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Child protection watchdog resigns due to lack of funding


South Australia’s inaugural Child and Young Person’s Visitor, who was legislated to conduct inspections and advocate for the welfare of children living in residential care following a Royal Commission, has resigned saying a lack of government funding means she can’t do the job.

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Wright announced on her website this morning that she was “just not able to meet the obligations of the role” after the State Government stopped funding the position in 2019.

She said she formally resigned as Child and Young Person’s Visitor on Monday “as a matter of good conscience and transparency”, but will continue in her roles as Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor.

The Child and Young Person’s Visitor position was created in 2017 in response to a recommendation by Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland, who after a two-year child protection inquiry found that more oversight was needed over children living in residential care.

Residential care homes are places where children in state care are housed together and looked after by rostered carers.

A role in name only, without resources, does not enable me to fulfil its functions even to a minimum standard

Nyland estimated in 2016 that it would cost $1.7 million to fund the role, but since then the number of children in residential care has almost doubled.

The Government in 2018 funded Wright and her staff to conduct a two-year trial, during which they visited 100 children aged two to 17 who were living in facilities managed by the Department for Child Protection.

But the Government stopped funding the scheme after the trial ended towards the end of 2019.

Wright has since repeatedly asked the Government to resume funding the role, including after the release of a damning report into the Child Protection Department’s handling of two sexual abuse cases involving 13-year-old girls in residential care.

At the time, she told InDaily that children in residential care are “at higher risk of harmful sexual behaviour and sexual exploitation” and there was a need for greater transparency and accountability.

Wright said this morning that her office had “worked extremely hard to make the (Child and Young Person’s Visitor) role work for the benefit of these children”.

She said before the last State Budget she submitted a “detailed business case” to the Government outlining how her office could continue to visit South Australia’s 200 residential care properties.

“As this was not successful, there is no ongoing funding for the role or scheme,” she said.

“I have now concluded that, in the absence of any dedicated resourcing for the Child and Young Person’s Visitor, and no likelihood of resourcing in the foreseeable future, I am just not able to meet the obligations of the role.”

Wright said that the South Australian community should “take some comfort in knowing that there is a statutory position dedicated to looking out for these vulnerable children and young people”.

“However, a role in name only, without resources, does not enable me to fulfil its functions even to a minimum standard,” she said. 

Wright will still have powers to conduct visits of residential care homes in her capacity as Guardian for Children and Young People.

But she said that funding pressures meant that less than 10 per cent of South Australian residential care homes would receive a “monitoring visit” this year, with those inspections “less comprehensive than envisaged by a formal visiting scheme”.

A government spokesperson told InDaily that the Child and Young Person’s Visitor role was “always intended to be a trial”.

They said Wright could continue to visit all residential care facilities in the state and advocate for children and young people in her role as Guardian.

“We remain committed to continuing to work productively with the Guardian with our shared aim of improving outcomes for children and young people in care,” the spokesperson said.

Opposition child protection spokesperson Katrine Hildyard described Wright’s resignation as “devastating for South Australia’s most vulnerable children and young people”.

“Ms Wright has repeatedly warned Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson that children in residential care are at increased risk from predators,” she said.

“Ms Wright urged the Minister to reinstate funding for the visitor scheme in her last annual report and the Opposition has repeatedly called on the Minister to do so.

“It is a travesty that (the Child Protection) Minister has ignored Penny Wright’s calls and her resignation is a loss that will impact children and young people who most need support.”

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