Child protection failings reinforce need for independent oversight body

Last night in parliament Hon Alison Xamon MLC, Greens spokesperson for Child Protection, renewed her call for independent oversight of child protection services in the wake of the WA Coroner’s adverse findings against the then Department for Child Protection and Family Services (CPFS).

Ms Xamon said the Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of 13 children and young people in the Kimberley identified a range of areas where improvements should be made to address high numbers of suicides by Aboriginal children and young people, including in the delivery of child protection services.

“Child protection issues featured heavily in the Coroner’s report, with adverse findings made against CPFS in four of the 13 cases,” said Ms Xamon.

“The Coroner also found that in respect of a number of the deaths CPFS failed to undertake proper assessments regarding the wellbeing of the children – and as such failed to meet the objects of the Children and Community Services Act.” 

Ms Xamon said that this was particularly worrying given that the WA Ombudsman in his 2014 investigation into suicide in young people in WA also raised concerns about child protection and questioned whether appropriate assessment and response to cumulative harm was occurring.

“By the time the Coroner or Ombudsman looks into these cases as child suicides it is obviously far too late,” said Ms Xamon.

“We need to know when our services are failing to protect vulnerable children before these children lose their lives”.

Ms Xamon said it was abundantly clear that WA needed independent oversight of services to vulnerable children.

“While our Commissioner for Children and Young People plays a significant role in terms of systemic advocacy, under current legislation that office cannot consider individual children’s cases,” said Ms Xamon.

The establishment of an oversight mechanism for children’s services is not a new concept, having been recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse, the 2012 Blaxell Inquiry into abuse at the St Andrew’s Hostel in Katanning and the report of the 2017 review of the Children and Community Services Act. The proposal also forms part of a current inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People.

Ms Xamon said that with the number of children in out of home care rising over 90 percent since 2007, and over 5,300 children currently in out of home care in Western Australia, the issue was more urgent than ever.

“We must be working to ensure wherever possible these children are able to remain safely in their own homes, and when they are taken into care they are provided with appropriate support, and yet according to the Western Australian Council of Social Services (WACOSS), WA spends a significantly smaller percentage of its child protection expenditure on family support or intensive family support than NSW, Vic and Qld. Furthermore, the recently released 2019-20 state budget provided no growth in Earlier Intervention and Family Support. This is simply unacceptable,” said Ms Xamon.

“As a community we have a shared responsibility to ensure we do everything we can to protect children from harm. The Coroner’s report makes it very clear our child protection system is failing vulnerable Aboriginal children in the Kimberley. It is essential the Government works with Aboriginal communities to address gaps, and prioritises the establishment of independent oversight of children protection services as soon as possible.”

picture of two small children