Adopt Change - Virtual National Permanency Conference

Good morning everyone and thank you Lanai for your kind introduction, and may I just commend you for the wonderful leadership that you continue to provide in giving a voice to the most vulnerable kids in our society - those in out-of-home care.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the many lands on which we are meeting today from all across the country, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I would also like to recognise my fellow keynote speakers, including our international guests, my state and territory colleagues, and all supporters of the National Permanency Conference. It is a pleasure to be with you to open this year's event.

This of course, is the fourth time that we've had the Permanency Conference and I must say congratulations to Adopt Change, and especially Renee Carter, for the huge amount of work that has gone into moving this year's event into an online format.

I always enjoy having the opportunity to speak at the National Permanency Conference. These are important events, because they were set up in response to the historic agreement by federal, state and territory Ministers in 2017 to improve permanency outcomes for children in out-of-home care.

When it comes to child protection in Australia, I can assure you all that the Morrison Government shares your commitment to do what we can to ensure that every child in our nation is given the opportunity to belong in a home, and a family, that is safe, loving and permanent.

The challenge is right there in front of us.

Currently in Australia, we have about 45,000 kids in out-of-home care.

Now, take a moment to think about that figure – this is a football stadium full of children.

And we know that kids who are placed into out-of-home care for long periods of time, with multiple placements, are at a greater risk of poorer life outcomes.

However, while recognising the challenges, there is some cause for optimism. Last year, of the kids in out-of-home for two years or more, around 60 per cent had only one care arrangement. A further 20 per cent had two care arrangements. Importantly, this is a welcome indication that many children are receiving the stable care that they deserve.

But clearly, much, much more needs to be done.

Around 20 per cent of kids in out-of-home care had three or more placements, which needs to be addressed.

And it is absolutely crucial that for young people in care, that they have an avenue to achieve permanency.

Adoption is one avenue to secure this, and in Australia the numbers remain low. In fact last year, only around 250 adoptions of Australian-born children were finalised.

In recent decades, we have moved away from the past practices of closed and forced adoptions, into open adoption. And while it is a constitutional reality that laws and reform around adoption are state and territory responsibilities, I strongly believe that adoption needs to be genuinely considered, if we are serious about giving every child at risk the opportunity to belong in a forever home.

Under the current Fourth Action Plan of the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children, we've made supporting kids in care a priority. A Permanency Outcomes Framework has been recently agreed to and new indicators published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. This Action Plan has also aimed to encourage timely decision-making for kids in care, and a National Approach for this will be published early next year.

Now, it's very important that when we consider the 45,000 children in care, we must ensure that the best interests of Indigenous kids are looked after.

Unfortunately, Aboriginal children make up about 40% of kids in care, and they are more than 10 times more likely to be in care compared with non-Indigenous kids.

That's why under the Fourth Action Plan, we delivered on-the-ground initiatives to strengthen compliance with the five elements of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle – which aims to maintain strong cultural and family connections. And this of course, is extremely important.

As many of you in the sector know, the National Framework was due to complete its 12-year lifespan this year, and due to COVID-19 we have extended it to June next year.

The National Framework has achieved some good things, such as the establishing the national standards for out-of-home care, creating the role of a National Children's Commissioner, and just like I just mentioned before, strengthening the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.

The Federal Government is now working hard to develop the next long-term strategy for keeping our children safe. We are doing this in close partnership with the states and territories, and the sector, and we've made great progress so far.

The views put forward for the next strategy have reaffirmed the importance of improving early intervention supports for families in need, helping children in out-of-home care, and addressing the very high rates of Aboriginal kids in our child protection systems.

Finally, I would also like to give a quick mention to a really important initiative called Connect for Safety, which is a new, world-first child protection information sharing platform that we are in the process of rolling out across Australia.

The Morrison Government invested $3.9 million towards the start-up costs of this platform, and the system uses new data technology between the states and territories that allows them to identify, respond and protect kids at risk, as quickly as possible.

And I'm very pleased to advise that we expect all states and territories will be using it by the end of the year, so it is a big step forward.

So to conclude, thank you again for allowing me to open your conference this morning, and thank you for the ongoing leadership that you are providing in supporting our most vulnerable kids.

I look forward to hearing the results of your conference, and I wish you all the very best for a successful event.