Extracted from Hansard - House of Assembly 1 December 2021
The Hon. R. SANDERSON (Adelaide—Minister for Child Protection) (11:20): This is obviously a very important topic, and one that is very close to my heart. In opposition, I was the shadow minister for four years and I had literally hundreds of foster carers and parents and people come to my office who were very dismayed with the whole child protection system. It was through the leadership of Steven Marshall and the Liberal Party at that time that we determined we would have a sole minister in charge of the department, and the department would be completely separate so that we could focus on reforming and making the changes that were needed.
To remind the opposition—because they seem to forget—there was inquiry after inquiry, coronial inquest after inquest and there were endless pieces of information.
The SPEAKER: Order! The minister has the call.
The Hon. R. SANDERSON: Coming into government, I could have called a royal commission, I could have wasted more money and called another royal commission, but what we know is we already have a lot of the recommendations.
Mr Boyer interjecting:
The SPEAKER: The member for Wright is called to order.
The Hon. R. SANDERSON: There have been endless royal commissions. Right back in 2003, when Robyn Layton reported, many of the same themes were documented: the toxic culture, the cover-up and the abuse of power. Labor had 16 years to make their changes and they failed to do so.
The same things were raised again and again in 2008—or 2006, I think it was—with the two Mullighan inquiries, then we had the Debelle inquiry into the education department and the Nyland royal commission. What I am saying is that on coming into government I could have had another inquiry, but we did not because we were very aware of all the things that needed to be changed. We had a single minister dedicated to changing this system, and that is exactly what we have done. We have worked tirelessly to change this system.
There are foster carers, like Joyce Woody and Lisa O'Malley, and a few who have been around for many years as foster carers, and many of the issues they are raising are historical issues that occurred under the former government. Not all of them have been resolved, I acknowledge that, but we are making significant inroads. As far as foster carers go, the very first thing I did was to announce foster care and kinship care payments to age 21. Belinda Valentine was there; she has been at press conferences with me, but I think it was Nina Weston who stood with me when we announced that. We thought, 'How do we support carers more? What can we do?', and that was the first thing we did.
We also thought we could support our carers and our young people more by actually filling the long-held 274 vacancies that existed in the department when Labor were in office. We broadened the qualifications, we hired more staff, we have taken the pressure off the staff so they can do their job and do better case management. We have also brought in Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to run kinship care. There is a pilot program with KWY, InComPro and AFSS so that we again can take pressure off the limited resources of the staff and have more people helping and supporting our kinship and foster carers—so we have done a lot.
We have also negotiated 200 Catholic Education scholarships. We have a joint plan with the education department. All of our young people have One Plans. We have done extensive work to bring our departments together to utilise the whole-of-government approach to getting better outcomes for our children and young people and, absolutely, there is more work to be done.
We have introduced a statement of commitment which affirms the rights to be informed, supported, consulted, valued and respected. This was developed in a partnership approach with Connecting Foster & Kinship Carers SA and Child and Family Focus SA and the Department for Child Protection. We have launched a carer portal on the DCP website, bringing together information on becoming a carer, guidance on decision-making and financial support, and resources relating to carer rights, roles and responsibilities.
We have also produced a newsletter for carers, Caring Together, providing carers with important information and resources to support their caring role. We have also funded Connecting Foster & Kinship Carers, the peak body, and we have just announced another three years of funding. This body also advocates on behalf of foster and kinship carers. They do surveys, and the results come to me so that we can look at policies.
Do not get me wrong, I have many policies still to go. I am very keen to have a second term in government as the minister because I am absolutely passionate about this area of policy and reform. Do not worry, I am always harping on to my cabinet and to Rob Lucas about what we can do to further support our foster and kinship carers, and that will not stop.
What I will say is there have been several reviews in the last few years to do with the complaints mechanism in the department. DCP has reformed its complaints management processes in recent years, based on a series of consultations and reviews. In particular, in 2018 the South Australian Ombudsman released the Audit Survey Report, which assessed 13 state government departments' complaints management systems, including DCP's.
Following this, in 2019 DCP reviewed its complaints management system. Feedback from the Ombudsman, the Guardian for Children and Young People and the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People also informed the development of the new processes and procedures. This work resulted in the development of new complaints management processes and procedures that are robust, transparent and client focused.
Initially, complaints should be directed to the local DCP office; however, these can be escalated to DCP's central complaints and feedback management unit if necessary. There are further avenues of escalation and independent review if a complaint remains unsatisfied, including:
- internal reviews, undertaken in accordance with section 157 of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017, which are available to review a decision of the chief executive or the office of the department;
- the Contact Arrangements Review Panel (CARP), governed by sections 94 and 95 of the act, provides an avenue for review of contact arrangements relating to a young person;
- the Ombudsman SA has the powers of oversight relating to responses to notifications, contact arrangements, communication issues and departmental matters referred to the Commissioner for Children and Young People and the Guardian for Children and Young People; and
- the SACAT, in accordance with section 158 of the act, which also offers a completely independent review of a decision of the chief executive.
I am advised that carers are made aware of these provisions and that they are being utilised.
However, noting the opportunity to have an inquiry, although I do not think it is needed at this time and I do think that significant work has been achieved, I also note that under the legislation there is to be a full review next year, 2022, which this could be included in. However, I am prepared to accept an inquiry at this point, noting the sensitivities around not identifying any of our foster children.
I think if this was done in a sensitive way, I am absolutely keen to improve the foster and kinship carers system wherever possible. I think anybody who has met me knows that my goal is to have the world's best child protection system. I will seek information from all around the world and our local carers and the young people they care for in order to improve our system. Whilst I do not feel it is necessary, I am prepared to accept the inquiry and the information that comes from that.