Protect young people and care leavers in NSW to grow up healthily, happily and safely



        


All young people have the right to be safe and to receive loving care and support. Young people also have a right to receive the services they need to enable them to succeed in life.

However, in NSW the number of children and young people entering care is increasing, which places more pressure on the system. In particular, the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people entering care have increased and continue to be significantly overrepresented in the care population. And young people who leave care have significantly poorer outcomes.

  • Out of a total 59,092 children in NSW receiving child protection services, 7,142 were aged 15–17 years, significantly less than the 16,003 aged 10–14 years.[1]
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are ten times more likely to be placed in out of home care (OOHC),[2] yet 15–17-year-old Indigenous young people were less likely to be receiving child protection services than their non-Indigenous counterparts, at approximately 10% compared to approximately 13% respectively.[3]
  • Young people aged 15–17 are overrepresented in residential care (46.2%), independent living (95.4%) and other care arrangements (34.8%), compared to family care (11.6%), home-based out-of-home care (11.6%) and family group homes (15%).[4]
  • Investigation by the NSW Ombudsman in 2014 reported that ‘a higher proportion of reports about adolescents were often receiving no response.’[5]

 

The NSW Government can:

  • Develop a whole of government policy and practice framework, and a strategy that articulates a strong commitment specifically to at risk young people, including Aboriginal young people, with measures to track progress and provide accountability.
  • Commit to increase expenditure to prevention and early intervention over a five-year period, including programs for prevention and early intervention for young people aged 12–25 in NSW.
  • Raise the age of leaving out-of-home care to 21, for young people who wish to stay beyond 18, as recommended by the Home Stretch[6] There should be adequate supports attached in relation to housing, education, employment, life skills, mental health and peer support, and adequate assistance for carers.
  • Implement policies to prepare young people to transition to independence and invest in quality monitoring of agencies’ compliance with these policies.

 

Young people have the right to a response when they require care and protection, and intervention can reap both personal and systemic rewards. Yet, as a consequence of additional pressure on the system, young people who are at risk and who need support don’t get it. It is very clear from a range of systems reviews, government policy statements, data sets, and through evidence provided from youth support services that young people at risk in NSW are not receiving a sufficient systemic response.

Young people in NSW often are not receiving a statutory child protection intervention when it is needed. Aside from a statutory response, when a young person comes into contact with the system – whether they are reported as at Risk of Significant Harm (ROSH) or below ROSH – there should be mechanisms in place that trigger a response.[7] Many young people at risk of harm do not get the support they need.

As a result, the youth support sector is working with an increasing number of complex clients without the appropriate recognition or funding. This has flow-on effects as to how well NSW can stop the escalation of young people in crisis while early intervention services are increasingly dealing with complex and crisis clients.

There is also tension between children and young people in the child protection system of NSW. There is no shortage of evidence that demonstrates the impact of the first years of life on lifelong health and wellbeing outcomes.[8] It is well established that young people experience a key period of rapid and extensive psychological and biological growth, ‘second only to early childhood in the rate and breadth of developmental change,’[9] coupled with an increase in vulnerability to a range of risks. During such an important period of growth, risks can become embedded or averted. Interventions during adolescence can decrease the adverse long-term impacts of, for example, violence and abuse.[10] The intervention of the child protection system can serve to protect vulnerable young people from the worst of poor social outcomes, such as involvement in justice systems, homelessness, unemployment and poor mental health.

This tension is reflected, but not well addressed, in NSW’s child protection systems. While NSW has provided important investment in the early years of life, policy and strategy has not kept pace with the evidence base around adolescent intervention. This is also true of the child protection system; when prioritisation is necessary, very young children are considered a high priority while young people are not. Despite strong evidence on the importance of life cycles and the effectiveness of intervention both in early childhood as well as adolescence, it is clear from data, as well as reports from those who work on the ground with young people that are ‘older,’ young people such as those aged 14–17 are not well supported across the child protection system.

The 2011 Child Rights report further highlights the unmet need for young people, stating: ‘There is a lack of government attention to older children and adolescents. This is most evident in the “buck-passing” between community services and youth justice authorities when children in need of care come into contact with the criminal justice system, the lack of adequate accommodation options for older children, and the abuse of children even after they have been the subject of care orders.’[11]

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are vastly over-represented in the child protection system. Multiple inquiries have reinforced the consistent and enduring issues of the child protection system in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. Many of the 54 recommendations outlined Bringing Them Home,[12] directed at healing and reconciliation, as well as addressing the policies and practices around contemporary removals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people from their families, remain unrealised almost 20 years later.

The asserted principle of self-determination for Indigenous peoples is the key to reversing the over-representation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system and to eliminating unjustified removals of Indigenous children from their families.[13]

NSW has the highest rate of removals in Australia, with approximately one in ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in OOHC.[14] While FaCS has made efforts to address this, such as developing the Aboriginal Cultural Inclusion Framework 2015–2018, aiming to embed Aboriginal cultural inclusion, accountability and monitoring processes into the work of FaCS,[15] this has not been enough to reduce the disproportionate rate of removals. The facts of contemporary separation highlight a need for fundamental change in child protection legislation, policy and practice.

Young people should get timely and appropriate support services, even if it’s not a statutory response, when they’re reported at risk of harm.

 

A NSW government can:

  • Develop a whole of government policy and practice framework, and a strategy that articulates a strong commitment specifically to at risk young people, including Aboriginal young people, with measures to track progress and provide accountability.

We need to make sure that every preventative effort has been made so that removing a child or young person from a family is a last resort. Prevention and early intervention is critical to reduce the increasing numbers of children and young people in crisis. This is a core strategy of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children: ‘Australia needs to move from seeing “protecting children” merely as a response to abuse and neglect to one of promoting the safety and wellbeing of children.’[16]

It is well documented that prevention and early intervention are both more effective in achieving positive outcomes and a stronger investment. As put by Allen and Smith, ‘The two public policy strengths of Early Intervention are firstly that it is less expensive and second it is more effective than late intervention. It is no longer viable to take ever increasing amounts of taxation from the public to deal with the ever-increasing impact of failing to intervene early.’[17] As highlighted by Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), ‘expenditure on late intervention and crisis response is becoming unsustainable – rising demand and increasing complexity is creating significant long-term challenges for government budgets.’[18]

It is clear that the tertiary intervention to protect children and young people from harm is not adequately resourced. Nor does this give basis for a reduction or removal of funding from young people in crisis. It must, however, be recognised that there is a very real risk of the continual growth of young people in crisis, because support to prevent, intervene early or mitigate crisis is neglected. In NSW, while there are positive indications about early intervention, the rhetoric fails to shift to real financial commitment.

 

A NSW government can:

  • Commit to increase expenditure to prevention and early intervention over a five-year period, including programs for prevention and early intervention for young people aged 12–25 in NSW.

Young people leaving care are some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in Australia. In the first year of leaving care, 35% of young people are homeless, only 35% complete Year 12, 29% are unemployed, and 46% of males are involved in the youth justice system.[19]

In the past six months, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia have all committed to or started implementing policies to extend support for young people in out-of-home care until the age of 21.[20]

Analysis from Deloitte found that compared with 18-year-old care leavers, those staying in care until 21 were half as likely to become homeless, 24% less likely to suffer mental illness and 13% less likely to be drug dependent.[21] Every dollar invested in an extension of OOHC support in NSW would see a return of $3.40.[22]

While extending out-of-home care is an excellent option for many young people, the NSW government needs to continue to improve its transition planning outcomes so that young people not only have, are aware of, and are happy with their leaving care plan, but that it goes beyond a piece of paper and ensures that young people have the skills and relationships in place to thrive independent of care.

 

The NSW government can:

  • Raise the age of leaving out-of-home care to 21, for young people who wish to stay beyond 18, as recommended by the Home Stretch campaign.[23] There should be adequate supports attached in relation to housing, education, employment, life skills, mental health and peer support, and adequate assistance for carers.
  • Implement policies to prepare young people to transition to independence and invest in quality monitoring of agencies’ compliance with these policies.

 


 

 


[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2016, ‘Child Protection Australia 2014–15’, Child Welfare Series Number 63, AIHW, Canberra, p. 71.

[2] ibid, p. 33.

[3] ibid., pp. 15–16.

[4] ibid., p. 91.

[5] NSW Ombudsman, 2014, Review of the NSW Child Protection System: Are things Improving?, accessed via: <https://www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/15691/Review-of-the-NSW-child-protection-system-Are-things-improving-SRP-April-2014.pdf>, pp. 2–5.

[6] http://thehomestretch.org.au/

[7] Youth Action, 2016, Submission: Inquiry into Child Protection, Youth Action, Sydney, accessed via: <http://www.youthaction.org.au/shaping_better_child_protection>

[8] Fox S et al., 2015, Better Systems, Better Chances: A Review of Research and Practice for Prevention and Early Intervention Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), Canberra, p. 21.

[9] ibid.

[10] World Health Organisation, 2014, Health for the World’s Adolescents: A second chance in the second decade, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland, accessed via: <http://apps.who.int/adolescent/second-decade/files/1612_MNCAH_HWA_Executive_Summary.pdf>, p. 3.

[11] ibid. p.15

[12] Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1997, Bringing them home, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

[13] Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1997, Bringing them home, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

[14] Grandmothers Against Removals, 2015, Guiding principles for strengthening the participation of local Aboriginal community in child protection decision making, GMAR, 2015.

[15] Department of Family and Community Services, 2014, Aboriginal Inclusion Framework 2015–2018, NSW Government, Sydney.

[16] Council of Australian Governments, 2012, Protecting Children is Everyone's Business: National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009–2020, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p. 7.

[17] Allen G & Smith ID, 2008, Early intervention: Good parents, great kids, better citizens, Centre for Social Justice and the Smith Institute, London, UK, p.113.

[18] Fox S et al., 2015, Better Systems, Better Chances: A Review of Research and Practice for Prevention and Early Intervention Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), Canberra, p. 2.

[19] ibid., p. 32.

[20] Marchese D, 2018, ‘Supporting foster kids until 21 would slash homelessness and teen pregnancies, study finds’, Triple J Hack, ABC News, 24 October 2018, accessed via: <https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/extending-state-care-to-21-to-slash-homelessness/10422602>

[21] Michael L, 2018, ‘Longer foster care would cut suffering and save millions, study finds’ Probono Australia, 24 October 2018, accessed via: <https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2018/10/longer-foster-care-cut-suffering-save-millions-study-finds/>

[22] Deloitte, 2018, Extending care to 21 years in New South Wales, commissioned by Home Stretch Campaign NSW, Sydney, accessed via: <https://www.anglicare.org.au/media/4351/home-stretch-campaign-nsw-oct-2018.pdf>, p. 20

[23] http://thehomestretch.org.au/