Good morning everyone.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians, the Ngunnawal (nah-nah-wall) people, on whose land we meet today and pay my respects to their Elders — past, present and future.
Thank you for the opportunity to take part in today’s event to mark National Adoption Awareness Month. We are all here because we recognise the importance of a safe, stable and happy home for every child.
I would like to acknowledge the work of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs and their Inquiry into Local Adoption. In particular I’d like to acknowledge the former Assistant Minister who referred terms of reference on the committee the Hon Dr David Gillespie and the Chair of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, Julia Banks. The report was tabled this morning in Parliament, and I look forward to considering the Committee’s report and the recommendations, particularly in light of the national permanency work already in progress.
I thank all those who took the opportunity to make a submission or attend the hearings to express their views and share their experiences as part of the Inquiry.
I am aware that the release of this report may emotionally impact some members of the community and would like to acknowledge this. Support is available for those who may be negatively impacted through the Forced Adoption Support Services.
It is important that we remember the lessons of the past when we’re considering permanency reform.
Permanency starts with ensuring families are strong and have the support they need to raise their children to be safe and well.
A key priority for all governments is supporting children to safely remain with their family through prevention and early intervention measures. Unfortunately, it is still not always safe for a child to remain at home.
The most recent statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show there are too many children in out-of-home care and numbers continue to increase.
At 30 June last year, there were around 48,000 children living in out-of-home care, of which 32,600 had been in care for two years or more.
Almost 90 per cent of these children were on long-term care and protection orders, predominantly living in home-based care with foster or relative carers.
There are also too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care – a rate of almost 59 children per 1,000 of the general Indigenous population.
These concerning numbers remind us why we need to do more to ensure a secure home for every child.
In Australia, each state and territory has its own legislation and policy underpinning decisions on child protection, permanent placements and adoption.
Encouragingly, state and territory governments are pursuing a range of individual reforms to improve permanency and stability for children in out-of-home care, where reunification with their birth family is not possible.
Consistent with the 2015 Senate Inquiry into Out of Home Care’s recommendation for a national approach, the Commonwealth is working with the states and territories to support collaborative, national approaches to improving permanency.
A major milestone, on 1 June 2018, was for Community Services Ministers across the Commonwealth, states and territories, to agree to a national approach to achieving permanency to ensure that all children across Australia in out-of-home care have access to a safe, stable home.
As part of this, Ministers agreed to Guiding Principles for best practice in achieving permanency, to guide actions and ensure children’s best interests are protected. They also agreed to a shared Permanency Outcomes Statement for all governments to achieve timely and more consistent permanency decisions for children and young people, including those in out-of-home care.
The best practice permanency Guiding Principles and Outcomes Statement has a strong emphasis on the best interests of the child being paramount.
They recognise the need to take into account the views of children and young people in decisions that affect them.
While permanency is about safe and stable placements, it is also about children needing a sense of belonging and having people in their lives they can turn to and trust.
We have been working collaboratively to implement priority actions that support these principles and outcomes we want to achieve together, building on the permanency reforms already underway in states and territories.
These actions include improving permanency data to better measure permanency outcomes, and timeframes for making permanency decisions.
Progress is also being made to implement and improve understanding of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle.
This 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.
Permanency reform will continue through the Fourth Action Plan under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.
The Fourth Action Plan is currently with Community Services Ministers for their consideration and I anticipate it will be launched in coming weeks.
Further work is also needed to ensure there are sufficient permanent carers that are supported to provide safe and stable care. Our children deserve nothing less.
Since becoming Assistant Minister for Children and Families I have enjoyed engaging with children, families and the sector in relation to permanency matters and participating in the many events arranged through Adopt Change for ‘Yesvember’.
Ensuring children’s safety and wellbeing is a major driver of national permanency reform. Every child deserves a secure and happy childhood and a chance to have their brightest possible future.
Thank you all for your work towards achieving this goal, and thanks to Adopt Change for hosting this event to mark the final week of National Adoption Awareness Month.
Let’s all work together to ensure permanency and a Home, not a house for Every Child continues to be our focus beyond November.