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COVID updates and reminders – January 2022

In the current environment, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information being released about the COVID pandemic. The following aims to provide our Members with reminders about recently released announcements of relevance to our sector and to bring you up-to-date with developments that are in progress.

Omission of child protection from the Queensland Government’s Schedule of Critical Industries

On 13 January 2022, the National Cabinet announced its updated guidelines in relation to ‘essential workers’, noting that each state and territory government has responsibility for implementing “changes to close contact arrangements for essential workers under their respective state and territory public health orders”.   The ‘health, welfare, care and support’ sector was identified as a Priority 1 area within the Permissions and Restrictions – Interim Guidance released by the National Cabinet.

On 14 January 2022, PeakCare sent correspondence to Ministers Linard and D’Ath outlining PeakCare’s significant concerns about the rapidly escalating workforce crisis within Queensland’s residential care sector. Urgent inclusion of residential care services as a critical industry within a revised version of the Chief Health Officer’s directive about the isolation of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and the management of close contacts was sought.

Upon release of the updated Schedule of Critical Industries on 24 January 2022, PeakCare was shocked and dismayed that child protection was not specified as a critical industry.  While this has serious implications for the delivery of all child protection and related services by both government and non-government organisations, it has special significance to the residential care sector that is currently experiencing extreme challenges in ensuring that sufficient staff are available to continue their care and support of resident children and young people.

As reported on in this ABC Radio news item aired on 25 January 2022, PeakCare is seeking urgent rectification of this problem to enable residential care workers to continue working under the same conditions that now apply to the aged care and disability care sectors.

Funding assistance for extraordinary COVID-19 expenses

The attention of our Members is drawn to this recently announced advice from the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs (DCYJMA) about funding assistance available to DCYJMA funded organisations that may be incurring extraordinary COVID related expenses not covered within the scope of an Individual Flexibility Agreement (IFA) or their usual operating costs.

PeakCare commends the collaborative efforts of several non-government organisations that worked with PeakCare in proposing these arrangements. Our commendation also goes to the DCYJMA for their very quick and favourable response. Member organisations are urged to carefully consider the advice provided and to contact their DCYJMA Contract Managers to discuss and arrange the approach most suited to your individual contract arrangements.

Residential Care COVID Preparedness Assessment Tool

On 5 January 2022, PeakCare released our invitation to non-government providers of residential care services in Queensland to electronically complete our ‘tool for assessing capacity of residential care services to accommodate infected or isolated children and young people’.  By 13 January 2022, assessments had been completed in relation to 155 distinct residential care homes and, on the same day, the collated responses were provided to the DCYJMA and Queensland Health in the form of a State-wide ‘Master Register’ and six workbooks – one for each DCYJMA region.

By 24 January, assessments had been completed in relation to an additional 59 residential care homes – 214 in total – and updated versions of the Master Register and the six workbooks were provided to the DCYJMA on the same day.

Along with PeakCare’s ‘Queensland Residential Care Services Survey Findings: Ongoing COVID Preparedness’ report that was released to residential care providers, the DCYJMA and other stakeholder groups on 1 November 2021 and the subsequent ‘Preparedness of the Queensland residential care sector to manage impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – Action Plan (proposed)’ produced by PeakCare on 9 December 2021 to address findings of the survey, the accumulated data has served to influence:

  • establishment and activation of the ‘Residential care COVID-19 preparedness working group’ with a membership comprising representation from the DCYJMA, Queensland Health, PeakCare and several non-government residential care providers including Anglicare Southern Queensland, Catalyst Child and Family Services, IFYS, Infinity Community Solutions, Life Without Barriers, Mercy Community and Stride Mental Health, on 10 December 2021
  • revisions to the ‘Residential care and COVID-19: Guidelines for the operation of residential care services during the COVID-19 pandemic’ by the DCYJMA in association with Queensland Health, that are due for imminent release by the DCYJMA
  • updating of the Individual Flexibility Agreement (IFA), an exercise being coordinated by the Community Services Industry Alliance (CSIA) with contributions by PeakCare, the DCYJMA, several non-government service providers and The Services Union
  • focussed attention being placed on the vaccination of children and young people in care, and
  • regional and local contingency planning that takes account of the completed assessments.

PeakCare sincerely thanks all residential care providers that have contributed to the gathering of this invaluable information. As more assessments are completed, further updated versions of the Master Register and regional workbooks will be produced.

It is noted that all members of the Non-Family Based Strategic Implementation Group (SIG) are sent copies of the minutes of the ‘Residential care COVID-19 preparedness working group’ meetings.

Vaccination of children and young people in care

In a special announcement released by PeakCare on 12 January 2022, advice was provided about correspondence released by Ms Leanne Black, the Acting Chief Practitioner, DCYJMA about the high priority to be given by Child Safety Officers on supporting children and young people aged five years and over to be vaccinated and a number of issues in relation to consent.

Prompted by the responses entered into the ‘Residential Care COVID Preparedness Assessment Tool’, correspondence was sent by PeakCare to Minster Leanne Linard and Ms Deidre Mulkerin, Director-General, DCYJMA on 21 January 2022 seeking assurance that  all Queensland children and young people in out-of-home care will have the opportunity, and the DCYJMA’s active efforts in supporting them to receive, at a minimum, their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination prior to the commencement of the 2022 school year.

PeakCare noted that while we recognised that the reasons for some children and young people (or the parents of younger children in instances where their consent is being sought) being resistant to vaccination may be specific to those individuals, we are also concerned that their resistance (or fears) may have arisen out of attitudes being promoted with the local communities in which they reside and in some instances, are reflective of views that are unfortunately being promoted by persons with high public profiles. For these reasons, PeakCare contended that a multi-faceted range of strategies would be required to increase the number of children and young people being vaccinated.

PeakCare was pleased to receive very prompt replies from both Minister Linard and Ms Mulkerin on the same day with assurances that planning to increase the vaccination rate had been commenced by the DCYJMA in association with Queensland Health. PeakCare looks forward to receiving further advice about the outcomes of this planning and is keen to assist in whatever ways we can.

Child Safety and Personal History Screening Checks

In a special announcement released by PeakCare on 10 January 2022, advice was provided about the extension of the time-limited arrangements originally put in place on 24 December 2021 in relation to managing Child Safety and Personal History Screening Checks (LCS2 checks). The time frame for maintaining these arrangements has now been extended from 10 January to Monday 7 March 2022.

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