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"This isn't going to change overnight", warns new child protection chief

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The incoming head of the state’s troubled child protection agency has announced her arrival with a warning that positive change won’t happen overnight, and a signal to the morale-sapped staff in the department she will lead.

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Queensland-based bureaucrat and child protection expert Cathy Taylor was today unveiled as the woman to lead the new Department for Child Protection, the agency charged with resurrecting SA’s battered credentials in the portfolio after a string of high-profile failures.

Her appointment came as Premier Jay Weatherill signalled ministerial responsibility for the troubled agency would remain with incumbent Susan Close, who will also continue to oversee Education.

Taylor said it was vital not to let the new department “exist as an island in and of itself”.

“I don’t underestimate the size of the job [and] I understand this isn’t going to change overnight,” she told reporters this morning as she dedicated herself to a “committed and energetic” approach.

“Working with staff is going to be critically important… I look forward to working with the extremely committed staff within Families SA; the Government is going to walk alongside them on the journey we’re taking together.

“They work long and hard… this is complex work, some of the toughest you could ever undertake, and we’ll be working alongside them and supporting them.”

Taylor comes to SA, starting at the end of next month, from her role as Deputy Director General of Queensland’s Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.

She was previously that department’s Regional Executive Director, Executive Director of Child Safety and general manager of Youth and Development, among numerous other roles.

But her pedigree, while distinguished, is notable given Queensland’s own recent child protection controversies, highlighted by the brutal death of the 21-month-old Mason Lee.

That state’s Opposition declared the child protection system “in crisis” as recently as July, with caseloads and frontline staffing in the spotlight.

Queensland’s Sunday Mail has reported that months before his June 11 death, Lee was taken to hospital with severe injuries suggesting long-term abuse, but despite doctors notifying authorities no action was taken after the caseworker was transferred.

The Courier Mail has also reported that the child protection department’s executive director, Matthew Lupi, emailed Taylor last year warning that the number of cases taking over 60 days to investigate was increasing, and seeking an explanation.

He reportedly noted that “the devil’s number”, 66.6 per cent, of notifications of abuse in the last quarter of the previous year involved families already known to the department.

Asked about the looming potential for deft crisis management, Taylor said today: “There’s no question about it, there’s obviously going to be complex cases and quite rightly the public expects us to review and ask what we can do better.”

“I can signal to you that I’ve learnt from every case, both the good and the adverse,” she said.

Taylor noted that Queensland’s mandatory reporting regime was “unusual”, in that it had not been covered under one piece of legislation.

“Our challenge was to bring all mandatory reporting together into one piece of legislation, and have one threshold… you’re already in an advanced state from where we were,” she said.

Weatherill has previously mooted the prospect of abolishing SA’s mandatory reporting requirements – a suggestion vetoed by the findings of the Nyland commission.

Weatherill said today Taylor’s task would be to “manage the culture of this agency which has deep and challenging issues”, as well as implementing the balance of recommendations emanating from the Nyland report.

“A key element will be the relationships she forms with other agencies, whether they be our health care agencies, our Education department and most importantly our non-Government agencies,” he said.

Weatherill all but ruled out transferring the child protection portfolio to a new minister, arguing Justice Margaret Nyland made “no recommendation of that sort”.

That will mean while Education and Child Protection will become separate agencies, Minister Susan Close will still retain carriage of both.

The Premier suggested John Rau’s additional role as minister for Child Protection Reform would be wound up in due course.

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