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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 2018−19

Key project: Vulnerability Seminar Series

The persistent disadvantage and poorer outcomes experienced by vulnerable children and young people in WA prompted the Commissioner to focus on vulnerability in 2018 and 2019.

While most WA children and young people are faring well, some who have participated in the Commissioner’s consultations over the past 12 years have shared their insights and experiences of poverty, family violence, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, bullying, disability, discrimination and disadvantage.

In the first half of 2018, the Commissioner published a discussion paper and commenced the Vulnerability Speaker Series, a program of events focused exploring how best to address the challenges of vulnerable children and young people in our community and inform strategic responses.

The Commissioner hosted two public seminars with expert guest speakers and two executive roundtables with guests including government ministers and leaders from the government, not for profit, research and business sectors.

Building on his earlier work, the Commissioner hosted a one-day forum in August 2018 which was attended by 72 WA Aboriginal leaders. The forum sought the views of Elders and Aboriginal people whose work involves supporting the wellbeing of Aboriginal communities, children and young people. It provided an opportunity for attendees to discuss the issues and what changes are needed to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people.

A third seminar and roundtable were held to explore Aboriginal-led solutions that have brought about positive change for Aboriginal children and young people. It examined the particular importance of supporting Aboriginal leadership and nurturing young Aboriginal leaders to help address the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people experiencing poorer outcomes.

The findings and recommendations from all of these events were published in the report Improving the odds for WA’s vulnerable children and young people. The report contains the Commissioner’s five recommendations to government on a way forward to more sustainably address vulnerability in WA.

The Commissioner’s key recommendation is to establish a statewide Child Wellbeing Strategy, with a priority on targeted, early intervention for vulnerable children, young people and their families.

Further recommendations are to:

  • develop and implement a Child Impact Assessment tool
  • develop, implement and resource a model of independent oversight of services providing support to children and young people
  • enable Aboriginal-led solutions to address the needs of Aboriginal children and young people
  • investigate and resource models to build community capacity to support children and young people’s wellbeing.

The Commissioner tabled the report in State Parliament in May 2019 and copies have been provided to all WA Members of Parliament.

The Commissioner will monitor progress on his recommendations and continue to work with agencies to advance solutions and advocate on behalf of vulnerable children and young people.

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

Child protection

All children and young people have the right to be safe and feel safe at all times. The Commissioner continues to advocate across a range of issues that affect children and young people who have been removed from their families due to safety and wellbeing concerns.

Supporting the development of Aboriginal-led solutions to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system is a priority issue and the Commissioner was pleased to support the development of the Partnering with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to deliver trusted services with stronger outcomes for Aboriginal people report by the WA Council of Social Services and the Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council.

Working with Children’s Commissioners and Guardians from other jurisdictions, the Commissioner led a review of the quality and comprehensiveness of child protection frameworks. The work was undertaken by the Australian Centre for Child Protection and the report was published in July 2018.

The Commissioner continues to meet regularly with the Department for Communities to raise issues related to case practice with the intent of guiding overall system development to improve outcomes for children in the care system.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The Commissioner strongly advocates that governments and leaders fully support and implement the recommendations from the Royal Commission.

Throughout the year, the Commissioner continued work in areas directly relevant to the some of the Royal Commission’s recommendations: child friendly complaints mechanisms, harmful sexual behaviours in children and young people, oversight of services for children and young people, advocacy and support, and child safe organisations through the Commissioner’s Child Safe Organisations WA project. 

The Commissioner chaired the Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Western Australia Executive Steering Group, a consortium of non-government service providers, government agencies and the Australian Centre for Child Protection, to guide research into improving responses to child sexual abuse.

Youth justice

Young people’s involvement in the youth justice system is an ongoing priority and concern for the Commissioner.

The Commissioner continues to use the views shared by young people in his 2016 youth justice consultation to make representations and advocate for changes to the WA youth justice system to improve the opportunities and outcomes for young people in the system and their families.

In November 2018, as part of the Australian New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG), the Commissioner discussed a range of issues relating to youth justice, including the age of criminal responsibility. Currently, the age of criminal responsibility across Australia and New Zealand is 10. The ANZCCG recommends this should be no lower than the internationally acceptable minimum age of 12.

Mental health

Good mental health is an essential component of wellbeing and is important for children from infancy and early childhood through to adolescence and young adulthood.

While most children and young people in WA experience good mental health, a new approach is urgently needed to support our most vulnerable children and young people.

In February 2019, the State Coroner released the Inquest into the deaths of thirteen children and young people in the Kimberley Region, Western Australia. The death of any child or young person to suicide is an absolute tragedy. The Commissioner provided feedback and input to the State Government’s response to the Coroner’s Inquest, including additional strategies to address the suicide of Aboriginal children and young people. The Commissioner will continue to monitor and strongly advocate for the implementation of effective strategies, particularly Aboriginal-led solutions, in this area.

In March 2019, the Commissioner released an issues paper on LGBTI children and young people. The experiences of discrimination and social exclusion that LGBTI young people experience negatively impacts their health and wellbeing, particularly their mental health, and contributes to higher rates of mental health issues, including rates of suicide attempts. The Commissioner makes several recommendations to improve outcomes and support better inclusion including the need for a whole-of-government strategy to ensure policies and practices of all government organisations and funded services are inclusive of LGBTI children and young people.

The Commissioner made several submissions on mental health during the year including:

  • Department of Health’s Review of the Clinical Governance of Public Mental Health Services in WA
  • Productivity Commission – Mental Health Inquiry
  • Mental Health Commission – feedback on the draft WA Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Services Plan 2015-2025
  • WA LGBTI Health Strategy.

Breaking the Cycle – Taking Action

In August 2018, the Commissioner hosted an Aboriginal forum as part of the Vulnerability Speaker Series. The forum was attended by 72 Aboriginal people who provided valuable insight into the issues, barriers and challenges impacting on the wellbeing on Aboriginal children and young people.

The overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in all indicators of disadvantage continues to highlight the need for more effective ways of working to address these issues.

In response, the Commissioner is undertaking a new initiative which recognises that Aboriginal people are best placed to identify, develop and manage solutions to meet their needs.

The Commissioner is working together with the Jigalong and Safety Bay communities, WA Police and Department of Justice on this initiative which focuses on:

  • developing a series of actions that can be adopted by government, non-government and Aboriginal communities to bring about significant change for Aboriginal children and young people
  • acknowledging and understanding the impact of colonisation on the lives of Aboriginal peoples
  • supporting Aboriginal communities to lead the planning, development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programs and services that provide better outcomes for their children and young people.

Formal submissions 2018–19

The following is a list of major submissions in 2018–19. The list does not indicate all submissions or representations made by the Commissioner during the year as some may not be publicly available. All submissions listed below can be viewed on the Commissioner’s website.