Community Services Ministers’ Meeting Communiqué

Community Services Ministers met in Canberra today and agreed priorities to improve the safety and wellbeing of children and young people.

Ministers agreed to drive reform efforts through the Fourth Action Plan of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020.

Fourth Action Plan of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020

Ministers discussed priorities and actions for the Fourth Action Plan 2018-2020 – the final Plan under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020.

Ministers affirmed their commitment to improve the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children and agreed to four priority areas under the Plan to deliver on this commitment.

Ministers expressed concern about the increasing rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in child protection systems and agreed a key priority under the Plan would be to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at risk of entering, or in child protection systems.

Ministers agreed another priority would be to improve prevention and early intervention responses through joint service planning to improve access for children and families, and provide more targeted, coordinated investment by governments.

Ministers welcomed news that local engagement would commence shortly on joint place‑based investment, including in the Australian Capital Territory as announced yesterday. The Commonwealth continues to work positively with other jurisdictions to identify further communities to invest in place‑based initiatives.

Ministers agreed improving outcomes for children in out-of-home care by enhancing placement stability through reunification and other permanent care options.

Ministers agreed the final priority would be to improve organisations’ and governments’ ability to keep children and young people safe from abuse in recognition of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Ministers noted the progress of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, which incorporate the child safe standards recommended by the Royal Commission. Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to finalise the National Principles and progress them to COAG for endorsement following all governments’ responses to the Royal Commission’s report.

National Permanency Work Plan for children and young people

At their 25 August 2017 meeting, Ministers committed to provide children in out-of-home care with stable and permanent care as soon as possible.

Ministers agreed that the welfare and best interests of the child must always be the paramount concern in all decisions impacting on permanency for a child. This commitment recognises that abused and neglected children deserve to grow up in a family that is permanent, safe and stable, if they cannot safely be reunified with their families within a reasonable time.

To deliver on this commitment, Ministers agreed to a National Permanency Work Plan that outlines fourteen clear actions to deliver on five key strategies to improve permanency outcomes.

This Plan puts nine permanency guiding principles agreed by Ministers into action, and builds on the permanency reforms already underway in each state and territory.

Ministers agreed to develop a nationally consistent approach to guide timely decision making so that children have a sense of stability as soon as possible. Ministers will also develop a national strategy to recruit and retain more permanent carers.

Ministers noted the work already underway to finalise a Permanency Outcomes Performance Framework to publically report on permanency timeframes that are achieved.

Ministers agreed to implement ‘active efforts’ in jurisdictions to ensure compliance with all five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. This action recognises the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be raised in their own culture and the importance and value of their family, extended family, kinship networks, culture and community.

Ministers also agreed that it is important to support Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in having a role and responsibility towards their children.

Through this Plan, Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to deliver more timely and secure permanent care decisions, and to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care.

Support for Carers

Ministers affirmed their commitment to support home-based carers through child protection systems and Centrelink supports.

Ministers welcomed the Commonwealth’s $85.6 million investment in the new early intervention service for unpaid carers, the Integrated Carer Support Service. The new service will recognise, support and sustain the vital work of unpaid carers, and States and Territories committed to provide ongoing feedback to the Commonwealth on the implementation of this service.

Ministers acknowledged the voluntary nature of caring for children in out-of-home care and agreed to undertake further work to better support carers.

Related Reform

Ministers discussed the intersection of child protection systems with the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Ministers committed to fulfil their respective responsibilities to continue to support children with disability.

Ministers noted progress on actions under the Third Action Plan 2015-2018 of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020, particularly the implementation of two key trials under that plan – Parent Link in Queensland, and the Towards Independent Adulthood trial in Western Australia.