1 THE SOUTH AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT S CHILD PROTECTION REFORM PROGRAM KEEPING THEM SAFE
3 Introduction Keeping them Safe is the South Australian Government s bold program to reform our child protection services and systems. This document makes the case for change and charts the way forward. It is the Government s vision for the future. We must do our best by our children. Keeping them Safe is an invitation to all who share this conviction to join us in our endeavours. Parents, families, communities and governments all have an obligation to help children flourish and to connect them to opportunities. Keeping them safe from harm, in a way that is sustained and assures their well being, is the responsibility of us all. Reports of suspected child abuse and neglect have escalated dramatically over the last decade and our services and programs have struggled to cope with the demands. We wanted to know what could be done and we commissioned a Review of Child Protection by Robyn Layton QC. The Government has now considered the recommendations outlined in the Layton Report and examined other review findings. We have listened to children and young people; to parents; to our workers and practitioners in the field; to the foster carers who share with us the important responsibility of providing care, stability and support to children under our protection; to our partners in the non-government sector and other sectors; and to those who advocate tirelessly in the best interests of children and we have looked at what other governments are doing interstate and overseas. The need for change is indisputable and our commitment to change unequivocal. The system that has evolved over the last ten years has, in some areas, fallen out of step. It does not always align well with current thinking on the most effective responses to protect children at risk of harm, or to assist those who are prevented by circumstance from taking up opportunities. Early intervention; a focus on the early years; approaches that consider the whole child and the family context; and joined up action across government are the critical elements for sustained success. We speak the words but don t always act according to these precepts. We want to make sure this practical and proven wisdom is consistently applied and becomes a coherent strategy that drives our reform program. Sharing information better, maintaining quality systems and enhancing the competencies of our workers who operate in a complex and demanding environment are reforms to tackle systemic issues that are barriers to progress. The protection of children and young people remains the core of our mandate. Our first duty above all others is to act with speed and resolve when there are threats to the lives and safety of children. We shall continue to investigate abuse and maltreatment rigorously and to pursue the perpetrators of crimes against children and young people. Those who harm and exploit children are judged by our courts and our community.
4 Despite the best efforts of individual, dedicated and hard working staff, our key agency responsible for child protection lost capacity when it was subsumed in the Department of Human Services and it lost its way. In some cases it lost the confidence of other agencies that also have child protection responsibilities. There is now a need for a fundamental culture change and a new sense of direction. We must be much more diligent in the care we provide to our children under the guardianship of the Minister, do more to support parents, foster carers and other care givers and be more outwardly focussed in building and maintaining our partnerships with other sectors and other levels of government. We have not waited to act. Already our response has been substantial and initiatives are underway. This reform program represents our third and most comprehensive child protection response. We have targeted initiatives that can be set in train quickly and which will deliver benefits,in some cases immediately, in others, reform will take longer. Not all of the structural and legislative reforms recommended in the Layton Report will be tackled in the first instance. We will continue to shape our response and actions in the light of the impact of our early reforms. The early establishment of the new Department for Families and Communities which is now in place, gives a clear focus for implementation of the State Government s child protection reform agenda. Keeping them Safe is a statement of the Government s position on child protection reform and articulates the policy choices we have made. From the evidence before us of what will work best in sustaining the well being of children and young people, now and into the future, we are defining a new direction. In making an honest appraisal of what s wrong with the system, recognising the need for change and telling it like it is, we have already taken the first steps to turn around a system that is failing many of our children and families. Child protection cannot be separated from policies that benefit children in many areas. Across the board we are injecting significant resources to match our policy commitment to the well being of children and to our vision for the prosperity of all South Australians. We also have a vision for a child protection system that is innovative; flexible and responsive to change; will stand up to the scrutiny of its constituents; and with robust, independent investigation and complaints mechanisms that give redress to individuals and from which we can learn and improve. Children, young people and families are at its centre. Innovation, debate, openness to new ideas, challenging established practices with evidence based research and setting new agendas, these are some of the qualities that made South Australia a social policy leader in the past. It is a leadership position that we intend to reclaim and our children and families will be the beneficiaries. Mike Rann Jay Weatherill Premier of South Australia Minister for Families and Communities May 2004
5 What matters Our children are our present and our future. Wanting the best for our children is a thread that binds us as families, communities and governments. Working with others to secure a better tomorrow for all South Australians is this Government s touchstone. This means acting now to provide the levels of safety, opportunity and choice that will enable children, families and communities to flourish. There is much to be done to help close the gap for those who are falling behind and excluded by circumstance from the same opportunities and choices as other South Australians. Building a more socially inclusive society is up to all of us: governments, the non-government sector, business, individuals and communities. 1 A measure of us as individuals and as a society is how well we look after our children and young people. Neglect, abuse, and exploitation harm children and cause them to suffer. The maltreatment of children diminishes us all. The causes and situations that lead to children being at risk or harmed are often complex, multi-faceted and frequently compound over time. Understanding these dimensions is critical in determining the nature of our responses to protect children. Abuse and neglect Abuse is not only about direct physical injury. Children may have to endure living with violence, insecurity and unpredictability. The family environment may fail to offer certainty and safety. There are many opinions about what drives adults to harm children. Poverty is an important contributing factor, but is not the only reason children are exploited, abused, or maltreated. Child abuse occurs across the spectrum of our society. What we do know is that most parents do not intentionally neglect children. Any parent can understand the challenges as well as the joys of bringing up children. In some families, living with the problems that poverty brings (financial strain, lack of access to services and opportunities, having to choose between food and medicines) is overwhelming. A parent may lash out against a child in frustration or despair. In a few cases, this turns into a pattern of behaviour that at some point may escalate out of control. The sexual abuse of children is the type of abuse that is the most calculated. It is an offence that we find deeply disturbing and intolerable, but it is also the hardest to detect. We have a good understanding about the factors that shape children s life chances.
6 Research tells us that there are a number of underlying and interrelated factors that contribute to environments where children are harmed. These include: domestic and family violence; low income, parental unemployment, and/or limited access to the labour market; poor parenting; overcrowding, homelessness and high mobility, transience; poor schooling; mental illness; low birth weight; substance misuse; and living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood. Context Developments over the last decade have led to a situation in South Australia, as in other jurisdictions nationally and overseas, where the reports of suspected child abuse and neglect have increased significantly, even alarmingly, and continue to grow. There has been a 35% increase in notifications in the last 3 years. As well, many children are the subject of repeat notifications where, most commonly, neglect is the reason for the re-notification. In South Australia and Queensland, the number is as high as one in four within 12 months of the original notification. There are also other complexities. When there are children in need of protection who also have significant developmental delays, have been exposed to substance misuse or are severely emotionally disturbed, there are additional challenges in determining the best response. Indigenous children are over represented in the South Australian child protection system for reasons which go to the heart of the deprivation and social exclusion experienced by many Aboriginal Australians. 2 Community expectations The mandatory requirement under the Children s Protection Act 1993 to notify suspected abuse or neglect has been effectively promulgated to health professionals, social workers, teachers, members of the police force and others working with children, as specified in the legislation. It continues to be supported by ongoing awareness raising and training programs across professional groups and organisations. This, together with heightened awareness and intolerance of child abuse among the general public, means an increased willingness by people to report their concerns when they see children whom they believe are not adequately cared for, or are not safe. There are also community expectations that the perpetrators of abuse will be dealt with through the justice system, with severe penalties for those found guilty of offences against children.
7 Resource impacts The escalating number of child abuse notifications has overstretched resources to a point that has become untenable and puts at risk our capacity to keep children safe. In 1997, in an effort to manage better the rising number of reports, a tiered risk assessment tool was introduced to categorise cases according to levels of risk (tiers 1, 2 and 3). This mechanism, as in other jurisdictions, has not always enabled our response to be matched to the presenting issue(s) in the most appropriate way. It has meant effort being directed to the cases assessed as high risk and the consequent application of investigatory and legislative protocols. Many reports of abuse are not substantiated through such processes. 3 There has continued to be insufficient emphasis on our broader responsibilities for supporting families and protecting children and young people through preventative strategies that build family capacity. Tackling reported cases of child neglect through family support measures can reduce the likelihood of re-notification. A renewed focus on this aspect of our mandate is fundamental to our reforms. It is not simply about directing more resources to this approach but about honing our assessment processes, improving the competencies of our practitioners and marshalling the resources available to us in all agencies to an approach that is less incident driven and more centred on both child and family. Identifying the gaps There is overwhelming evidence of the need for reform of the child protection system. The recent Review of Child Protection in South Australia covered an extensive range of issues and the needs of particular population groups (including Indigenous children, children with disabilities, refugee children, and young people at risk); the need for improved interagency coordination to break down barriers to working together effectively; and increased accountability of the child protection system. The Government will continue to implement its response to the Layton Report in consultation with key stakeholders as part of its ongoing reform program.
8 The imperative for change The child protection system has reached a point where it is no longer sustainable to continue without significant change to the current practices. It is now imperative to formulate new approaches and responses if we are to turn the tide in this most complex and sensitive of areas. We must bring energy and purpose to the task which is as important as the lives of the children and families we are charged with supporting. The responsibilities for doing it better touch all of us and it is only through collaborative endeavour that we can be successful. However for Government there are some specific statutory and other obligations which sit clearly with us and we shall take them on with renewed vigour. The evolution in our child protection practices over the last ten years and the current demands mean our system is skewed to the end of the child protection continuum which concerns notification, investigation and legal processes. Where there are immediate, lifethreatening circumstances to children, the system must respond with a sense of urgency. There are also cases of chronic neglect and habitual abuse where the threat to life is less immediate. These children are still seriously at risk and an investigation needs to be pursued. Sometimes the pattern of neglect is not as entrenched, for example in families who just manage to cope most of the time. It can be more episodic and a full investigative process is not always necessarily appropriate. 4 Evidence from research and from practitioners in the field tells us that when children are suffering from neglect it is usually an unintended consequence of a range of interconnected circumstances such as poverty, poor parenting, substance misuse and other factors that have combined to leave a family vulnerable and with limited resources. These are the children who reappear on the re-notification lists as their families or carers continue to struggle. The life choices of such children diminish as their difficulties almost inevitably compound, perhaps through disrupted schooling, poor educational attainment, low skill levels and contact with the justice system. The social exclusion of many Aboriginal South Australians and entrenched disadvantage across generations has profoundly affected the capacity of some Aboriginal families to provide for their children. Despite this, the bonds of kinship are a source of strength in the care of Aboriginal children.
9 Our rationale: dealing with the complexities At the centre of the Government s child protection reform program is a reorientation of our child protection services. They will be broadened in their reach, but operate still within the ambit of our current legislative responsibilities. More will be done to tackle the cases of neglect by supporting families and to halt the cycle of repeat notifications by taking preventative action. This direction will not be at the expense of immediate and urgent action, when and where necessary, to protect children and young people at risk of harm. The full weight of the legal system will continue to be applied to deal with those who commit crimes against children. The reform agenda is about intervening earlier, before the abuse occurs or becomes habitual. 5 The Children s Protection Act 1993 requires practitioners, government and nongovernment agencies and decision makers to exercise judgement in the application of often seemingly conflicting principles. It requires skill, experience, courage and a sophisticated understanding of how the principles might be best applied in real situations that affect the lives of children, young people and their families. The key principles of the legislation include: the safety and well being of the child as paramount considerations; keeping the child within his or her family; strengthening family relationships; not withdrawing the child unnecessarily from the child s familiar environment or neighbourhood; not interrupting unnecessarily the child s education or employment; and preserving and enhancing the child s sense of racial, ethnic, religious or cultural identity. These principles, despite the every day challenges of achieving the right balance, have stood the test of time and remain our practice guide. They will continue to underpin our reform strategies. The Children s Protection Act 1993 asks the Government in certain circumstances to become involved in the lives of particular families and children and to make significant decisions. It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly and where risks to children can be the only justification for such intrusion. Respect, valuing the worth of individuals and compassion must be our watchwords.
10 Our commitment to children and young people We take seriously our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Australia is a signatory. This means valuing children and young people as citizens of our community who need care and attention, but who are also entitled to the same consideration as all our citizens. We acknowledge the uniqueness and potential of every child. We act for the child and in their best interests which may change according to their particular circumstances. The voice of the child or young person will be heard when we are making decisions about their lives. Children in our care have the right to participate in the decision making that affects them, and to have their views considered according to their age and maturity. When children s perspectives on their own situation and their sense of responsibility toward their families and communities are ignored, [programs] are less effective. 1 The resourcefulness of children in overcoming adversity has been underestimated. We need to view children not only as vulnerable or as victims, but also as resilient human beings who will respond to opportunities to break a cycle of abuse and disadvantage. Whenever possible, children should remain within their families. The Government must do all it can to support parents to provide good and safe care for their children. We need to make sure that all forms of alternative care create a similar family environment in which children can develop and build sustaining relationships. The Government recognises that family life has many shapes, and it is love, care, stability and safety that are needed by children and young people. 6 Where safety might be compromised family preservation will not take precedence over the protection of the child. 1. Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Action Plan on Child Protection, The vision for change The Government s child protection reforms will be ongoing with changes implemented progressively. Other policy initiatives being put in place under the State Strategic Plan are the backdrop to our reforms. These broader initiatives support our work by promoting healthy lives, safer communities and quality education for all. Keeping children safe from abuse, exploitation and violence is intrinsic to this Government s commitment to social inclusion objectives. Children must be able to live their lives free from violence and the fear of violence. We want to give children and young people every chance to achieve. Our vision is that all South Australian children: enjoy good physical and mental health in a safe and healthy physical environment; get the most out of life, including play, leisure and access to recreation and sport; develop skills for adulthood; have a strong sense of self and are connected to learning, opportunity and the community; can take up their citizenship rights and make a positive contribution; and are not being prevented by disadvantage from achieving their full potential.
11 The Government believes that a whole child perspective that identifies the range of children s needs and recognises the dimensions of children s development must inform policy development and service delivery. The health, well being and prosperity of children and young people require them to be safe and protected. This will have a positive impact for the future, on the next generation of families, and communities will be stronger as a consequence. 7 Initiatives in train We are ready to make the necessary changes to the child protection system. We have not delayed and already initiatives have been implemented which impact on the improved well being of children. Some examples are: the Universal Home Visiting Scheme to support new-born infants and their mothers; additional workers for FAYS; priority access to services in all government agencies for those children who come under the guardianship of the Minister for Families and Communities; the Women s Safety Strategy to tackle the detrimental effects on children of violence against women; an eight point early years literacy education plan and initiatives to improve children s literacy as a fundamental for future success; a revitalised health system that includes the establishment of a state wide service for children, young people and women s health; and social inclusion initiatives including school retention strategies which give particular attention to the needs of children in the care of the Minister, initiatives for the homeless that focus on young people and outcomes from the Drugs Summit directed at young people and others at risk of drug related harm.
12 REFORM PRIORITIES The reform rationale determines our priorities. The key planks in the reform program are: support to children and families; effective, appropriate intervention; reforming work practices and culture; collaborative partnerships; and improved accountability.
13 SUPPORT TO CHILDREN AND FAMILIES Giving greater emphasis to strengthening families and supporting parents is a central plank of our reform program because of the critical link between protecting children and building family capacity. Equally fundamental is the consideration that children need stability and continuity in their care. The Government recognises the contribution made to parenting by relatives, step parents, foster carers, other care givers and even neighbours. The responsibilities undertaken by some children for their brothers and sisters are also important to recognise. There will be a greater focus of effort on supporting families and helping parents give their best to their children. Fathers as well as mothers have a vital role to play. 9 Parenting is much harder when parents have difficulties to grapple with, especially in making ends meet and in looking after all family members. Mothers and fathers without family and social supports may feel isolated and under pressure not to ask for help. The Government will make sure parents have easy access to advice and assistance when they need it. We will act on what parents have said helps them and provide practical support. The Minister s children We are committed to improving significantly the standards of care for the Minister s children, that is, those children who have been placed under the care and guardianship of the Minister to keep them safe. These children are core to our responsibilities but often are missing out. Many guardianship children do not have an allocated social worker or a case plan and have not been given a baseline medical, dental or educational assessment. We have taken action on these inadequacies and are implementing wide ranging changes to assist the children who are our prime responsibility. The Government has agreed that guardianship children will receive the highest priority in service provision by all government agencies. An extensive strategy is being put in place to deliver much improved planning and support for the Minister s children. A priority objective is to provide stability by reducing the number of placements for children and young people in care who are often moved too frequently between placements. We need to be conscientious parents to ensure the Minister s children have a stable living environment; a lifestyle that is the same as can be expected by most children in South Australia; opportunities to do their best in school and recreational activities; and appropriate connections with peers, family and communities. An independent support person or mentor who can advocate for the child is also an important consideration. A kit is being developed to assist children coming into the care system so they are aware of their rights and know where to go for help.
14 In addition to these commitments, the Government also undertakes to: improve case planning and review processes; establish a broader range of short and longer term care options so that children are not waiting for suitable places to live; ensure that complaints processes are in place and that these are easily accessible by children and young people; ensure that special investigation processes are monitored and reviewed; ensure that every child has an individual plan to maximise their potential that encompasses learning (not only school based learning), health, play, recreation and social activities; and support young people leaving care and making a successful transition to adulthood beyond their eighteenth birthday, by establishing a state wide leaving care/ex care program. Office of the Guardian A new Office of the Guardian is to be set up as a small unit to act for, and make representations to the Minister on behalf of children. The Office will monitor our care of children and our services to families. It will watch out for guardianship children, trouble shoot when blocks occur in the system and establish and maintain a mentor and support person for every child. As well as keeping a watching brief over complaints processes, the Office will convene annual forums where children under guardianship can advise Government on what is needed. The Minister will also meet regularly with his children and Community Cabinet meetings provide an opportunity to do this across the State. We will work closely with CREATE, the national body that works for young people in care, to explore these ideas further. 10 Recognising and supporting foster carers We respect and value the contribution of foster carers, relatives and other alternative care givers who work with us to give children care, safety and stability. They, together with us, are members of a team. They are a significant resource for information relating to a child s current and future well being. We need to draw on their knowledge more than we do currently, to assist discussions and decision making about the best care options for children. Foster carers play a unique and critical role in giving homes and care to children who are particularly vulnerable. This can be a short term placement for a child or children with particular needs, or providing a family home over many years as a child or young person grows and develops. Relative or kinship care is particularly important in the care of children in short and longer term placements.
15 We will give foster carers the support they require to meet the needs of the children in their care. We want to encourage more people to consider fostering, and to recruit additional new carers to take on this valuable work. Strategies to be implemented for supporting foster carers include: training and skill development; ensuring timely and consistent children s payments to foster carers; establishing an independent, dedicated grievance process for foster carers; and developing new and innovative models of foster care, particularly for the most difficult to place children. The Minister s annual Care Awards will acknowledge the work of outstanding foster carers. 11
16 EFFECTIVE, APPROPRIATE INTERVENTION When children come into the system, either through the mandated reporting processes or present in schools, childcare centres and in other programs as falling behind or being at risk, there is the potential to exercise some choice about the most appropriate intervention. Child protection work is full of dilemmas. Acting in the best interests of the child remains an enduring challenge for practitioners, administrators and policy makers. The provision of practical assistance, support, supervision or specialist family preservation services may enable a child to remain at home. It may be necessary to place a child away from the family into a different care setting, perhaps with a view to returning the child home once risk factors are ameliorated. In all of this we need to minimise the disruption that multiple placements can cause a child. This requires highly individualised decision making that takes account of the unique circumstances of the individual child, young person and family. There is some evidence from other jurisdictions that mandatory reporting systems have meant that intervention is not based on an individual assessment of each child but increasingly based on processing cases along an assembly line of legalistic procedures. 2 This is a direction we want to change and will begin by reviewing the effectiveness of our tiered response system to improve processes in the context of our reform objectives. 2. Associate Professor Dorothy Scott as cited in the Layton Report (10.5) Intervening early Through our early intervention strategies to sustain families we are trying to keep children out of the courts system by tackling the risk factors for abuse and neglect before they occur. We shall continue to utilise the resources of the legal system to protect children who have been harmed, or are seriously at risk, and to convict the perpetrators of abuse. 12 Our response needs to be tailored to individual children, young people and their families. The key to success is to intervene early, when children are beginning to experience difficulty, share the warning signs, collaborate and take action before the problems become entrenched. There is now a body of evidence that clearly supports early intervention strategies and working with children and their families in the early years as the most successful ways to improve children s life choices, safety and well being. Targeting the known risk factors at critical stages and deploying a range of approaches is necessary for effective family capacity building strategies as children and young people develop. For example, times of family breakdown or disruption, or the middle years of schooling for young people going through adolescence can put children and young people at risk and lead to them becoming disconnected from opportunities. Multi-faceted approaches need to be implemented across disciplines and agencies, with lead professionals ensuring continuity and accountability when children and young people are in specialist programs in different agencies.
17 Responding flexibly We will tailor our responses to the needs of particular regions, localities and population groups, particularly Aboriginal South Australians. Family support programs and planning will give specific consideration to older children and young people and the voices of young people will be heard in our decision making. Alternative care options will be expanded and consolidated, including emergency care for children and young people requiring intensive and specialist help. We are committed to ensuring children with disabilities and special needs are given the attention they need in the provision of services and in all child protection responses. Additional funding has been allocated to programs to assist the transition of children with disabilities from school to the next phase of their lives. 13 Pathways to support services to help children and young people to recover from harmful experiences will be clarified and streamlined. The response capacity of the Child Abuse Report Line to answer calls made about children s care and safety will be improved. We are responsive to concerns about the difficulty of finding culturally appropriate care arrangements for the number of placements needed for Aboriginal children. In regard to guardianship orders we will improve our application of the Aboriginal Placement Principle to enhance Aboriginal children s connection with culture and community. We are reviewing the role and function of Yaitya Tirramongkotti, the team in the Crisis Response and Child Abuse Service that facilitates culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal families, children and young people.
18 REFORMING WORK PRACTICES AND CULTURE In initiating our strategies for workplace reform, we recognise the contribution of our frontline workers who often feel under siege. As the number of abuse and neglect notifications has grown and the system has failed to keep pace, a reactive culture, fearful of blame, has permeated our main child protection agency, Family and Youth Services (FAYS). We need to build cross government responsibilities and the competencies of our workers to exercise sound judgement in the complex decision making processes associated with child protection. We also need to provide the leadership which will give them confidence that they are being supported when they take action on behalf of children. We want our workforce to be less driven by the processes and more focussed on sustained outcomes for particular children, young people and their families. These are some of the objectives of a Workforce Development Strategy which we are initiating in FAYS to ensure that its current and future workforce has the skills needed to deliver high quality services to the most vulnerable in the South Australian community. The Strategy incorporates the recruitment and retention of staff in the priority area of child protection, as well as the induction and ongoing training and development of staff at all levels across the range of complex functions: investigative, child and family support, and therapeutic services. The expansion and support of Aboriginal employment to strengthen FAYS capacity to work with Aboriginal families and communities will also be a priority. Lead agency Our vision is to transform and rebuild FAYS from an agency of last resort to a dynamic and skilled service that sustains families; works collaboratively and productively with its partners in providing services to children and families; and connects positively with the community. 14 To signal our changed approaches and commitment to reinvigorating our service and culture, we will establish a new division within the Department for Families and Communities. The division is to be created through a reorientation of the existing FAYS and to be rebadged as Children, Youth and Family Services. It will be the lead agency driving the Keeping them Safe reform agenda with new energy and a new professionalism. We will pursue discussions with the tertiary education sector on recruiting more people into the social work profession. We shall also collaborate on ways to give greater attention to child protection in undergraduate courses for teachers, social workers and other professionals who study and train in areas that involve working with children and young people. We want to ensure that those who are in the frontline of child protection have a sound theoretical understanding to inform their practice decisions. In this way we can sustain a professional workforce across the relevant disciplines for the longer term.
19 COLLABORATIVE PARTNERSHIPS Other sectors We will strengthen our partnerships: with the non-government sector, the Commonwealth and local government, the private sector and the range of service providers across the state. We recognise the centrality of non-government organisations to our work with children and families, particularly in the provision of alternative care services. Clarity and agreement around roles and responsibilities is critical to accountability. There will be active collaboration with non-government service providers on the implications of our reform directions. 15 There are opportunities to work more with local government, on community development activities for example, and to bring child protection considerations in to regional planning processes. Forums with the LGA will be used to explore the contribution the local government sector can make to our joint efforts. Volunteers contribute significantly to the care and protection of children in many settings and activities. We acknowledge the importance to our work of the skills, generosity and commitment of volunteers and we shall continue to recognise their role in our reform initiatives. Working across boundaries We need to be child and young people centred in our planning. Children are people not issues and cannot be divided into problem areas that fit the functional responsibilities of service providers. The child s immediate and longer term situation, range of needs and future well being should be considered first, before decisions are made about roles and responsibilities. Responses will then be less fragmented and better coordinated. We are committed to inter agency collaboration and action and will: forge strong and accountable links between services, portfolios and sectors; continue to develop and implement robust case management models and quality processes in collaboration with other providers; and ensure a full canvassing of options with all relevant agencies and individuals is inherent in our assessment processes and at the critical points in case management.
20 Sharing information We want to remove barriers to information exchange (such as misconceptions about legal constraints) and share information better to achieve better integration of services. Confidentiality provisions will not be tolerated as an excuse for agencies refusing to share information in situations where children are at risk and need protection. We will make better use of information and communications technology to draw on common data for improved planning for the well being of children and families, and responsive case management. We will build our knowledge base about what works best to keep children safe and realise their full potential. Child protection should not be seen in isolation. The well being and protection of children is inherent in a range of government programs and activities. The Universal Home Visiting Scheme is a good example of this and the links to child protection strategies need to continue to be made. Schools, teachers and early childhood services are keys to mobilising successful and early interventions to support children and families. We will use schools as community hubs for the delivery of services and support. More specialist workers are being placed in schools and multi-disciplinary teams will be mobilised for early intervention strategies in the early years. Pre-schools and schools are where children spend much of their time and where parents, professionals and children come together. The opportunity to make a positive impact when children are beginning to disconnect from learning will be increased if the right resources and appropriate expertise are available in these environments. 16