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State Govt announces plan to curb "concerning" child protection stats

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The SA Government has today released a new cross-government strategy that promises to curb a “concerning” spike in child protection notifications and reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in care.

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Seven government ministers, including Premier Steven Marshall, Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson and Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, have signed the whole-of-government “Safe and Well” strategy released this morning.

The 12-month strategy promises a series of reforms to better coordinate the Government’s ongoing implementation of the 512 recommendations made in the SA Child Protections Systems Royal Commission and the Commonwealth’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Those Royal Commissions exposed widespread failures from both the State and Federal Governments to protect vulnerable children from abuse within and outside the child protection system.

By the age of ten, one in three children in South Australia will have been the subject of a notification to the Child Protection Department.

Latest data from the Department shows at the end of August, there were 4040 children in care – the highest number recorded.

The strategy also states that the number of notifications to the child abuse report line has climbed at a “concerning” rate, with over 78,000 notifications made in 2018-19 alone.

“Many of the families involved with the child protection system have multiple and complex needs,” the strategy states.

“Domestic and family violence is the most common issue for these families, with substance misuse and mental health issues also showing up as being significant factors in notifications and instances of children entering care.

“Intergenerational trauma, disability, housing, unemployment, criminal and legal matters also contribute to the complexity of the environment in which families are caring for their children.”

The Government says the strategy takes a “contemporary view” of child protection, but it admits many of the actions are already being implemented.

New actions include reforming contract and procurement at the Child Protection Department and developing a separate “First 1000 Days of Life” strategy, to be implemented by the Health Department.

The strategy also outlines a general pledge to tackle the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children “in all parts of the system”, including by increasing procurement from Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.

Currently, Aboriginal children represent a third of children in care, despite representing less than five per cent of the state’s general child population.

Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson said the strategy would ensure the recommendations of the State and Federal Government Royal Commissions were not considered in isolation.

“We are committed to honouring each of these recommendations within a more holistic approach to reform,” she said.

But opposition child protection spokesperson Jayne Stinson said many of the strategy’s recommendations were made under the former Labor Government.

“Sadly, this glossy document does not contain any new investment and no innovative new initiatives,” she said.

“While it’s encouraging that much of the work of the previous government is intended to continue, no government can afford to stand still when it comes to child protection.”

It follows last week’s release of the Guardian for Children and Young People’s annual report, which revealed children in state care were voluntarily choosing to stay in prison because they felt fearful and unsafe at residential care facilities.

The report also revealed serious physical and sexual abuse was occurring at residential and commercial care units, prompting Guardian Penny Wright to declare “many aspects” of the state’s child protection system were “in crisis”.

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