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Prioritising the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people

A strong society is one that ensures its most vulnerable are provided with opportunities to contribute to that society.

Ensuring the State’s laws and policies actively support children and young people’s wellbeing and respect their role as citizens sets the broader agenda for the community.

Assisting agencies to continually improve the opportunities and services for children and young people who present as vulnerable, disadvantaged or face additional inequities is an essential role of the office.

Major achievements in 2017-18

Child protection

In 2017–18 the Commissioner continued advocacy work in the areas of child safe organisations, harmful sexual behaviours, child protection practice frameworks, parents’ rights and participation in child protection practice, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Commissioner engaged Edith Cowan University to identify the barriers to reunification and provide recommendations to improve outcomes for mothers and their children. The Report on the separation and reunification issues experienced by mothers with alcohol and other substance use issues was published in November 2017.

In conjunction with other Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians, the Commissioner engaged the Australian Centre for Child Protection to analyse and evaluate a range of child protection practice frameworks. This work is published in the report Assessing the quality and comprehensiveness of child protection practice frameworks.

Each of the research papers have been provided to the relevant government agency and Minister, and the Commissioner will monitor how the agency utilises the research to strengthen their workforce development, practice guidance and work with families.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The Commissioner has been monitoring and contributing to the work of the Royal Commission over its operation since 2013.

In December 2017, the Commissioner provided feedback and comment on the recommendations in the Final Report and the Criminal Justice Report to the Department of Premier and Cabinet who prepared the Western Australian State Government’s response. The Commissioner’s comments were published in June 2018 following the release of the State Government response.

The Commissioner continues to strongly advocate that governments and leaders accept and implement the recommendations to better to protect and respond to children and young people.

The Commissioner’s office also has a number of initiatives in place and in progress that are relevant to the some of the recommendations:

  • Child Safe Organisations
  • Child friendly complaints mechanisms
  • Harmful sexual behaviours in children and young people
  • Institutional responses, reporting and oversight
  • Advocacy and support.

Homelessness in young people 15 years and under

Homelessness has a serious impact on young people’s wellbeing, including poorer physical and mental health, difficulties in attending and learning in school, and increased exposure to risk of harm, leading to poorer life outcomes.

In the last year the Commissioner has worked in partnership with Edith Cowan University to research the pathways into homelessness and the services and supports needed to prevent and respond effectively to homelessness in young people aged 15 years and under who live independently from family.

The research captured the views of 15 young people about their experiences of homelessness, what services they used, what they found useful or unhelpful. The young people outlined five main pathways – abandonment or being told to leave home, removal from parents, fleeing family violence or abuse, family disintegration and family homelessness, and voluntary homelessness.

The project also gathered the perceptions of more than 30 Western Australian service providers about the strengths and limitations of existing services and suggestions for improvement.

Four linked reports that relate to this research were published and the Commissioner will use this information to make recommendations in relation to the policy and support needs of independent homeless young people 12–15 years.

Youth justice

Young people’s involvement in the youth justice system is an ongoing priority for the Commissioner, with the over representation of Aboriginal young people of particular concern.

In 2017–18 the Commissioner undertook a project to map the oversight of services for children and young people in Western Australia. The project focused on six priority areas, including youth justice.

The Oversight of services for children and young people in Western Australia project report supports that while Western Australia’s independent oversight bodies do important work in a range of areas, further work needs to be done to ensure mechanisms are comprehensive and robust, the rights and wellbeing of children and young people are protected, and services are safe and fit-for-purpose.

The Commissioner’s recommendation on youth justice from the oversight mapping is that a robust, comprehensive system of oversight for all children and young people in the youth justice system be established and should include:

  • access to an independent advocate to support children and young people to raise concerns about their treatment and support
  • monitoring of the application of policy and practice
  • monitoring of the outcomes for children and young people under the care and supervision of the youth justice.

In November 2017, as part of the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) coalition, the Commissioner published the ACCG Statement on conditions and treatment in youth justice detention.

The statement affirms the Commissioner’s commitment to the fundamental principles of youth justice and articulates a set of positions to guide improvements in each jurisdiction.

It also promotes national consistency regarding the conditions and treatment in youth justice detention such as the use of restraint and disciplinary regimes. The statement upholds that, like all children and young people, those in youth justice detention have human rights that must be recognised, respected and promoted.

Formal submissions 2017–18

The following is a list of major submissions in 2017–18. The list does not indicate all submissions or representations made by the Commissioner during the year as some submissions may not be publicly available. All of the submissions listed below can be viewed on the Commissioner’s website.

 

Case study

Vulnerability Speaker Series

At the culmination of 10 years of the Commissioner for Children and Young People’s office and consultation with over 11,000 young people in Western Australia, it is clear that more needs to be done to meet the needs of the State’s most vulnerable children and young people.

In 2018 Commissioner’s office interviewed young people who have experienced different kinds of adversity in their lives and published a video of their stories. The young people talked about the support that made a difference in their lives and how systems and services can better support vulnerable children and young people.

The Commissioner published a discussion paper to inform and challenge current thinking on factors that influence vulnerability, and how to best address the causes of adversity and reduce the impact on children and young people.

The discussion paper presents a unique perspective on vulnerability, through the voices of children and young people who clearly articulate what helps and hinders their development and wellbeing.

To progress the ideas set out in the discussion paper, the Commissioner hosted the Vulnerability Speaker Series which featured presentations from a variety of international, national and distinguished Western Australian leaders. The series brought together government leaders, staff from the community services sector, policy officers and academics to advance the conversation on how to address the causes and outcomes of vulnerability among children and young people and inform effective strategic responses.

The first seminar in the Vulnerability Speaker Series in March 2018 explored the evidence to provide a better understanding of the underlying causes of vulnerability among children and young people in Western Australia. It featured two of the Commissioner’s Ambassadors for Children and Young People – Winthrop Professors Stephen Zubrick and Donna Cross from the Telethon Kids Institute and Professor Alan Duncan from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.

“…even though I was very young, I went through enough misery to last a lifetime. First we didn’t have anywhere to live, after when I started school everybody teased me, I didn’t have any friends, my accent was different, I was an outsider. I didn’t belong.” 16 year-old, Yugoslavia (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse children and young people (CALD) Consultation)

The second seminar in May 2018 explored the role of service providers in delivering effective, practical interventions to assist vulnerable children and young people. It featured New Zealand Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft and Co-Director at the Australian Centre for Child Protection Professor Leah Bromfield.

Each seminar was followed by a roundtable with key decision makers from government and non-government organisations to discuss how to strategically address the causes of vulnerability among children and young people in Western Australia.

In August 2018 the Commissioner will host a forum and roundtable to bring together Aboriginal people with an interest in developing Aboriginal-led solutions to the social and economic issues which lead to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in vulnerability statistics. The forum will showcase prominent Aboriginal leaders with national and interstate perspectives on the challenges and solutions.

In November 2018 a final roundtable will be held with key decision makers to discuss how the strategies identified throughout the Vulnerability Speaker Series can be progressed.

Rio Tinto is Principal Partner of the Vulnerability Speaker Series in recognition of the importance of supporting vulnerable children and young people to reach their full potential.

“My mum and my dad were both drug addicts, my dad was in and out of jail my whole life, there was a lot of domestic violence and mental health issues in the home. So I think having all that in my background, it was really hard to sit down and concentrate at school. So I was never really at school ever, which I totally regret now.” 25 year old (Discussion paper on children and young people’s vulnerability)