

By taking this approach, insufficient emphasis is given to the cumulative harm children can endure over the course of their young lives.

We need to support children and young people sooner, rather than waiting until a threshold is broken or a crime is committed.

The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 says it best — Australia needs to move from seeing “protecting children” merely as a response to abuse and neglect to one of promoting the safety and wellbeing of children.

The national framework clearly states that emphasis must be given to providing good universal services such as health, education and community services so that children can live in safe and supportive families and communities. Tasmania’s Child and Family Centres are perfect examples of places where all children and their families are welcome and where all Tasmanian parents and carers can access information and support from pregnancy onwards.

The early years are critical for the development of attachment and good social, emotional and physical health for all children.

There are many wonderful programs operating in our community to provide solid foundations for Tasmania’s children and their families, such as Pregnant and Young Parent Support, New Parent and Infant Network and Integrated Family Support. They really do change lives.

Despite best efforts and the establishment of the gateway to better co-ordinate services across the state, there are still many children and young people requiring statutory intervention and placement in the out-of-home care system.

Tasmania’s child protection system has been redesigned many times yet vulnerable children and young people still suffer due to its failings.

Human Services Minister Jacquie Petrusma was forced to initiate another review last year following the revelation 151 child protection notifications were ignored on the North-West Coast.

The community outrage over this was justifiably strong and my office was inundated with stories from families across the state who wanted to share their experience with the child protection system.

Since then it has also been revealed that a youth had been provided with a tent by Child Protection Services and left at the Hobart Showgrounds. Excuses were given for why no other accommodation option was available for this young man in the middle of winter and the Minister was quick to blame the youth for having problem behaviours and staff for giving out a tent.

The Government should not get the option to give up on people, but in this instance the Minister did just that. The adolescent in question is now in the youth justice system. These failures in the system bring us back to the need for early intervention to prevent the cumulative harm that can impact a person for their entire life.

There are too many stories of children and young people who touch on the edges of the child protection system but because they don’t quite meet the threshold for intervention their case is closed. These children can become victims of the cumulative harm they suffer through their childhood.

The Government needs to ensure any redesign of the system is able to accommodate the risk to children and young people that arises from cumulative harm. We need a system broad enough to address known risk factors.

Many factors shown to be associated with abuse and neglect are behaviours or characteristics of parents, which can then be the target of population-based strategies and specific interventions.

Information provided by the Health and Human Services Department for 2014-2015 statewide shows alcohol and drug issues for the parent or child were identified as a risk factor in 57 per cent of notifications. Family violence was identified as a risk factor in 63 per cent of notifications and as a primary risk factor in 36 per cent of notifications. Mental health issues for the child or parent were identified as a risk factor in 30 per cent.

Known risk factors should be the base from which a redesigned system considers how it will operate in 2016.

Obviously, the child protection system cannot do this alone. It will require a cross agency effort to reduce known risk factors and protect children from harm.

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Rebecca White

Authorised by Lindsay White, 276 Masons Road, Nugent, 7172