Report reveals systemic barriers to supporting vulnerable children


Six core issues plaguing Australia’s child protection and youth justice systems feature in dozens of inquiries over more than a decade, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The report is based on analysis of over 3,000 recommendations from 61 state, territory and Commonwealth reports and inquiries into child protection and youth justice between 2010 and 2022.

The systemic issues repeatedly identified in reports over that 12-year period include inadequate levels of investment; inadequate levels of information sharing and collaboration; limited workforce capacity and support; a lack of mechanisms for oversight, monitoring and transparency; and limited opportunities for children to participate and be heard.

The report also highlights limited partnerships with First Nations organisations and a lack of self-determination in youth justice and child protection systems.

Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner, Anne Hollonds, said strong government action is needed to address the deep-seated issues within the systems that are impacting outcomes for children.

‘Children in contact with the child protection and youth justice systems have complex needs such as poverty, marginalisation, systemic racism, disabilities, learning problems, and poor mental and physical health. And we know the systems that are meant to help them are not fit-for-purpose,’ Commissioner Hollonds said.

‘The fact that the same evidence-based recommendations are repeated in reports, year after year, demonstrates the lack of accountability for action and the lack of a sense of urgency.

‘We need to make child safety and wellbeing a national priority for the federation and fix the barriers that are stopping action on evidence-based systems reform,’ Commissioner Hollonds said.

Dr Emily Stevens, Research Fellow, Australian Institute of Family Studies said the report provides, for the first time, a national picture of the issues confronting these systems.

‘While responsibility for child protection and youth justice lies mainly with individual state and territory governments, the issues and barriers that keep emerging in government reviews and inquiries span jurisdictional boundaries,’ Dr Stevens said.

‘The repetition of those themes across dozens of inquiries and thousands of recommendations indicates the need for action and implementation at all levels of government, rather than more inquiries.’

Commissioner Hollonds said Australia needs to see the practical value of implementing the principles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children, which we signed in 1990.

‘They are like a compass that can guide our decisions about policy for children and their families,’ Commissioner Hollonds said.

‘Just as we have made ‘women and women’s safety’ a key priority for National Cabinet, we need to make child safety and wellbeing a shared national priority for reform.’

The report was written by researchers at the Australian Institute of Family Studies in partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission with funding from The Ian Potter Foundation.

Improving the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children: a consolidation of systemic recommendations and evidence is available on AIFS’ website.

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