Young people in out-of-home care are not being listened to

During Budget Estimates, Abigail confronted the Minister for Families and Communities about their continued failure to listen to the voices and lived experiences of children and young people in Out-of-Home Care. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Minister, the Advocate for Children and Young People recently released The Voices of Children and Young People in Out-of-Home Care 2021 report. Have you read the report and its recommendations?

The Hon. NATASHA MACLAREN-JONES: I have read their recommendations. Yes, I have.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Have you read the report?

The Hon. NATASHA MACLAREN-JONES: Not in all detail. As I said, I've gone through the recommendations and key parts. I do want to acknowledge the work of the advocate in doing this research, which is quite critical in providing information, and particularly the voices of young people. This research, along with the recommendations, helps along with other work which is done to look at how services are provided and how support is provided as well.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Thank you. I recommend you read the whole report, mainly because one of my favourite things about the Advocate for Children and Young People is that she puts everything in the voices of young children. She directly quotes from them.

The Hon. NATASHA MACLAREN-JONES: I think it is important to note, and it's something that the advocate highlights as well, that it is only around 1 per cent of the out-of-home care population that was interviewed. A lot of them had already left care. But it didn't reflect a lot of the work that has been done by our Government since a number of these children had left care as well. But there are other recommendations that we are looking at that could be implemented as well.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Okay. Sorry, so you're saying that you don't think that necessarily this is representative of the experience people would have now?

The Hon. NATASHA MACLAREN-JONES: As I said, it doesn't reflect the programs and initiatives that we have implemented, particularly our intervention work in supporting young people. It also doesn't reflect the practice direction that has been given to caseworkers, particularly in relation to developing those relationships with young people in care. But, as I said, the research and that feedback is vital, because it does provide a young person's perspective, and that will form part of—as we look at each part of the recommendations—where we may like to make improvements.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Minister, that's a disappointing response. Sorry, let me just clarify. There is nothing in the report that talks about a marked difference between those who are currently in out-of-home care and those who have experienced it in the past. Are you saying, though, that you are not going to take it in full because—

The Hon. NATASHA MACLAREN-JONES: No, I take it in full. What I'm saying is, in the recommendations, it doesn't necessarily reflect some of the work that has already been done by the department from when the research began.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Will you prepare a formal response to this at some point? Is that the idea?

The Hon. NATASHA MACLAREN-JONES: I will ask the secretary to comment on that because it is not usual that you would provide formal responses.

MICHAEL TIDBALL: Can I indicate that the report in many ways dovetails and speaks to a number of observations that, in my short tenure, have been a focus—and should be. There will be some work to be done. The recommendations are being worked through. I have been briefed by Ms Robinson, and certainly anticipate talking with her about her view of implementation. In terms of the areas of particular priority that are the focus, which are very real: Firstly, increasing access for children to trauma-informed care. That is a theme writ large in out-of-home care, sadly, but it is very real. Secondly, focus on evidence-based programs that prevent children entering out-of-home care. Thirdly, and importantly, ensuring that children entering out-of-home care are aware of their rights.Clearly, some of the initiatives proposed in the report will require an allocation of resources. Say, for example, for there to be reach-out 24/7, there needs to be a place for young people to reach out and for there to be a departmental liaison point. That is one of the issues that Ms Czech and I have been talking about. But the report is being comprehensively considered and it does, in many aspects, dovetail with initiatives that we are considering for our out-of-home care system.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: One of the strong recommendations that comes through the report is basically in relation to how young people just aren't listened to. Again, coming back to the issues we were talking about in the previous set of questioning, when we were talking about these family law issues—whether it is the tragic case of the Edwards children, or any number of other cases, children have told lawyers, they have told a number of people, that they feel that they are at risk and their wishes aren't respected. One of the recommendations in the report is for DCJ to work more collaboratively with the courts and with Legal Aid NSW to ensure that the views of children and young people are recorded in their own words. What's your view on that recommendation, and do you have any strategies to address that?

The Hon. NATASHA MACLAREN-JONES: I think there's a couple of things touched on: the

importance of young people having their say and, most importantly, knowing their rights. But also knowing how to have your say. There is some work—and I'll allow the secretary to comment further about how that can be accommodated in the database systems that are currently in operation. But there's also some other recommendations and I think one was an app that they talked about. There are a number of different apps that are used internationally and across other jurisdictions. In relation to that, it is important to look at what is the best type of app. For those members of the Committee not aware of it, this is something that a child themselves can enter the information on their own phone or iPad, which then links back. But, again, that comes back to IT and technology. I'll ask the secretary to comment further.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Just to be clear, that it is not just about allowing children to have their say but also to be listened to. That's the bit that's missing.

The Hon. NATASHA MACLAREN-JONES: Exactly.

MICHAEL TIDBALL: I think there are two aspects of voices being heard. The first is that which was adverted to in your earlier question about actual risk. That matter has been traversed this morning, and that is a matter for discussion in another place, with the courts. There is then, secondly—and bearing in mind that sadly many of our young people in out-of-home care have been severely traumatised. There are real challenges in how we empower them to feel and perceive that they have a voice. I don't want to waste the Committee's time, but that, to my mind, is a more challenging task that we have. Both are very real problems, but they are slightly different. They are both real and they both coexist.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Again, it comes back to resourcing.

MICHAEL TIDBALL: Yes.

 

You can read the full transcript here.



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