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State Govt's half-billion-dollar child protection revamp

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Shifting the weight of public investment from looking after abused and neglected children to prevention and early intervention will be the focus of a revamped child protection regime.

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The State Government today confirmed it will tip another $232 million into the struggling system in its full response to the Nyland Royal Commission.

As reported exclusively by InDaily last week, the Government’s response to the child protection system inquiry will make a further call on the state’s coffers, with Premier Jay Weatherill announcing new measures today which bring spending announced since the inquiry reported to $432 million.

Weatherill, who has been closely involved in the state’s child protection system for much of his political career, announced this morning that the Government had accepted 196 of Justice Margaret Nyland’s recommendations, agreed in principle with 60, and had rejected four.

In the Government’s formal response tabled today – titled “A Fresh Start” – he promised to create a “new child protection system which is better targeted at prevention and early intervention”.

The Government has produced draft legislation – the Children and  Young People (Safety) Bill 2016 – to govern the new system, and has made the Bill available for public consultation.

Child Protection Reform Minister John Rau said the Bill was designed to improve the process of legal representation for children, remove unnecessary barriers for carers wanting to obtain long-term guardianship and make provisions to support young people up to the age of 25.

The Bill switches the guardianship function from the Minister for Education and Child Development to the chief executive of the new Department for Child Protection, and also aims to give children and young people a greater say in decisions that affect them.

The Government’s response says that under the Bill, “children and young people must participate in decision-making, and must have a reasonable opportunity to put their views to the court. The Bill enables the minister to set up a children’s visitor scheme, and outlines the rights of children in residential facilities to make complaints.”

Weatherill announced a raft of spending initiatives, many aimed at early intervention.

The response document, which can be found here, outlines the change in approach and makes it clear that responsibility for the new system goes well beyond the new Child Protection Department.

“Rather than primarily investing in responding to abuse and neglect after it occurs, we must also allocate resources and effort to prevent child maltreatment,” the response says.

“The broader child development system aims to avoid protection measures altogether by changing parent behaviour and addressing the social factors that lead to abuse and neglect. Prevention efforts must recognise and target the complex and often interrelated risk factors that underlie child abuse and neglect, such as mental health, substance abuse, poverty, family violence, social isolation, homelessness and intergenerational trauma.”

The Premier said initiatives would include:

The Government rejected four royal commission recommendations which relate to employment of specific support staff, outsourcing of kinship carers, and implementation of a new screening tool for call centre staff.

Weatherill, a former minister in charge of the child protection system, promised a fresh start for the beleaguered system, which has been plagued by catastrophic failures including the shocking abuse of children by state carers.

“We have already taken some significant steps in our response including the establishment of the new Department for Child Protection, however the cultural change required will not happen overnight,” he said.

“Our actions in response to the Royal Commission provide us a way forward and are designed to deliver effective, long-term improvements that support the health and wellbeing of children and their families across the state.”

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall was skeptical about the Government’s response.

“The only way to change the broken South Australian child protection system is to change the government,” Marshall said.

“Jay Weatherill has had 14 years and countless opportunities to fix the system he created and he has failed.”

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