Community Services Ministers’ Meeting Communique

Community Services Ministers met via video conference to discuss priorities to improve the safety of children and young people in Australian communities.  All Ministers acknowledged the critical importance of responding to COVID-19 given its impact on all Australians, including children and young people.

Ministers shared advice on current actions underway to support communities, families and children to manage the impact of COVID-19. In addition to Australian Government announcements, a number of jurisdictions have announced or are announcing responses to support Australia’s most vulnerable families and children. Ministers agreed to meet regularly to ensure a coordinated and consistent approach to information sharing and action. Officials from all jurisdictions will hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss COVID-19 responses on 23 March 2020.

The next steps for the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009‑2020 (National Framework)

Ministers affirmed their strong commitment to improving safety outcomes for children and families beyond the conclusion of the National Framework at the end of 2020. Each Minister discussed the challenges of supporting children and young people in their own state and territory but all Ministers agreed on the importance of having a national approach.

Ministers agreed that a new framework must have flexibility to acknowledge the different circumstances of each jurisdiction and also build on the significant work already underway across a range of priority areas. Ministers agreed that the framework should focus on issues where there would be demonstrable benefit in having a national approach. These issues could include improving protective factors with evidence-based prevention and early interventions to prevent engagement with the child protection system where possible, supporting young people who are transitioning from out-of-home care, enhancing responses to supporting young parents who may have been in care as children and young people who are now kinship carers. The new framework should define clear and measurable outcomes to be achieved by the framework.

Ministers discussed the importance of coordinating Commonwealth and state and territory services, strategies and data, and ensuring that evidence based decision making was enabling states and territories to provide best practice in delivery of child protection strategies.

All Ministers agreed that addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children overrepresentation in child protection systems, ensuring co-design and engagement with Indigenous communities, and ensuring the voice of the child is included in decision making, would be some of the key principles underpinning the development of the new framework.

Ministers provided in-principle support to develop a new 10-year framework with two 5-year National Plans to be endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments, reaffirming the importance of this framework to all levels of government. Senior Officials from all jurisdictions will work together to develop a detailed proposal for Ministers’ consideration later in 2020.

Extending supports for young people aged 18 to 21

Ministers discussed the challenges that young people transitioning from out-of-home care to independence face, including social and economic marginalisation and a range of poor educational and health outcomes.  Ministers acknowledged research, both Australian and international, indicating that young people were more likely to experience successful transitions to independence and adulthood when they had the option to continue living with their foster families until they turn 21.

States and territories are trialling extended supports for young people in out-of-home care, and some already provide transition services for young people up until they turn 25.  There was broad agreement that young people need a variety of supports depending on their situation including employment, education, access to health services and housing.

Ministers agreed to consider a collaborative response to this issue in the context of a new National Framework, to ensure a robust evidence-based approach to supporting young people in care aged 18 to 21 as they transition to independent adulthood.

Major achievements under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children

In 2018, Community Services Ministers endorsed the Fourth Action Plan under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 (the National Framework). Ministers noted key actions that have already been delivered under the Plan, including:

  • work to implement the five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection) in child protection and family support policies, practices and services. Ministers noted the important role of SNAICC – Voice for our Children in driving implementation of the Principle.
  • implementation of Stronger Places, Stronger People, a place-based collective impact initiative implemented in 10 communities across Australia.  Seven of the 10 communities have been announced to date, including Logan, Rockhampton and Gladstone in Queensland; Bourke in New South Wales (NSW); Burnie in Tasmania; the Far West Region (including Ceduna) in South Australia; and the Barkly Region in the Northern Territory.
  • projects to improve permanency outcomes for children in out-of-home care, including a review of family focused practice in decision-making and models of professional foster care, and a review of evidence on timely decision-making outcomes for children in care available here.  Ministers also discussed the Permanency Outcomes Performance Framework that supports the development of new nationally agreed permanency indicators.

National Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

Ministers are committed to developing a National Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (National Strategy) as recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. There was strong support for a National Strategy that includes cross‑portfolio policy initiatives, recognising that all sectors can make an important contribution towards establishing a coordinated, nationally consistent approach to preventing child sexual abuse in all settings. Ministers acknowledged the collaborative approach taken in consultations to date.

Ministers acknowledged further work was required to finalise the scope of the National Strategy, noting COVID-19 may impact timeframes. All Ministers recognised the need for a coordinated approach to reduce the risk of duplicated effort across governments. Ministers agreed that the National Strategy would complement other initiatives currently underway, including development of a successor to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 and the new National Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.

Next Steps

Ministers agreed to meet regularly with a dedicated focus on COVID-19. The next meeting will be in mid-April 2020, but all Ministers acknowledged the need to be responsive at this time. There is a strong and clear commitment from all Ministers to support all Australians, including children and young people, in responding to the challenges of COVID-19.