The operation of the model

The proposal

6.33 Following the National Summit, a small Taskforce on Children and the Legal Process should be established. This would facilitate State, Territory and non-government participation in formulating co-ordination strategies, national standards and guidelines. It would operate along the same lines as NCAVAC[41] and the MCEETYA Youth Taskforce[42] in that it would develop partnerships with key stakeholders.

6.34 The Taskforce should comprise perhaps 12 members, which may include three or four representatives from relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory departments nominated by the Summit. It would also include members from non-government organisations, specialist academics, practitioners, young people and parents. Indigenous children and children from rural and remote areas particularly should be represented on the Taskforce. The Chair should be an independent and eminent person with a record of achievement in working with children’s issues. The person would need to have the confidence of Heads of Government.

6.35 The Taskforce would probably need to meet monthly for 18 months in each capital city on a rotating basis. The Chair would receive part-time remuneration; other members would be provided with out-of-pocket expenses. The Taskforce would look to receive advice and direction from broader meetings and conferences organised by OFC.

6.36 The Taskforce would be required to report after 18 months on the state of implementation of the national strategies, what modifications are considered necessary and the working plans and national standards that should be implemented. It would also establish benchmarks against which to assess federal, State and Territory agencies’ performance. The report would then be tabled in federal Parliament and handed to all Australian Governments for implementation in their particular jurisdiction.

6.37 Upon completion of its primary task, the Taskforce would continue as an Advisory Committee on children’s issues to the Prime Minister and other Heads of Government. Co-ordination of the implementation of the national strategies and standards would be undertaken by OFC and its State or Territory counterparts.[43]

6.38 OFC should be established with a small number of staff initially, building over a period of two to three years to a strength of about 15. It would be funded, apart from an initial modest ‘float’, primarily from off-sets from those areas of adminstration already attempting to provide co-ordination of children’s issues. As OFC is separated from program delivery, its focus would not be diverted to portfolio responsibilities. It would be free to take issues-based or thematic approaches to children’s interests as appropriate rather than being limited by portfolio boundaries.

6.39 OFC would provide secretariat services to the Taskforce, enabling it to develop links with government and non-government organisations. The strategies agreed upon during the Summit and by the Taskforce would set the priorities for OFC in the first two to three years of its operation. OFC would monitor the implementation of Taskforce strategies, standards and guidelines in each jurisdiction. It would continue to report to Parliament to ensure the standards are met and are regularly updated.

6.40 OFC would have responsibility also for developing, with the involvement of the Advisory Committee, modifications to existing and new standards for consideration by all Governments, general co-ordination of children’s programs and policy across agencies and monitoring new policies and programs. The Commissions envisage that OFC’s functions would include research and liaison functions.

6.41 OFC should be funded to provide some resources to assist selected delegates to attend the meetings and conferences associated with the Taskforce. OFC would also have funding to engage the services of paid consultants in areas of need.

6.42 Ideally, over the life of the Taskforce, each State and Territory should establish a centrally located co-ordination unit to mirror the functions of OFC. Current co-ordination functions should be streamlined to ensure the functions of each jurisdiction are complementary. Many State and Territory entities already carry out some of these functions. However, generally these bodies have a limited scope that restricts their ability to work or forge links according to a whole of government perspective. They are often constrained by portfolio concerns and responsibilities.

Specific functions of OFC

6.43 The recommendations in this report propose that OFC be given a number of responsibilities. The major functions of OFC would be to

    • co-ordinate the development of a network of grassroots advocates for children and conduct related publicity (recs 9, 10)

    • commission a national advice line for children, to be funded by the Department of Health and Family Services (rec 11)

    • co-ordinate research in relation to exclusion from school (rec 46)

    • distribute the results of the review of research on effects of the media on children (rec 63)

    • develop and distribute best practice guidelines for advertisers (rec 66)

    • co-ordinate the development of national interview standards (rec 91)

    • co-ordinate the development of national standards for the staffing, skills and interview methods of Child Advocacy Centres or joint interview teams (rec 92)

    • co-ordinate the development of national standards for child witness support units in consultation with the relevant State and Territory agencies (rec 106)

    • develop national standards for legislation and practice in the care and protection system and monitor and evaluate these standards (recs 161, 162)

    • develop the Charter for Children in Care (rec 164)

    • support research and co-ordinate data collection on child prevention strategies, publish the results in an annual report to Parliament and provide required advice (rec 166)

    • co-ordinate research into mandatory reporting of child abuse (rec 168)

    • co-ordinate research into the practice of family group conferencing and pre-hearing conference schemes in the care and protection system (rec 169)

    • co-ordinate research into the drift of children in care into the juvenile justice system (rec 182)

    • co-ordinate research into the appropriate mechanisms and forums for dealing with adolescent/family breakdown (rec 191)

    • develop national standards for juvenile justice, monitor those standards and report annually on the results (recs 192, 193)

    • convene a working party of relevant individuals to develop guidelines for security companies dealing with young people (rec 203)

    • conduct a national evaluation of community visitor schemes (rec 224)

    • develop guidelines for juvenile court design (rec 234)

    • commission and disseminate research into non-custodial sentencing options and develop best practice models for those options (rec 243)

    • monitor the operation of duty solicitor schemes for young offenders (rec 245)

    • co-ordinate initiatives to address the special needs of Indigenous children in relation to sentencing (rec 252)

    • analyse data on recidivism rates for detainees (rec 282)

    • analyse data about specified groups of young people who enter detention, for incorporation into national standards for juvenile justice, policy and program development (rec 283).

6.44 OFC would also undertake a monitoring role and consult with other agencies as set out in other recommendations in this Report.

6.45 All these functions would not progress at the same pace.[44] As stated, in the first two to three years priorities would be set by the Summit and Taskforce. After that time, OFC could gradually develop over a five to seven year period and take up functions beyond the recommendations in our report, particularly in co-ordinating aspects of youth policy beyond the scope of this Inquiry. The Inquiry concerns children in legal processes. However, there are also many significant competing concerns for children, for instance, in the medical and health fields.

Rationalisation of existing bodies

6.46 The Taskforce and, later, the Advisory Committee to Heads of Government, the OFC and its State and Territory counterparts would take over many functions currently undertaken by various existing Commonwealth departments, taskforces and Ministerial Councils. In particular, OFC would take over those policy and co-ordination functions of the DEETYA Youth Bureau, the federal Attorney-General’s Department and PM&C that deal with children’s issues.

Alternatives to implementation of recommendations

6.47 The provision of proper co-ordination through the development of OFC is a matter of priority for children’s interests. However, the recommendations in this Report do not rely exclusively on the establishment of OFC. Should the proposal for OFC not be implemented, the Inquiry envisages that the recommendations could be handled by suitable alternative bodies. The cost of this, however, would be continued failure of co-ordination and integration.

[41] See paras 6.9-11.

[42] See para 6.5.

[43] See paras 5.39, 6.39.

[44] See paras 6.38, 6.57-58.