Family and Relationship Services Australia 2019 National Conference - New Horizons: Building the future, Paving the way

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Good morning everyone, and thank you Marie for your kind introduction.

It is a real pleasure to be here on behalf of the Australian Government in my capacity as the Assistant Minister for Children and Families, and thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your event.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

On behalf of the Government, I also want to recognise the bravery of our firefighters and emergency services personnel, in the face of severe bushfires all across Australia, including here in the Hunter Valley and in my own electorate in Central Queensland. It’s been a monumental effort. Our thoughts are also with the families and loved ones whose lives were tragically lost in the fires.

Ladies and Gentleman, this conference brings together some of our nation’s very best leaders, practitioners, academics and policy makers who all share a commitment to supporting Australia’s children, families and communities.

I will say, what an impressive array of speakers and panellists that are here for this year’s conference to share their insights and expertise. I want to quickly acknowledge a few of them, including Barry Sandison, Dr Michael McAfee, Justice Sarah Derrington, Professor Richard Chisholm, Professor Darryl Higgins, and Dr Tim Hobbs.

Introduction

Over the next three days, you’ll be focusing on how we can understand, assist and support our nation’s children, families and young people.

Some of that focus will be on how we can better use technology, be more innovative, build our workforce capacity, and measure, increase and improve service delivery.

These are the issues that the Australian Government is also focussed on.

We know that well-functioning families are vital to our wellbeing as a nation, both socially and economically. We know that families, in all their forms, are critical for our children to grow up happy and healthy.

It’s so important that if families are doing it tough, that they have access to the assistance and services that they need to get back on their feet.

That’s why I'm proud that the Morrison Government is investing more than $620 million this financial year to strengthen families and communities.

Importantly, this includes more than $260 million through parenting and early childhood intervention programs.

We are providing $71 million in Family and Relationship Services, which aims to improve family relationships, prevent families from breaking down, and to secure the wellbeing and safety of children through counselling and education support.

We recognise that different communities need different kinds of support. That’s why we fund the Communities for Children Facilitating Partners program, which is being delivered in 52 disadvantaged communities around Australia.

Using an early intervention approach that helps families to improve the way that they relate to each other, as well as building parenting skills, Communities for Children is achieving some wonderful results on the ground.

We also fund Children and Parenting Support Services, which includes identifying neglect or abuse within families, and provides interventions for appropriate referrals before these issues escalate.

Of course, improving mental health is critical to achieving better outcomes for Australian families and children. And I’m pleased that the Government is providing around $43 million a year to organisations delivering Family Mental Health Support Services, where the focus is on targeting mental health risks in young people early, to reduce their impact in the long-term.

A key program that I’m particularly excited about is the place-based Stronger Places, Stronger People initiative. Stronger Places, Stronger People is being rolled out in partnership with state and territory governments, and community leaders, in 10 locations across the country as part of the Fourth Action Plan of The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.

This initiative harnesses collaboration between communities, all levels of government, service providers and businesses, to deliver on a locally designed, place-based, plan of action to disrupt entrenched cycles of disadvantage.

As an initiative that is underpinned by the importance of securing grassroots knowledge, and encouraging partnerships between communities and government, I’m looking forward to seeing what Stronger Places, Stronger People can deliver.

Reducing Domestic Violence

Taking effective action to prevent domestic violence against women is another one of the Morrison Government’s top priorities. In March this year, we announced a record investment of $328 million for the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, which has a clear objective of preventing abuse before it happens, as well as supporting those affected by domestic violence.

This funding package includes $82 million for frontline services, $68 million for prevention strategies, $78 million to provide safe places, and $64 million for 1800RESPECT.

Our Government has zero tolerance for violence against women, and I’m optimistic that this action plan will make a real difference in the lives of women and children right across our nation.

Permanency Reform

Currently in Australia, there are about 45,800 children who are in out-of-home care. These are among our most vulnerable kids and young people. They need to be supported. And they deserve to belong in a loving, stable and permanent home. And ultimately, I want to see more children be raised in a family, rather than by the state.

Although adoption is a matter predominately for state and territory Governments, I am proud that the Morrison Government is helping to facilitate discussions between all jurisdictions to ensure that the best interest of a child is always paramount in any decision about adoption.

It’s a focus of mine, and I know that this issue will be of particular interest to this conference.

While permanency is about safe and stable placements, it is also about a child’s identity, the need for a sense of belonging, and having people in their lives who they can turn to and trust - people who are there for them.

The most important consideration is that a child’s wellbeing is at the centre of all decisions impacting on their lives.

As a government, we are encouraging national approaches to these issues and I am pleased to report that we are making progress.

A Permanency Outcomes Performance Framework has been developed, and improved reporting on permanency outcome indicators is expected to commence in March next year.

At the same time, the Department of Social Services has commissioned Ernst & Young to work with states and territories to develop a nationally consistent approach to timely decision-making for children in out-of-home care. This is expected to be ready by April 2020.

In another positive development in this space, earlier this month I was pleased to join with the state Minister for Families, Gareth Ward in announcing that NSW company Itree had won the $5.9 million contract to develop a world-first information sharing platform to improve collaboration between state and territory child protection agencies.

We hope that it will be up and running from mid next year, and that it will allow child protection workers access to the full case history of vulnerable young people, especially when they move interstate.

This is an encouraging development, because we know that vulnerable children are often at increased risk of harm if their background in a previous jurisdiction is not known, or not easily accessible, to child protection authorities in their new location. The new information sharing platform will help prevent these kids from falling through the cracks.

Fourth Action Plan – National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children

For the past 10 years, providing national leadership to keep children safe has been a core function of The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. Since it began in 2009, the National Framework has delivered some positive results for Australia’s children.

Establishing the National Children’s Commissioner, developing national standards for out-of-home care, strengthening the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle and promoting the importance of parenting in the first 1,000 days, are among the achievements of the Framework.

I’m also pleased to inform this conference that yesterday, in conjunction with the Raising Children Network, we launched the First 1,000 Days portal, which is an online resource to support parents and carers to give Australian children the best start in life.

In terms of the future, the Department of Social Services has been working with key Commonwealth agencies and stakeholders to consider policy options to follow the National Framework when it ends in 2020. I can advise that consultations to develop a new long-term strategy have commenced, and are being led by Families Australia.

Conclusion

Delegates, on behalf of the Australian Government, thank you for your ongoing efforts, advocacy and hard work in helping to secure a better future for our nation’s children and families. Thank you for being here at this year’s conference, and I hope the coming days are productive and I wish you all the best in your discussions. The work that you all do for the broader sector, and with Australian families themselves, is invaluable.

Thank you very much and enjoy the conference.