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Nyland Royal Commission a "missed opportunity": welfare chief

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The Nyland Royal Commission into the state’s broken child protection system has been deemed a missed opportunity by the head of one of SA’s foremost welfare agencies, who says its findings “missed the mark”.

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Uniting Communities chief executive Simon Schrapel, writing in InDaily today, says the royal commission’s final report, published last month, falls short “in delivering the big and bold reform SA needs”.

“Even if implemented in full, the recommendations will do little to improve how SA responds to children and young people experiencing, or at risk of, harm,” he writes.

Schrapel told InDaily there was a widespread “sense of frustration” among stakeholders “that the report missed the mark”.

He said its 260 recommendations were set to cost well over the initial Government allocation of $200 million over four years, which “doesn’t leave them a lot of scope to do much more”, and questioned “whether it would make a lot of difference, quite frankly”.

He said there was “growing frustration that having spent two years and a fair bit of money”, the report’s approach was “heading down the path of trying to tweak a system that’s so broken… it’s the wrong starting point”.

“Nobody’s looking at whole picture,” he said.

“[Nyland’s report] is a great analysis of the problem, but I don’t think her recommendations have nailed the solution, which is the sting.

“We’ve spent this money, given an expert two years and she’s come up with these solutions [so] it’s like we have to accept them and get on with implementing them.”

But in doing so, Schrapel argues, “we’ve lost the focus of the debate”.

“I think there’s a lot of [political] self-interest and nobody’s really looking at the bigger picture, which is: ‘How do we turn around the system in a way that deals with the demand?’

“What’s creating the dynamic and are there things we can do in relation to turning the taps off?”

Schrapel’s solution is to approach child protection policy as we do public health, with a greater focus on prevention.

“We do that in relation to health issues, where we start to look to what’s causing it and try and address it at its root,” he said.

“We haven’t got that sort of system in relation to family dysfunction.

“We almost assume that’s a bit of a given in our community and we need to be able to address it when it manifests itself – and therein lies the problem of our tiered system… we’re putting in the fixes at the tertiary end of the whole system.

“It’s akin to the health debate – do we stick in more surgeons, more operating tables, more hospital beds… or do we acknowledge that for some people that’s required and needs to be done well, but unless we do something upstream to steer people out of the system we get this deluge of demand, and it will suck more and more money and have poorer and poorer outcomes.”

There are now more than 3200 child in out-of-home care, which Schrapel argues is economically unaffordable.

“If we shift that threshold to ‘we should be removing more children’, we’ll be in even bigger strife,” he said.

“I think we are a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights: which way do we go? Do we stay here and hope the car stops, or move left or move right…?

“It’s inevitable the system is going to have this cycle of dysfunction, but we’ve got to improve the response and our decision-making in relation to accepting kids coming into care.”

Schrapel wanted more discussion around whether the state’s mandatory notification regime was delivering the best outcomes for child protection and the best use of resources, but noted that with the Nyland report backing the existing framework, “I suspect politically that whole issue is completely off the radar, and won’t be revisited any time soon”.

He wants the debate to be framed around a broader question: What do we expect out of the child protection system?

“Do we think the best way to help more children is to take more children and put them in more care?” he said.

While the Weatherill Government welcomed the Nyland report last month, it has divided stakeholders. Foster carers expressed disappointment at what they dubbed “a failed opportunity to address the fundamental lack of legal rights and recognition of foster carers”.

And former Treasurer Kevin Foley was lukewarm in his response, saying the report would “add some useful commentary and suggestions to the problem, but [Nyland] is not the font of all knowledge”.

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