In late 2015, the Third Action Plan (2015-18) under the?National Framework for Protecting Australias Children 2009-2020?was launched by Commonwealth Minister for Social Services, the Hon. Christian Porter MP.?The National Framework and supporting resources represent a long term commitment and collaboration between the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, the non-government sector, and researchers working to the goal that Australias children and young people are safe and well. The third action plan builds off consultations across Australia with a range of stakeholders (including Queenslands child protection peak bodies), a baseline evaluation of progress to date relating to the National Framework and two earlier action plans, and views about priorities for the third action plan. It contains?a significant package of measures that focus efforts on prevention and early intervention activities ? in childrens early years as well as early in the development of problems – as the means to strengthen families and communities abilities to care for their children and young people.
The third action plan acknowledges implicit links to other plans and activities such as tackling violence against women and children, the yet-to-be completed Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and the findings from Senate inquiries into out of home care and grandparents as the primary carers of their grandchildren. The plans approach is different to previous plans in that there are targeted actions for the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, and the non-government sector in an(other) attempt to shift the focus from responding to child abuse and neglect to promoting children and young peoples safety and wellbeing, which better reflects prevention and early intervention. There are three overarching strategies to be delivered through stated signature actions and two cross-cutting focus areas. The strategies address early intervention with a focus on the early years, particularly the first 1000 days of a childs life; helping young people transitioning from out of home care to thrive into adulthood; and better organisational responses to childrens safety. The cross-cutting measures focus on improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, and improving the evidence base and reporting on progress under the plan.
The acknowledgement of the imperative for specific and sustained attention to how government and mainstream non-government services work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities is welcome, timely and imperative. The clear articulation of the five core elements of theAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle ? prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection – and their intended application across the implementation of ALL strategies and actions is welcome. A SNAICC report, Pathways to safety and Wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children developed through extensive consultation and with reference to the evidence base to assist with development of the third action plan will be utilised to implement the plan. The SNAICC report names four pathways to change: supporting families to stay together, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation, trauma and healing informed approaches, and systems accountability to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander priorities.
In addition to the numerous oversight groups made up of Ministers and state and territory officials, the governance arrangements continue the National Forum for Protecting Australias Children, which is comprised of government representatives, key non-government organisations and the National Childrens Commissioner. The National Forum will lead the implementation of the third action plan and is responsible for achieving agreed outcomes. Non-government organisations and researchers are represented on the Forum by the National Coalition of Organisations Committed to the Safety and Wellbeing of Australias Children.
Also of note in the third action plan is that strategy working groups will be established to provide oversight, drive implementation, and determine additional actions under each strategy. Working groups will comprise of representatives from Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, key non-government organisations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, and be obligated to engage with different stakeholder groups such as people and organisations representing families with disability, culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
A separate working group dedicated to keeping the focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families across the action plan will advise the National Forum about strategies and actions. Great emphasis is placed on the working groups keeping track of progress and reporting up accordingly. In an effort to listen to the voices of children and young people, the governance arrangements include that, on issues determined by the National Forum, childrens commissioners will advise how best to consult with children and young people.
Click here?to read a summary prepared by the National Coalition of Organisations Committed to the Safety and Wellbeing of Australias Children about the key elements of the plan.
In addition to the face to face consultations, many organisations made written submissions during the development of the third action plan and many made comment following of its release. Two of those organisations were SNAICC and the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA).
Click here to read SNAICCs media release about the action plan. While hopeful about the third action plan and its focus on prevention and early intervention, SNAICC expressed disappointment about the lack of follow through on the previous action plans and the criticality of Commonwealth investment in areas like education and health if child protection outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families are to improve.
Click here to access FECCAs media release. While highly supportive of focusing on prevention and early intervention, FECCA expressed disappointment that there is no stated commitment to collect data about ethnicity, cultural background and country of origin, which is foundational to building the knowledge base and should underpin responses to the specific issues faced by children and families from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.