Community Services Ministers (CSM) met via teleconference on Friday 11 September 2020. The ACT was represented by senior officials as the ACT Government entered caretaker period on 11 September 2020. Ministers acknowledged the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus pandemic particularly in Victoria. Ministers reiterated their joint commitment in continuing to work together to support all families affected by the pandemic. Ministers supported prioritising the successor to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 and continuing work during the pandemic.
Ministers noted National Child Protection Week was held between 6 September 2020 to 12 September 2020. This marks the 30th year that NAPCAN has hosted National Child Protection Week. Ministers reflected on this year’s theme of putting children first and acknowledged that this is particularly important in the context of responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ministers welcomed the appointment of Ms Anne Hollonds as Australia’s incoming National Children’s Commissioner. Ms Hollonds will complete her appointment as Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) before taking up her five year appointment as National Children’s Commissioner from 2 November 2020.
Ministers acknowledged the release of the Youth Taskforce Interim Report by the Department of Health, with a National Youth Policy Framework to be completed by the end of 2020.
Ministers discussed state and territory lessons learned in delivering services and adjusting administrative structures to continue to support families during the coronavirus pandemic. While the response in each jurisdiction has been tailored to the challenges faced by each state or territory, Ministers noted that responding to these challenges has provided opportunity for innovations that will be carried forward into long-term service delivery. This included closer collaboration between child protection, education and health officials, new methods for managing residential care, and strategies to protect children in remote communities.
Update on Closing the Gap targets for children in out-of-home care
Ministers welcomed Minister for Indigenous Australians the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP to the meeting. Minister Wyatt provided an update on Australian Government considerations of the Closing the Gap target for children in out-of-home-care.
Minister Wyatt informed the meeting that the National Agreement on Closing the Gap came into effect on 27 July 2020. This is the first time a framework designed to overcome the inequality experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and enable them to achieve life outcomes equal to all Australians has been developed in formal partnership between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves.
One of the outcome areas under the National Agreement is to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not overrepresented in the child protection system, with a target to reduce the rate of over-representation by 45 per cent by 2031. Minister Wyatt acknowledged the importance of governments working together to keep children safe and healthy by identifying and replicating best practice, in partnership with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. Ministers noted that a number of states and territories had developed very strong practice in this area which was seeing clear gains in reducing the intake of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into out of home care and increases in family restoration.
Future policy development
The Ministers discussed the pause on national reform activities introduced in March 2020 to allow resources to be diverted to the coronavirus pandemic response. Ministers agreed that the Children and Families Secretaries (CaFS) group would consider the capacity of each jurisdiction to return to national reform activities and to report back to CSM.
Minister Ward (NSW) noted that the NSW Children’s Commissioner recently reviewed a matter related to the management of Working with Children Check (WWCC) applicants who have been charged with a serious offence against a child, in circumstances where the charge has been dealt with through mental health provisions. Ministers requested that the CaFS consider this issue further, including identifying options for addressing these diversionary outcomes and the need for national consistency in dealing with such circumstances.
Ministers also agreed to continue receiving updates on establishing the National Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse as a standing item on future CSM meeting agendas.
The next CSM meeting is scheduled for 25 November 2020.