Child Abuse Reports

Ms SANDERSON (Adelaide) (11:30): I move:

That this house condemns the Labor government's record on child protection and in particular notes—

(a) the average waiting times on the Child Abuse Report Line having extended greater than one hour in 2016, compared to 10 minutes in 2012 and 20 minutes in 2015;

(b) that over 200 children and young people currently live in emergency care as compared to zero in 2002;

(c) that almost half of calls to the Child Abuse Report Line go unanswered and of those answered, the majority are closed with no action due to a lack of resourcing; and

(d) the number of children under the guardianship of the minister has reached a record high of 3,280, showing that more needs to be done in the areas of prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation.

I note that these figures were correct as of last year when I actually researched the motion, so some of these figures—for example, the number of children under the guardianship of the minister—have actually risen since then. Although the time to answer calls has dropped, it is nowhere near the level it was in 2012, so it has significantly gone up and any improvements that are being made are still far worse than when this government came to power in 2002.

So, where to start? We have just had estimates, and we were just able to speak on estimates, so a lot of information has already been covered on this topic. Starting from the beginning, the government is putting in extra money, and I welcome the extra money being put into child protection. There was $200 million announced last year, a further $232 million in the Mid-Year Budget Review and a further $86.5 million was added in the 2017-18 budget.

However, unfortunately, this is really just to cover the extra cost or blowout in costs in residential care because of a failure to employ a number of residential care workers, as announced in 2014 under then minister Rankine. An extra 360 workers should have been employed to save on the cost of using agency staff outside the government. The government, by not fulfilling its own election promises and announcements, has cost the state millions and millions of dollars. They continually make announcements of things that will be done, yet they are not implemented and not fulfilled.

We see that in the 2016-17 year there were 64,899 calls to the Child Abuse Report Line, which we know is an extraordinary number of calls from people who are concerned about the welfare of children in this state. It is unfortunate to see that around 23,000 of those calls were unanswered, which is quite a shocking number—23,595 calls went unanswered. We know that, of the people who did get through, many of them were waiting for extraordinary periods of time, up to five hours, just to get their calls answered.

There was a total of 64,899 calls, and 41,304 of those were answered, whilst 23,595 of those were not answered. Some 51,200 were taken as notifications, which I gather means that some of them were duplicates or referring to the same child. Of those 51,200, 21,100 were screened in, so that means they were considered as worthy of being screened in, and we know that around 4,058 of those were investigated. So from all the people who call and wait their five hours a number are screened in, and thus it narrows down and down. From that, there were around 1,500 substantiations, so that is where they are investigated and it is found that there are issues.

However, the figures are slightly confusing for this year. This year we have 21,100 who were screened in. Of those, 1,240 were considered tier 1, which means immediate action was required or that the child was actually in danger. If it is tier 1, you would normally perhaps call the police if a child was in that scenario. For tier 2, it was unclear of the figure. I know that last year it was 16,401. This year, I am still to work it out. We had 3,788 for infants, which has never been separated before, but then there were 7,604 for non-infants, yet apparently there were a remaining 12,908. The figures do not really add up, at this stage.

There were 538 in tier 3, which, in theory, should mean that with the right supports the family can work towards keeping the child safe in their home. There were 2,542 extrafamilial. They are children who are abused or neglected by people other than their immediate family. We can see that it is quite shocking in South Australia. Of course, the government does not cause people to abuse their children or neglect their children—I am not implying that at all. The government's role is to set in place the policies and procedures to give the right supports to families and to identify those most at risk. We know that young mothers or single mothers would be considered most at risk and most likely to end up in this scenario. People who are drug users are high risk. It is quite clear.

You can see—and I have over 100 open cases in my electorate office right now—that people who work in the industry can tell you who is most at risk. It is the government's role then to put in place the policies and procedures not only to identify those most at risk but to support those most at risk and to give them the capabilities and capacities so that they can look after their children safely, because it is not the government's role to remove every child from somebody who poses a risk.

As we can see from the figures that are increasing year on year on year, this is unsustainable, it is bad for the child, it is bad for the mother and the father, and the whole family suffers. As we have seen in Belinda Valentine's case, the grandparents suffer, the uncles and aunties suffer: everybody suffers when a child is removed or left in harm for too long. We can see that the figures are continuing to increase.

We know from the figures reported from the government's own website that there are 3,470 children under the age of 18 in out-of-home care. Out-of-home care includes foster care, which is 1,334; kinship care includes 1,548 children and young people. At the moment, residential care has 388; independent living has 38; and commercial care has 162. Both commercial care and residential care have eight-hour shift workers and that is considered to be the worst form of care for the majority of children. I acknowledge that the minister has indicated that there are some children for whom that is the best type of care, but I would expect that that is quite a small percentage, compared with the number of children who are actually living in those conditions.

It is a shocking indictment that when this government came to power in 2002 the Liberal Party had worked tirelessly and recognised that commercial care, or 'emergency care' as it is known, was the worst form of care for a child. They had policy settings and money spent to ensure that there were no children in emergency care when this government came to power. The numbers are purely a result of this government's handling of this situation. This is not something that has to happen. It is not something that has happened for all time. This is something that has happened under the Labor government under their policy settings.

Whilst commercial care has dropped for this year, because it was an at an all-time record high, the figures in residential care have gone up more than the emergency care figures have dropped. Basically, you could say that they have just been moved to another form of care. It is not as if something miraculously has happened.

The government is spending some money on an Early Intervention Research Directorate, as per the royal commission. However, we know that we already have many research facilities on a federal level and a state level. We have Professor Fiona Arney and there are many researchers in South Australia. It is surprising that after 16 years in government they are only now researching early intervention and prevention when it is obviously a very important area that probably from day one, or from the first time that the government could see they had lost control of their child protection department, they should have been researching what was going on all around the world and what they could do about it. They should not have had to wait for a royal commission that took two years and $6 million to now start researching. It is all a bit backwards, if you ask me.

We can see that there are a lot of issues with the Child Abuse Report Line. In the royal commission, it was quite astounding to hear that notes were handwritten and then their duplicate was entered back into a computer system. The computer systems do not talk to each other. You cannot just enter something once. In Victoria, I believe, it is an interactive form, so if you make an eCARL, an online report, it will trigger different questions and it will ask certain questions. That exact template into which you can enter data that goes into a database immediately can also be used for phone calls. Why are we not using that in South Australia? Two years ago in estimates when I was asking about this, the government had sent a team to Victoria and New South Wales to research this. They came back and they are not using it. It astounds me.

Also, three years ago in estimates I was asking about the callback facility that had been purchased and was supposed to be trialled. It is only now being implemented, three years later. There have been problems in this department for such an incredibly long time that I am over it, the public are over it and even the staff are over it. We have seen the high level of churn in this department. By the minister's own admission, there was a high turnover of staff. This is a very stressful area, but so it is for health, police and ambulance workers, but they somehow can manage their departments so that they do not end up with what the PSA allege is around 390 FTE unfilled jobs. That is why the staff are so stressed: they are expected to work under incredible pressure and they are understaffed.

This government is very good at announcements. They have announced $4.4 million for foster care in 2015 to increase numbers. Then in February they announced $9 million in 2016 for an extra 130 foster carers. We still do not know how many extra foster carers we have. I have asked in estimates, 'How many new foster carers did we get for each of the two years since all this money has been spent? How many left the system? How many do we have in total?' We cannot get the figures. When they say there is a 4.1 per cent increase in 10 months of foster care placements, for all I know they could have been existing foster carers who were already there, who have a spare room and have taken on an extra child, because the figures do not tell us that.

We all know about permanency for children being extremely important and we know about Other Person Guardianship. Again, three years ago in estimates I asked minister Rankine about it. That was coming along quite well. There were over 100 children on OPG orders and there were about 75 or 85 underway. That dropped off for some reason. Something happened; either the department stopped recommending or there were some issues.

Three years later, we are still having issues with Other Person Guardianship. Not enough people are making it through the system to take pressure off foster families having to ring the department with questions about haircuts, school camps and trips interstate. It would also take pressure off the department in that it would not have to answer those type of questions. It would take pressure off foster carers and it would give the children a sense of permanency without it being an adoption. It is a win-win for everyone. I still have no idea why this government cannot get that system to work properly in order to give children more stability in their life.

As part of the budget, we now have $1.7 million for the Commissioner for Children and Young People, for which we are thankful. It took many, many years. That was a Liberal policy many years ago, as was separating the department. We have also announced several policies such as the registration of social workers; foster care to the age of 21, which will give children better stability; and an audit of all children in residential care. I commend this motion to the house.