Current federal policies and undertakings regarding children

Introduction

3.36 Federal, State and Territory governments allocate significant resources to children's issues in accordance with their various jurisdictional responsibilities. The Commonwealth provides significant levels of funding for services, programs and initiatives for children and their families, and develops and implements policy on a national level.[71] It not only supports programs that are within the federal jurisdiction, but also many that are within State and Territory control. It also provides federal oversight and co-ordination within these areas, reflecting the Commonwealth's co-ordinating role on many children's issues.

Income support and employment assistance

3.37 Children and young people benefit from income support programs directed to their families. Current income support programs that assist families with children include[72]

    • the family payment budgeted at $6 428 million in 1997–98

    • sole parent pensions and allowances budgeted at $2 176 million in 1997–98

    • the parenting allowance budgeted at $1 647 million in 1997–98

    • family tax payments budgeted at $573 million in 1997–98

    • the maternity allowance budgeted at $183.7 million in 1997–98

Families of children with disabilities and people caring for children whose parents are deceased also receive extra financial assistance, with these non-means tested assistance programs budgeted at $257 million in 1997–98.[73]

3.38 Income support and employment assistance for unemployed young people are currently provided by DSS through the YTA and by DEETYA's Youth Training Initiative as well as other youth grants and support. However, the establishment of the Commonwealth Service Delivery Agency (Centrelink) and the Common Youth Allowance may change the manner in which these programs are delivered and therefore may affect the amount of funding directed at children and young people.[74]

3.39 The YTA is the income support component of the Youth Training Initiative. Total expenditure on YTA in 1996–97 was estimated at $154.8 million and is expected to be approximately $150.9 million in 1997–98.[75] YTA will be subsumed into the Common Youth Allowance starting on 1 July 1998.[76]

3.40 DEETYA funding for Youth Policy and Support Programs (Youth Training Initiative, Homeless and At Risk Youth Support and Youth Policy) was $23 million in 1995–96.[77] Other DEETYA funded programs which assisted unemployed young people (both Youth Training Initiative clients and others) in 1995–96 included[78]

    • Job Start $22.4 million

    • National Training Wage $14.5 million

    • Landcare and Environmental Action Programme $46.2 million

    • New Work Opportunities $20.3 million

    • Job Train $8.8 million

    • Special Intervention $10.7 million

    • Accredited Training for Youth $4.2 million

    • SkillShare $9.9 million

    • Job Clubs $1.9 million

    • Mobility Access Scheme $584 000

3.41 Certain of these programs may have been discontinued since 1995–96 and in the current climate of rapid change others may be altered.

Education

3.42 Assistance to schools. The federal Government focuses its school funding on general assistance (general recurrent grants, capital grants and national priorities) and targeted assistance.[79] In 1997–98, general assistance to both government and non-government schools in these areas was budgeted at $3 184.7 million.[80] Targeted assistance was budgeted at $366.4 million in 1997–98, and focused on five priority areas of literacy, languages, special learning needs, school-to-work and quality outcomes.[81] Under the Indigenous Education Strategy, supplementary assistance is provided to preschools, government and non-government school systems, TAFE authorities and independent Indigenous education providers to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous children. In 1997–98, this program was budgeted at $111.2 million.[82]

3.43 Assistance to students. Austudy is the Commonwealth's means-tested, non-competitive scheme of financial assistance to secondary and tertiary students aged 16 or over (or to under 16 year olds of school leaving age in special circumstances). Its principal aim is to provide equal opportunity in education by providing financial assistance to students who would otherwise not be able to continue their education. The program is income and asset tested and rates are based on whether the student lives at home or away from home, is independent or has dependents or is homeless. In 1995–96, Austudy expenditures on 204 900 secondary school students was $552 million.[83] Austudy will be subsumed into the Common Youth Allowance starting on 1 July 1998.[84]

3.44 Abstudy is the Commonwealth's scheme to provide financial assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who undertake approved secondary or tertiary courses or who are primary school students aged 14 or above. Some Abstudy allowances are paid regardless of family income, while others are means-tested. In 1994, $44.8 million in Abstudy expenditures were allocated to families of primary and secondary school students.[85]

3.45 Finally, the Assistance for Isolated Children scheme assists the families of primary, secondary and occasionally tertiary students disadvantaged by geographical isolation, health-related conditions, disabilities or special education needs. It is also available to children whose families are involved in work that necessitates frequent moves and who therefore do not have reasonable daily access to appropriate government schooling. In 1995–96, families of 11 700 children benefited from $28.1 million under this program.[86] In 1997–98, expenditure on this program is expected to be $20.6 million.[87]

Housing

3.46 Public housing and rental assistance for families with children. The largest expenditure programs for housing services are public housing and rent assistance. Of low income renters in public housing, 7 700 households were couples with dependents and 47 700 households were sole parents with dependents.[88] Of the recipients of DSS rent assistance (whether in private, public or community housing), 16.7% were single parent families and 7.2% were two parent families.[89] In 1994–95, total Commonwealth expenditures on housing assistance were $1.6 billion for public housing, $1.5 billion for rental assistance and $61 million for 275 community housing projects.[90]

3.47 Transitional housing and support services for homeless young people. The Crisis Accommodation Program is a tied program within the Common-wealth-State Housing Agreement in which capital funds are provided to States and Territories specifically so that they can provide short-term housing assistance for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This program is closely tied to SAAP, which funds the management of accommodation programs and support services for homeless people. Although the Crisis Accommodation Program and SAAP are directed at homeless people in general, both programs designate portions of their funding for services and accommodation directed at homeless young people and families with children. In 1995–96, $72.955 million of SAAP funding was spent on services directed at youth and $36.086 million for families with children.[91] In that same year, 43 crisis accommodation projects directed at youth and 41 crisis accom-modation projects directed at families were approved for grants of federal funds under the Crisis Accommodation Program.[92] In 1997–98, crisis accommodation assistance services, including the Crisis Accommodation Program and SAAP, were budgeted at $196.8 million.[93]

Community services

3.48 Child care. The Commonwealth funds child care and sets and monitors quality assurance standards for long day care centres.[94] Its main focus in child care services is to promote a system that supports work force participation by adults. Most child care services eligible for financial assistance are required to give the highest priority to children of parents with work related needs. However, these centres must also give priority to children with disabilities (or to parents with disabilities), children at risk of abuse or neglect, children of parents with more than one child below school age and children of a sole parent at home. Within each of these groups, access is further prioritised, with preferences for low income families, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, socially isolated families and families from culturally and ethnically diverse backgrounds.[95]

3.49 In 1995–96, the federal Government significantly expanded the number of child care places, supporting 306 600 child care places used by 570 300 children across Australia. Expenditure on this program amounted to $980 million.[96] Almost 80% of federal funding was allocated through payments such as Childcare Assistance and Childcare Cash Rebate.[97] In 1997–98, these two programs were budgeted at $849.8 million.[98] In 1995–96, other recurrent funding, such as operational subsidies paid to service providers, accounted for 18% and expenditure on capital and administration just over 1%.[99] Operational subsidies to community based long day care centres were no longer being paid as of 1 July 1997, although they continue to be paid to family day care services and occasional care centres.[100] They were budgeted at $143 million in 1997–98.[101]

3.50 Child welfare. Child welfare services include child protection, supported placements for children (arrangements for children to live with people other than their parents for safety/crisis reasons) and family support services. These services have as their goal assisting children and families in difficulty or crisis situations by stabilizing the situation, alleviating its effects and reducing the likelihood of its re-occurring.

3.51 In the area of child protection, most funds come from the State and Territory governments. However, the Commonwealth has also jointly funded and implemented with the States and Territories a National Prevention Strategy for Child Abuse and Neglect. The federal aspects of the strategy were budgeted in 1994–95 at $12 million over the following four years.[102] In 1997–98, $1.89 million was budgeted by the Government for expenditure on child abuse prevention.[103] The current focus of Commonwealth efforts in child abuse prevention is on parenting education activities.[104] Indirect federal funding of child protection includes family support through provision of housing assistance, health care, community services/child care and income support. Finally, some child protection costs are borne directly by the federal Government in the form of proceedings in the Family Court, many of which involve allegations of child abuse.[105]

Child Support Scheme

3.52 The Child Support Agency ensures the payment of child support by one parent to the other parent for the benefit of children. Total outlays for this program were $114.8 million in 1995–96.[106] Through this agency, more than $387 million was disbursed to custodial parents for the benefit of their children.[107]

Commonwealth initiatives in co-ordination

3.53 In addition to funding specific programs, the Commonwealth has undertaken several initiatives to develop coherent and consistent policies and practices within departments, between departments and between governments.

3.54 There are bodies such as the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS),[108] National Youth Affairs Research Scheme (NYARS),[109] AIC and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)[110] that conduct research across jurisdictions and disseminate information. The Commonwealth has also undertaken specific initiatives to develop national policy on children's issues, such as the National Program of Action to implement the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children[111] and the National Action Plan on Human Rights.[112] The Australian Youth Policy: A Statement of Principles and Objectives, adopted by State, Territory and federal Youth Ministers in 1992, set out national objectives in a wide range of areas including education, employment, health, housing and accommodation, justice, income support, information, the environment, families, vocational education and training, transport, and sporting, recreational and cultural needs.[113] Finally, the recently established National Child Abuse Prevention Council and its predecessor, the National Child Protection Council, assist the federal Government to develop policies to prevent child abuse.[114]

3.55 Inter-governmental organisations have a strong focus on co-ordinated policy development, and many address issues that concern children. They include the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG),[115] the Standing Committee of Community Services and Income Security Administrators,[116] the Ministerial Council on Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA),[117] and the Working Group for the National Health Policy for Children and Young People.[118]

3.56 There are also inter-governmental and cross-jurisdictional programs and protocols on specific issues that affect children and young people, such as the Commonwealth/State Youth Protocol for the case management of homeless children,[119] the Youth Homelessness Pilot Program,[120] protocols between the Family Court and State and Territory courts and family services departments[121] and crime prevention initiatives including the Strengthening Families Strategy, the Good Beginnings national parenting project, the Young Persons Sport and Recreation Development Program and the National Campaign Against Violence and Crime (NCAVAC).[122] In establishing NCAVAC, the federal Government has recognised the links between domestic violence, child abuse, and various risk factors for juvenile crime.[123] This campaign will include programs that address many issues affecting children and young people, such as supporting high-risk families to prevent child abuse and neglect, encouraging pre-school enrichment, remedial education and truancy reduction programs in schools and providing early intervention programs for children who have experienced or witnessed violence in the home.[124]

3.57 Finally, non-government organisations, such as the Australian Youth Foundation,[125] the Australian Association of Young People in Care (AAYPIC)[126] and the Australian Youth Policy Action Committee[127] provide a co-ordination and advocacy role at the national level to promote youth issues.

[71] n this section, figures are given for Cth expenditure on programs that have in past financial years provided support for children. Significant changes have been made to many of the programs and their funding for future years and we have attempted to indicate those trends where relevant. Unless otherwise stated, the figures are for total expenditure on the program and include running costs as well as actual outlays of funds to children and/or their families and other program costs.

[72] Treasurer & Minister for Finance Budget Strategy and Outlook 1997–98 Budget Paper No 1 AGPS Canberra 1997, 4.57.

[73] ibid.

[74] See paras 9.22-25 for a full discussion of these proposals.

[75] Minister for Finance The Commonwealth Public Account 1997–98 Budget Paper No 4 AGPS Canberra 1997, 56.

[76] See paras 9.25-33 for a discussion of the Common Youth Allowance.

[77] DEETYA Annual Report 1995–96 AGPS Canberra 1996, 156. The 1997–98 budget allocations for many programs within DEETYA were not available at the time of printing.

[78] These figures were calculated by dividing the total 1995–96 expenditure for each program by the total number of commencements for each program in 1995–96 and then multiplying the result by the number of commencements by 15–17 year olds in each program for 1995–96. They are intended as a rough estimate only and do not represent actual spending by each program on young people or actual numbers of young people in the programs at any given time: see DEETYA Annual Report 1995–96 AGPS Canberra 1996, 118, 122–128.

[79] DEETYA Annual Report 1995–96 AGPS Canberra 1996, 44–46.

[80] Treasurer & Minister for Finance Budget Strategy and Outlook 1997–98 Budget Paper No 1 AGPS Canberra 1997, 4.37.

[81] id 4.38.

[82] ibid.

[83] DEETYA Annual Report 1995–96 AGPS Canberra 1996, 151–152. Breakdowns of expenditures and recipients are provided only for secondary students because it is assumed that tertiary students are generally above the age of 18 years and therefore do not fall within the scope of this reference. It is impossible to ascertain from the 1997–98 budget what the cost of the program will be for children under the age of 18. The total 1997–98 budget for this program is $1 677.1 million: Treasurer & Minister for Finance Budget Strategy and Outlook 1997–98 Budget Paper No 1 AGPS Canberra 1997, 4.38.

[84] See paras 9.25-33 for a discussion of the Common Youth Allowance.

[85] ABS Yearbook Australia 1996 ABS Canberra 1996, 293. Breakdowns for expenditures and numbers of recipients in primary and secondary schools are given because it is assumed that tertiary students are above the age of 18 and therefore do not fall within the scope of this reference. In addition, this breakdown was given for 1994 as data on primary and secondary school Abstudy recipients were not available for 1995–96. According to DEETYA, in 1995–96 there were a total of 48 000 Abstudy recipients and a total expenditure of $129 million that year: DEETYA Annual Report 1995–96 AGPS Canberra 1996, 164. In 1997–98, $181.5 million was budgeted for Abstudy and other assistance to Indigenous students (such as the Aboriginal Tutorial Assistance Scheme): Treasurer & Minister for Finance Budget Strategy and Outlook 1997–98 Budget Paper No 1 AGPS Canberra 1997, 4.39.

[86] DEETYA Annual Report 1995–96 AGPS Canberra 1996, 154.

[87] Minister for Finance Commonwealth Public Account 1997–98 Budget Paper No 4 AGPS Canberra 1997, 50.

[88] ABS Australian Social Trends 1995 ABS Canberra 1995, 143.

[89] AIHW Australia's Welfare Services and Assistance 1995 AGPS Canberra 1995, 84–85.

[90] Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision Report on Government Service Provision 1997 Industry Commission Melbourne 1997, 233.

[91] id 576.

[92] DSS Annual Report 1995–96 AGPS Canberra 1996, 386.

[93] Treasurer & Minister for Finance Budget Strategy and Outlook 1997–98 Budget Paper No 1 AGPS Canberra 1997, 4.60–61.

[94] Dept of Health and Family Services DRP Submission 75. The National Child Care Strategy implemented accreditation for long day care, with standards set through tied funding arrangements and monitored through the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System: Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision Report on Government Service Provision 1997 Industry Commission Melbourne 1997, 464–465.

[95] Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision Report on Government Service Provision 1997 Industry Commission Melbourne 1997, 466.

[96] id 461–463.

[97] id 464.

[98] Treasurer & Minister for Finance Budget Strategy and Outlook 1997–98 Budget Paper No 1 AGPS Canberra 1997 4.59.

[99] Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision Report on Government Service Provision 1997 Industry Commission Melbourne 1997, 464.

[100] In conjunction with the completion of the National Child Care Strategy, capital subsidies to non-profit community-based services are being reduced: Treasurer & Minister for Finance Budget Strategy and Outlook 1997–98 Budget Paper No 1 AGPS Canberra 1997, 4.58.

[101] Treasurer & Minister for Finance Budget Strategy and Outlook 1997–98 Budget Paper No 1 AGPS Canberra 1997, 4.58–59.

[102] Attorney-General's Dept Australia's Report under the Convention of the Rights of the Child Attorney-General's Dept Canberra 1996, 10.

[103] Minister for Finance The Commonwealth Public Account 1997–98 Budget Paper No 4 AGPS Canberra 1997, 167.

[104] Dept of Health and Family Services DRP Submission 75.

[105] See paras 15.1, 15.22-25.

[106] Commissioner of Taxation Annual Report 1995–96 AGPS Canberra 1996, 53.

[107] ibid.

[108] AIFS was formed in 1980 with objectives including promoting the identification and understanding of issues relating to marital and family stability in Australia. Many of its research projects have relevance to children. Studies have covered issues such as homelessness, literacy, child health services, child support law and policy, youth mediation, education, living standards, and the effect of parental separation and remarriage on family structures.

[109] NYARS was established in 1985. Its aims include undertaking research into current social, political and economic issues relating to young people. It also provides federal, State and Territory governments with information to assist in the development of youth policy. Issues addressed in research projects undertaken by NYARS include the health of young Indigenous people, mental health of young people, and young people as victims of violence.

[110] AIHW was established in 1987 to provide governments with research and recommendations on health related issues. Its role now extends to collecting, analysing and distributing national information and statistics relating to welfare services, including child care and other services specifically relating to children.

[111] The federal Government developed a National Program of Action titled Our Children, Our Future, released in 1994, for the implementation within Australia of the 1991 World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children. The Program of Action was co-ordinated by the Dept of Human Services and Health. It involved consultation with State and Territory governments, community groups and non-government organisations. It brought together relevant policy initiatives at federal and State level, targeting basic education, food and nutrition, child health, water and sanitation, children in difficult circumstances, Indigenous people and women's health and education.

[112] This Action Plan was developed in accordance with the recommendations of the Vienna Declaration endorsed by the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights. It sets out challenges and future action to be taken by the federal Government and contains a section on protecting the rights of children. It was most recently updated in 1994.

[113] Australian and NZ Youth Ministerial Council Discussion Paper Australian Youth Policy: A Statement of Principles and Objectives AGPS Canberra 1992.

[114] The National Child Protection Council was established to focus government and community attention on the elimination of child abuse and neglect. In the past, the Council played a role in supporting and co-ordinating the efforts of the federal and State and Territory governments in the implementation of the National Prevention Strategy for Child Abuse and Neglect. The Council was defunded but in 1997 the Minister for Family Services announced the establishment of a new National Child Abuse Prevention Council to provide the federal Government with expert advice on preventing child abuse and encouraging healthy, well-functioning families: J Moylan, Minister for Family Services Media Release 9 September 1997.

[115] SCAG was established to promote harmony between federal, State and Territory laws relating to the court system and access to justice generally. Its work has encompassed a wide range of areas including domestic violence, cross-vesting legislation, female genital mutilation and child sex tourism legislation. SCAG meets several times each year.

[116] The Standing Committee of Community Services and Income Security Administrators is made up of representatives from relevant State and Territory government depts and the Cth Dept of Health and Family Services and DSS. It co-ordinates policies relating to social welfare with an emphasis on the development of consistent laws, policies and practices. The Committee meets biannually.

[117] MCEETYA comprises Education Ministers from all State and Territory governments as well as the federal Government. The Council has formulated the Hobart Declaration on Schooling in Australia which sets out ten national goals for Australian education. The goals are based on the principles in CROC.

[118] The National Health Policy for Children and Young People was endorsed by Australian Health Ministers in June 1995. The Policy was developed by a National Working Party with members from federal, State and Territory governments, ATSIC, the National Health and Medical Research Council and consumer organisations. The Policy includes principles and strategies for national action to promote, maintain and improve the health of children and young people in Australia.

[119] The Protocol recognises that DSS, DEETYA and State and Territory family services depts all have some responsibility for young people who are homeless. It establishes a mechanism by which these depts can manage and provide services to young people who may fall within the jurisdiction of one or more of these depts.

[120] See para 9.5. In 1997–98, the program was budgeted at $3.6 million: Minister for Finance Commonwealth Public Accounts 1997–98 Budget Paper No 4 AGPS Canberra 1997, 165.

[121] See para 15.5, rec 124.

[122] NCAVAC Unit Crime Prevention Initiatives Across the Commonwealth Government Attorney-General's Dept Canberra 1997. Launched on 5 June 1997, NCAVAC is a three year $13 million initiative to support a wide range of crime prevention strategies.

[123] NCAVAC Unit Domestic Violence — General Fact Sheet No 5 & Young People and Crime — General Fact Sheet No 6 Attorney-General's Dept Canberra 1997.

[124] ibid.

[125] The Australian Youth Foundation was established at the end of 1988 following the bicentenary of European settlement in Australia. It is an independent non-government organisation that 'assists young Australians who are socially, financially, physically or intellectually disadvantaged to reach their full potential': Attorney-General's Dept Australia's Report under the Convention of the Rights of the Child Attorney-General's Dept Canberra 1995, 21.

[126] AAYPIC was established in 1993 and operates as a consumer group for young people who are or have been in the care system. It is a national, independent organisation with networks in each State and Territory, except Tas and the ACT. It provides advocacy on a national level and peer support for children in care: J Owen & G Crowter, AAYPIC Public Hearing Submission Brisbane 31 July 1996.

[127] The Australian Youth Policy Action Committee, established in 1991, is the peak organization representing young people and non-government youth organisations in Australia. Its board consists of representatives from 17 organisations and an independent chairperson. All States and Territories are represented on the board. It aim to promote cultural, social, economic, political and spiritual interests and participation of young people (especially disadvantaged young people) in all areas of Australian society, promote and support programs for the eradication of poverty, and assist governments in the development of policy.