Family Relationships Services Australia National Conference - Be the Change: Leaving No One Behind

***check against delivery***

Good morning everyone.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their Elders — past, present and future.

Thank you for inviting me to give this opening address today, and for the vital work you do in improving outcomes for families, children and communities across Australia.

This conference provides an opportunity for us to come together to examine the evidence on what is and isn’t working well to improve outcomes for families, children and communities – particularly those facing complex challenges that we know can impact on their emotional, social, educational and economic outcomes.

Recently we have been working together to identify opportunities to strengthen our investment in families and children through the Stronger Outcomes for Families consultation.

Earlier this year, we held 46 consultations in 30 different locations. Over 300 service providers, Indigenous leaders, academics and peak bodies and over 80 family and community members participated in the consultations.

In these wide-ranging consultations, we received thorough and constructive insights from a wide range of stakeholders - many of these stakeholders are represented in this room today.

We acknowledge and highly value the ‘on the ground’ connection that many of these stakeholders have with the very children, families and communities we aim to reach.

It is incredibly valuable to hear about what matters, what works and what can be improved in the field of child and family services.

I am a firm believer that working together is key to ensuring the best possible outcomes for children, families and communities.

This is just the start of an ongoing conversation about how we can best work together to improve outcomes for families and children.

I sincerely thank everyone who participated in the consultation and look forward to more discussions during the conference and over the coming months.

National Framework for Protecting Children & Fourth Action Plan

‘Collaboration’ emerged as a strong theme throughout the recent consultations. Working collaboratively across all sectors to respond holistically to families, children and communities with complex needs is essential if we are to be effective.

There are a number of key frameworks and plans through which the Australian Government partners with state and territory governments and the community sector.

We are working to ensure Australia’s children and young people are safe and well under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020, also known as the National Framework. It is a concerted national effort across governments and the community sector.

While the state and territory governments have statutory responsibility for protecting children, the National Framework focuses on addressing complex problems that require joined up, concentrated effort from the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, and the non-government sector.

The National Framework emphasises prevention and early intervention activities to ensure children are nurtured and thriving.

The first three action plans under the National Framework delivered many key achievements, including the appointment of the National Children’s Commissioner, the development of National Standards for out-of-home care, and the delivery of projects to improve service responses for vulnerable families and promote better understanding of child wellbeing.

We know, however, more still needs to be done.

While the Third Action Plan of this Framework is currently being delivered, the Fourth Action Plan is currently with Community Services Ministers for their endorsement with the intention of it being launched in the coming months.

A central focus of the Fourth Action Plan is on strengthening responses for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. This recognises the significantly higher rate of Indigenous children in contact with child protection systems.  

Currently, there are around 48,000 children in out-of-home care. This includes over 17,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children - 10 times the rate for non-Indigenous children. Clearly, more must be done to improve the safety and wellbeing of these children and their families.

The Fourth Action Plan will also focus on reducing children’s entry into child protection systems by strengthening prevention and early intervention initiatives.

It also aims to improve outcomes for children in out-of-home care by enhancing placement stability through reunification and other permanency care options.

In response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Fourth Action Plan aims to improve the ability of organisations and governments to keep children and young people safe from abuse.

The National Framework has a wide reach, emphasising the role of parents, families, communities and governments in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children.

The guiding philosophy is that protecting children is everyone’s business – something I am sure everyone here today agrees with.

Place-Based Initiative

The importance of locally driven, place-based initiatives was another key theme from the consultations.

Australia is a wealthy country with one of the highest performing economies in the world. Despite this prosperity, some places in Australia are characterised by complex disadvantage. These places are home to people whose lives are often dominated by risk, poverty and limited opportunities.

For children growing up in these places, disadvantaged environments can affect brain development and learning and their opportunities to reach their full potential.

For the past 40 years, governments, philanthropy and non government organisations have invested in programs and other interventions to try and shift the high levels of disadvantage that persist in some communities, but we haven’t had the impact we’d hoped for at a local population level.

We know that no single policy, government department, organisation or program can solve the multidimensional, interconnected and cumulative problems facing people who live in places that are experiencing entrenched disadvantage. So we all need to work collaboratively, including working more deliberately and positively with cultural and community leaders and local families.

I am pleased to share today about how we as a Government are working to facilitate a more collaborative, joined-up and evidence-informed approach.

The Australian Government is facilitating a practical, place-based initiative, in partnership with state and territory governments, collaborators from philanthropy and research, and most importantly, with 10 communities across Australia.

The goal of the initiative is to generate strong futures for children and their families living in communities experiencing high levels of disadvantage. It will be important that we take a long-term intergenerational approach to this work.

We want to change the dynamic and put communities at the centre through this initiative – including through redistributing power and decision making to local community and sector leaders where possible, and ensuring local context, local aspiration and local data drive local planning and effort.

Logan Together in Logan, Queensland, is one of 10 communities to join this place-based initiative.

The success of the Logan Together place-based initiative has demonstrated the effectiveness of Commonwealth, state and local governments working in partnership with local communities, philanthropy and academics to assist communities experiencing disadvantage to achieve positive life outcomes.

The Logan Together initiative has already seen stronger engagement in early literacy programs, increased kindergarten attendance, improved access to hearing screening for kindergarten students and supported specialist employment preparation services for parents.

The Government’s partnership experience with the Logan community has inspired the next steps of this initiative, and we look forward to enrolling additional communities over the coming months.

Family Safety

The Australian and state and territory governments are also working together through the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022.

This Plan represents an Australia-wide commitment to addressing family, domestic and sexual violence.

Thanks to the work done under the first three action plans over the past eight years, we know far more about women’s actual experiences of violence and, equally importantly, what drives the perpetrators of these terrible crimes, which continue to plague our communities.

As COAG prepares the fourth and final action plan – Turning the Corner – which is due for release mid-next year, we will be drawing on knowledge from the first three action plans and the consultations that have been conducted.

There are a number of core principles that must underpin the Plan, including:

  • the need for a long-term focus and investment in inter-generational change;
  • the importance of sharing lessons about best practice across jurisdictions;
  • providing all women with easy access to a range of services, so they can make informed choices;
  • continuing to build the evidence base; and
  • ensuring responses are co-designed and community-led so that solutions best reflect the needs of communities.

We know the Plan must also include:

  • increased efforts in primary prevention, prevention and early intervention
  • a commitment to reducing the rates of sexual violence
  • a strong commitment to responding appropriately to children affected by family and domestic violence
  • an increased focus on the experience of women with disability
  • a focus on women from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse communities, women with disability and women of diverse sexuality or gender.

We continue to look at opportunities to prevent and intervene early before disrespect becomes entrenched and violence occurs.

This is why we are continuing the ground-breaking ‘Stop it at the Start’ campaign, with the recent launch of Phase two at the COAG National Summit on Reducing Violence Against Women and Their Children.

Stop it at the Start is a $30 million primary prevention campaign jointly funded by the Australian, state and territory governments.

It aims to encourage adults to reflect on their attitudes, and talk with young people about respectful relationships and gender equality.

The cycle of violence can start with the beliefs and attitudes boys and girls develop from an early age.

As adults, each and every one of us plays a role in influencing their attitudes – from parents and family members, to teachers, coaches, employers, community leaders and other role models.

Phase Two encourages us to ask ourselves – ‘Could we be teaching our children disrespect?’

When we use phrases like ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘don’t cry like a girl’, we need to consider what our children are really learning. When we make what seems like an off-the-cuff comment – what message are we sending, is that really what we meant?

The good news is small changes can make a big difference in moving us closer to a culture free from disrespect. We can stop ourselves before we say something. We can question what seems like a little joke or throwaway line. We can start a conversation about respect, or intervene where we see disrespectful behaviour.

Since we launched the first phase of the campaign in 2016, the response has been overwhelming, and has far exceed our expectations.

Our television commercials have been viewed over 43 million times, and shared hundreds of thousands of times via social media. It has prompted extensive online conversation.

As with other campaigns targeting violence against women, we have seen some discussion around the prevalence of violence against men.

We know domestic violence is also perpetrated against men too, and we firmly believe that all victims need compassionate and responsive support, and all perpetrators must be held accountable.

‘Stop it at the Start’ aims to reduce violence against women by targeting all adults (both male and female) to address negative attitudes in young people.

By encouraging respectful attitudes in the next generation, we will help to stop the cycle of violence.

This campaign encourages us all to reflect on the impact of what we say and do, and talk to our kids about respectful relationships and gender equality.

As a community, we’re starting to understand that the cycle of violence starts with disrespect.

Together as a community, we can also change what our children hear, see and accept, and put a stop to the cycle of disrespect and violence against women.              

Other initiatives

The Commonwealth has many other initiatives to improve the lifetime wellbeing of children and families. This includes responding to recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

The National Office for Child Safety was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Office was set up within the Department of Social Services and began work on 1 July this year. It will work across governments and institutions to develop and implement policies and strategies to keep children safe.

As you may be aware, during the National Apology delivered by the Prime Minister on 22 October 2018, the Prime Minister announced the Office would be moved to his portfolio. Arrangements are underway to progress this.  

The Office will take carriage of a range of initiatives, for example providing national leadership for the implementation of the National Principles to make organisations safe for children and young people, and will play a key role in supporting achievements arising from the remaining Royal Commission recommendations directed at the Commonwealth.  

Conclusion

Improving outcomes for families, children and communities requires us to work together. We must be open, honest and transparent about what is working, what the evidence says and what the impact is. We owe that to this generation and the next.

We must be willing to champion continuous improvement and to place the experience of families, children and communities at the heart of all that we do.

I applaud this year’s FRSA Conference theme – Be the Change. As a Government, we commit to being the change, and being part of ongoing and collaborative advances. Australian children and families deserve no less. No one should be left behind.

I want to once again thank you all for your work, and thank Family & Relationship Services Australia for hosting this year’s National Conference.

I wish you all the best for the remainder of this important conference and look forward to hearing the results of your deliberations.