Last week, Childrens Health Queensland hosted their inaugural Child Protection Symposium and is to be congratulated for not baulking at providing a forum that allowed some contentious matters to be discussed.

During the final panel discussion at the symposium, Lindsay Wegener, PeakCares Executive Director was asked to present information about the Hope and Healing Framework that was the product of a project contracted to PeakCare by the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services in early 2015. The purpose of the project was to develop a trauma-informed therapeutic framework for the residential care of children and young people, in line with a recommendation of the recent Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry.? Working with personnel from Encompass Family and Community and Paul Testro Consultancy Services, PeakCare commenced the project on 16th March 2015 and it was concluded on 31st August 2015 at which time the Department was presented with a?Final Report (Stage One), an attached report detailing the proposedHope and Healing Framework and an attached report describing implementation issues.

After providing an overview of the Hope and Healing framework and its key elements, Lindsay delivered some clear words of warning to the symposium participants.

If it is regarded that this is a framework to be observed by residential care providers only, it will not work.? Just as residential care services do not exist in isolation from the local care systems of which they are a part, they cannot implement this framework in isolation from the other organisations, government and non-government, that must also play their part in its implementation. That includes Child Safety Service Centres and services provided by Queensland Health, Education, Justice and Attorney-General and so on.? The Hope and Healing Framework was developed as a whole of system framework, its about the sum of the parts and it will not work if all of those parts are not on the same page and working together.

Lindsay spoke positively about the pockets of brilliance that became evident during the course of conducting the project and the work of some organisations and many individuals, both government and non-government employees, who through their own personal commitment, skills and dedication were making valuable contributions to the lives of many young people living in residential care. The problem is, said Lindsay, we cannot rely on pockets of brilliance ? pockets of brilliance will not cut it when we are taking about a system reform.

Lindsay commented on the extensive consultation process that took place in developing the framework and made special mention of four regional workshops attended by over 250 people, from government and non-government organisations, and a workshop conducted with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff of non-Indigenous organisations involved in providing residential care services.? He noted that each of these workshops concluded with an exercise that asked the participants to rate how close we are to having a residential care service system that reflects the essential elements of a sound framework. Invariably, the participants at each of the workshops indicated that, when considering the operation of the system as a whole, we had a long way to go.

Interestingly, Lindsay noted that the harshest critics of the current residential care system were usually those who belonged to the pockets of brilliance.? They were the ones who best understood the potential that existed when the residential care service system is functioning? well, they understood where the shortfalls currently exist and what needs to be done to close the gap. Lindsay described the workshops as an exciting experience where a shared commitment across organisations and a momentum for change became evident.

Lindsay stated that the greatest shortfall in the residential care system currently and which needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency was the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in residential care (around 50%) and, setting aside the Safe Houses, the corresponding disproportionately low number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people involved in providing for their care.

Not only do we have an extraordinary rate of removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, we are compounding this problem by making use of out-of-home care service designs that continue the disconnection of these children from their families, communities, culture and country, said Lindsay.

Lindsay congratulated the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services for outsourcing the lead role in developing the framework to the non-government sector, a peak body in particular, and acknowledged that this illustrated a commitment to co-design principles that was welcomed. ? He then urged the Department to maintain this commitment by ensuring that the planning of the frameworks implementation would also be co-designed and place-based.

In addition to the co-design of the strategies to be used in implementing the framework, its implementation must be driven in ways that allow government and non-government organisations to come together at regional and local levels. If that doesnt happen, the framework wont work and we will have all wasted our time on its development.

Lindsay said that he hoped to see the momentum for change that was created during the development of the framework resurrected with many of the organisations, both government and non-government, represented at the symposium becoming actively involved in its implementation.