Child Aware 2020 and National Coalition on Child Safety and Wellbeing annual meeting

Good morning everyone.

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

I would also like to recognise:

  • Maree Brown;
  • Megan Mitchell;
  • Richard Weston;
  • Professor Daryl Higgins; and
  • The Young People’s Panel, including Paris McMahon.

On behalf of the Australian Government, it’s a real pleasure to be able to join you here in Melbourne this morning.

And of course, we are all here because of our shared commitment to strengthen and secure the safety and wellbeing of our nation’s children. Because after all, there are few more important issues than this.

This morning’s agenda will focus on how we can better understand, assist and support children, young people and their families.

In the afternoon, our focus will be on the development of a successor to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, when it ends later this year. Getting this long-term strategy right is one of the most crucial priorities for me in this portfolio, and over the past few months Families Australia has been conducting consultations across the country, on the issues that a future plan must address.

An important theme to emerge from these consultations is that the voices and perspectives of young people need to be included in it. This is where this morning’s Child Aware session comes in.

For my part, I am especially looking forward to the Young People’s Panel, and hearing their views on how we can enhance the contributions of our youth during the development of policies which impact their lives.

Indeed, many organisations around Australia are now helping to link our brightest young minds together, to ensure they have a voice in programs that affect them.

And it’s on that note that I would like to commend and sincerely thank our National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, for her seven years of dedicated work in this role, and it’s great that she will be sharing her experiences and insights with you all later today.

It’s important to remember that the office of the Children’s Commissioner was established precisely to ensure that voices of children and young people, especially the voices of the most vulnerable, are heard at a national level.

I would now like to turn our attention to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.

This Framework has been an important innovation in terms of how we approach child protection in this country. It has helped federal, state and territory governments, and non-government organisations, to work together to develop shared goals and common objectives that can make a real difference.

This is important because in order to address the entrenched, complex and often generational problems in child protection, a cohesive and concentrated effort from across all levels of government and the community is required.

For example, securing better permanency outcomes for children in out-of-home care must remain a key priority for all of us. These are, after all, the most vulnerable kids in our society, and they deserve every bit of support that they need in order to belong in a stable home, remain safe and to reach their full potential.

The challenge is right there in front of us. Despite a lot of good work in this field, the stark reality is that in Australia, we have more than 45,000 young people in out of home care.

Although many of these kids may indeed be in stable placements, far too many are not, and they often experience large numbers of placements while in care.

As we know full well, multiple placements generate insecurity and put children and young people at risk across a whole range of life indicators.

A huge concern of mine is that Indigenous children continue to be massively over-represented in these

out-of-home care figures.

And so I’m pleased that the National Framework’s Fourth Action Plan sought to address this by having a real emphasis on listening to Indigenous voices, and recognising the value of extended families, kinship networks, culture and community.

Although we have a long way to go, we have seen some good achievements under the National Framework, which I am determined to build on.

One particular initiative that I’m optimistic about is the Stronger Places Stronger People initiative.

What I like about Stronger Places, Stronger People is its focus on securing ground-breaking partnerships between communities, governments, service providers and investors, to deliver on a locally designed plan of action to tackle intergenerational disadvantage in 10 locations across the nation. This, I believe, is a good approach if we are to make a real difference on the ground.

As the National Framework concludes its 10 year run this year, we are now focussed on determining what the next long-term national strategy will look like.

This presents an exciting opportunity for all of us in shaping the next stage of Australia’s commitment to our children.

The central principle is that children’s interests are paramount and at the centre of all decisions impacting on their lives.

From our discussions with government and non-government stakeholders, we know that, while the National Framework is valued, more work is needed, as unfortunately reports of child abuse are increasing. According to the most recent stats, about 160,000 Australian kids received child protection services in 2017-18.

That’s why last year, the Morrison Government invested in a new digital platform which will dramatically improve information sharing across state and territory agencies, to identify children at risk of abuse, and to stop them from falling through the cracks when they move interstate.

Previously, the lack of a national approach prevented child protection agencies from quickly and effectively identifying and protecting at-risk children who move across state and territory borders. The platform is expected to be up and running by the middle of this year, so it’s a very positive breakthrough.

So, in taking stock and considering our priorities for the future, we need to consider what we have learned from the Framework - the good, the not so good, what’s worked, and where we need to focus our collective efforts in the future.

What has been identified in the consultations is a desire for the new plan to have a far greater emphasis on early intervention and prevention approaches.

Also mentioned was the need for a more family-centred approach, one which incorporates the voices of children, and also securing better ways for all levels of government to work more effectively together as a unified front, rather than working separately on similar and often interlinked child protection issues.

Given the experience in the room today, I am looking forward to hearing your views on how we can best achieve this.

To finish, the outcomes from today’s event will help us as we continue to work together to design our next strategy.

It’s important that we build on the achievements that we have delivered so far, and by doing this, I’m confident that we can secure positive results in the lives of our children and young people who really need it the most.

Thank you very much.