161National standards for legislation and practice in care and protection systems should be developed. These national care and protection standards should, where necessary, provide a clear allocation of responsibility for their implementation.
Implementation. These standards should be developed by OFC in consultation with the relevant government authorities, non-government organisations, community groups, families, foster carers and, particularly, children and young people who are or have been involved in care and protection systems.
162The national standards should be reviewed and updated regularly in light of developing national and international initiatives in care and protection practice.
Implementation. OFC should monitor and evaluate the national standards on a regular basis in consultation with relevant government authorities, non-government organisations, community groups and consumers of care and protection services such as children, families and foster carers. National conferences, organised by OFC, could be convened for this purpose.
163The federal Government should support continuing research into care and protection systems, including the collection of data on the circumstances of children in care and in particular on their level of education, health and cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. The research should focus on the outcomes for children in care and in particular their contact with juvenile justice agencies (including police), their school retention rates and levels of education attained while in care and their access or lack of access to government services.
Implementation. This research could be co-ordinated by the AIFS and/or the AIHW.
164A Charter for Children in Care should be developed. The Charter should create a legally enforceable obligation on the part of the relevant State or Territory family services department to provide each child in care with
a safe living environment
accommodation in the least restrictive placement commensurate with the child’s best interests and wishes
suitable education and job training opportunities or assistance in finding appropriate employment when the child reaches working age while in care
an appropriate amount of spending money
therapeutic support or additional educational assistance where necessary and with the consent of the child
a mentor from whom the child can obtain confidential advice and assistance
regular reviews of the child’s case plan and circumstances in care
the right to be consulted and to have the child’s views given due weight (in accordance with age and maturity) in the decision-making process, particularly when decisions are made about residence, family contact, schooling and health
appropriate assistance in the transition from care including housing assistance, access to income support, further training and/or education and continuing support from a mentor
service delivery models tailored to the needs and capacities of children.
Implementation. OFC should develop the Charter for Children in Care in conjunction the relevant State and Territory family services departments and in consultation with other relevant government agencies, non-government service providers, children’s advocacy groups and children in care. This Charter should be enacted in legislation at federal, State and Territory levels.
165The Charter for Children in Care should be explained to each verbal child on his or her entry into care and at regular periods while in care, as well as to the child’s parents and his or her carers. Copies of the Charter, in various forms appropriate for different age levels, should be provided to all children in care, the child’s parents and his or her carers on the child’s behalf if the child is too young to understand the nature of the Charter.
166Research should be conducted and data collected on child protection strategies across portfolios. This research should focus not only on those policies and programs that specifically address child abuse prevention but also on policies and programs directed at children, and families with children, that have implications for child abuse prevention, such as income support, child care, housing and medical services. It should identify those areas in which the federal government could encourage co-operative arrangements with and between States and Territories for the effective provision of services. It should form the basis for OFC’s advice to the federal Government on the co-ordination necessary for the provision of primary and secondary prevention services by federal agencies.
Implementation. OFC should support this research and co-ordinate data collection to these ends. It should publish its findings in its annual reports on the status of children in Australia (see recommendation 3) and provide the required advice.
167The proposed National Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse should be provided with some measure of independence to identify issues and problems requiring attention. Links should be developed and maintained with OFC and with the Standing Committee of Community Services and Income Security Administrators.
Implementation. The Department of Health and Family Services should take the appropriate action.
168Detailed cross-jurisdictional research should be conducted into the effect and effectiveness of mandatory reporting of child abuse to
document the impact of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse on the delivery of family services in Australia, in particular, to investigate whether the introduction of mandatory reporting transfers resources from prevention of child abuse and support for its victims to the investigatory and legal side of child abuse
identify the conditions required for optimum effectiveness of mandatory reporting schemes, particularly focusing on the appropriate allocation of resources to family services departments for investigation, litigation and support for children and families
establish why there are wide differences in substantiation rates in the different jurisdictions.
Implementation. OFC should co-ordinate this research on the basis of information provided by State and Territory family services departments.
169Research should be conducted into the practice of family group conferencing and pre-hearing conference schemes, to encourage the adoption in all jurisdictions of effective conferencing models. This research should
evaluate the effectiveness of various case conferencing arrangements used in Australian jurisdictions, particularly in relation to procedures, outcomes and levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of all the participating parties with the arrangements
identify the types of cases most amenable to case conferencing solutions, the stage of the proceedings when conferences are most effective, whether the conference works best in the shadow of or outside court confines and whether the participation of legal representatives assists or retards proceedings
focus on children’s levels of participation in, and satisfaction with, these processes and the assistance they require to participate effectively in conferences
be aimed at ensuring appropriate participation in conferencing by Indigenous children and families and those from non-English speaking backgrounds as well as people with disabilities.
Implementation. OFC or the Australian Child Protection Advisory Council should co-ordinate this research on the basis of information provided by State and Territory family services departments. The research should include longitudinal studies of the effectiveness of different models as compared to court-based resolution.
170The procedures associated with conferencing schemes should be set down in legislation, based on the evaluation proposed in recommendation 169. The legislation dealing with procedures for conferencing models in care and protection jurisdictions should require that
in family group and pre-hearing conferences the best interests of the child should be the paramount consideration
family members and children have access to independent legal advice before participating in any conference
children who are too young to participate or who wish to have additional support during the conference should be represented by a lawyer or advocate of their choice in these conferences
convenors of family or pre-hearing conferences should have knowledge of and training in care and protection law, family dynamics and child development issues, so that they are aware of power imbalances between the participants at the conferences and are able to work to overcome these imbalances to arrive at a resolution in the best interests of the child.
Implementation. The Attorney-General through SCAG should encourage all States and Territories to enact similar legislation. The national care and protection standards should specify the minimum training and experience requirements for convenors of conferences.
171The national care and protection standards should specify that direct evidence by a witness should be preferred, except when the witness is the subject child. Hearsay evidence of statements by the subject child should as far as possible be presented in the child’s own words.
172The national care and protection standards should specify that
legislation in all jurisdictions should provide for consistent definitions of abuse and neglect and consistent or similar orders allowing a range of formal interventions suitable to the different protective and family law issues associated with individual children and families
children’s court magistrates and judges should not be restricted to making those orders applied for by the parties but rather should have authority to make whatever orders are appropriate from a range available under the legislation.
173The national care and protection standards should specify that children’s court magistrates and judges should be active and managerial in their approach to care and protection cases and that the same magistrate or judge should manage a case from first listing, on an individual case management or single docket model.
174The national care and protection standards should indicate the resource levels necessary to ensure that family services departments are able to supervise adequately and provide services to families with children under care and protection orders living at home.
175The national care and protection standards should require that all government agencies and non-government organisations that receive funding for the care of children in out-of-home care should be bound by the terms of the Charter for Children in Care.
176The national care and protection standards should require that in all appropriate cases care and protection orders should be directed to providing permanence and certainty for the child.
177The national care and protection standards should specify that where permanent orders are inappropriate non-permanent care and protection orders should be made as follows.
Where the child is removed from his or her family, orders should operate for one year unless the party seeking the order can show that a longer fixed period of time is in the best interests of the child.
Where the child is to remain at home under orders, orders may be expressed to continue for any fixed period of time the court considers appropriate in the best interests of the child.
In all cases, non-permanent orders should be expressed to operate for a specified period and extensions of orders should require an application to the court.
178National care and protection standards should make the following provisions.
Each child in care should have a detailed case plan within 6 weeks of entry into care.
The case plan should describe the ultimate goals for the child (for example, return to parent, adoption or independent living) and designate the appropriate day to day services and co-ordination necessary to reach those goals and to provide the child with the basic guarantees in the Charter for Children in Care.
The educational needs, recreation opportunities and behavioural and/or medical intervention requirements for each child and the responsibilities, time-frames and strategies necessary to achieve the identified goals should be addressed in the case plan.
The case plan should be developed in consultation with the child. The child’s views and wishes should be given due weight in accordance with his or her level of maturity.
179In each jurisdiction all case plans should be subject to annual review. Reviews should be conducted by the relevant family services department and, for those case plans that may be contested or controversial, also by an independent body.
The internal and external review processes should include participation by the child and/or the child’s legal representative if the child wishes or the child’s best interests require representation.
The independent body, perhaps modelled on the ACT Community Advocate or the NSW Community Services Commission, should be able to conduct a full case plan review at the request of the family services department, parent, foster carer or child or on its own initiative. To facilitate this review, the independent body should be provided with the family services department’s proposed case plan prior to each review, have access to the original court and department file and involve all participants, including the child, in the review process. Its review should focus on ensuring that the child’s best interests are paramount in the formulation of case plans and on providing objectivity and accountability in the formulation of appropriate case plans.
Implementation. Appropriate bodies should be established or given responsibility for independent reviews in each jurisdiction. This should be included as a legislative requirement in the national care and protection standards.
180National standards should specify that the child or the child’s representative may bring an application to vary or revoke an order at any stage.
181The national care and protection standards should ensure that the case plan for a child who is leaving care is reviewed by the family services department at least 6 months prior to the child’s 18th birthday or planned exit from care. A transitional case plan should be developed at that time directed towards assisting the child in the transition to independence or family reunification. It should designate the support necessary for this transition both before and after leaving care.
182Research should be conducted into the causes of and ways of preventing the drift of children in care into the juvenile justice system.
Implementation. OFC should co-ordinate this research on the basis of information provided by the State and Territory family services departments, juvenile justice departments and DPP agencies.
183The national care and protection standards should require that caseworkers, particularly staff in residential care settings, receive specialist training in identifying children and young people at risk of juvenile justice contact and in implementing early intervention and prevention strategies. Children in care should have access to intensive support, therapeutic and rehabilitation programs where appropriate.
184The national care and protection standards should require that
the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle and the essential role of Aboriginal and Islander Child Care Agencies be enshrined in legislation in all States and Territories
all family services department workers receive appropriate information and training in crosscultural awareness, including information and training on the differing child rearing practices of Indigenous communities.
185The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs should prepare and release regular reports on
the current policies and practices of, as well as best practice guidelines for, State and Territory family services departments concerning investigation, assessment and case management of referrals for Indigenous children
the operation of Aboriginal and Islander child care agencies, including the funding levels required for their effective operation
prevention programs aimed at Indigenous communities.
Implementation. Such reports could be prepared in consultation with OFC and the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care.
186National education and awareness campaigns about child abuse and neglect should be developed and directed towards the major ethnic and cultural communities around Australia.
Implementation. The Department of Health and Family Services and DIMA should conduct these campaigns in consultation with OFC.
187The national care and protection standards should require that all family services department officers making assessments or conducting investigations receive appropriate training in cross-cultural awareness, including issues relating to differing child rearing practices in various communities.
188National education and awareness campaigns should be conducted around Australia about particular issues concerning abuse and neglect of children with disabilities.
Implementation. The Department of Health and Family Services should conduct these campaigns in consultation with OFC and the relevant State and Territory agencies.
189The national care and protection standards should require that all family services departments workers receive appropriate training in issues relating to abuse and neglect of children with disabilities.
190The national care and protection standards should include the following requirements.
A child for the purposes of care and protection jurisdictions should be defined as a person under the age of 18 and a court should be able to make orders for a young person aged 16 to 18 if it finds, after taking into consideration the wishes of the young person, that the young person is in need of care and protection.
All family services department workers should receive appropriate training in issues relating to abuse and neglect of adolescents, as well as reasons for family/adolescent breakdown.
Adolescent and family therapy and mediation programs should be available to all young people in dispute with their families.
Adolescent and family therapy and mediation programs should develop models of best practice to meet the needs of adolescents and their families, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, non-English speaking background, isolated and/or rural communities.
191Research should be conducted into the appropriate mechanisms and forums for dealing with adolescent/family breakdown, including the involvement of family services departments, conferencing models and court processes. This research should
focus on the reasons for such breakdowns and the appropriateness of the care and protection system in alleviating the problems
monitor the appropriateness of the national care and protection standards for adolescents with family disputes.
Implementation. OFC should co-ordinate this research following the release of the report on the Youth Homelessness Pilot Program.