Out-of-home care frameworks
This chapter provides background on the current Commonwealth, state and
territory legislative and non-legislative frameworks for out-of-home care
In particular, it assesses the implementation of the National
Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009–2020 (National
Framework). The National Framework was developed in 2009 by the Council of
Australian Governments (COAG) in partnership with the community sector in an
attempt to provide a shared, national agenda for changing the way Australia
manages child protection issues.
The National Framework is being implemented by a series of three year
action plans. The first action plan (2009–2012) focused on improving
collaboration between government and non-government sectors and developing an
evidence base through improved data collection. The second action plan (2012–2015)
focused on raising awareness of child protection issues across government and
non-government services and developing local partnerships to address child
This chapter assesses the efficacy of the National Framework and its
action plans in achieving their stated goals. It identifies a number of issues
and concerns including a lack of accountability, funding and local responses,
and suggests changes to improve its operation.
Current out-of-home care framework
A system in crisis
The committee heard from a number of submitters and witnesses that
Australia's child protection systems are 'in crisis', 'broken' and 'crisis driven'.
Mr Julian Pocock from Berry Street told the committee at its Melbourne hearing
that 'our out-of-home care and child-protection systems are constantly and
always in crisis. They are crisis-driven systems'.
Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Child Protection, Professor
Leah Bromfield, recently described Australia's child protection systems as 'in
crisis and struggling to cope with unsustainable demand'.
Similarly, the child abuse prevention organisation Child Wise noted in its
[T]he state of OOHC [out-of-home care] in Australia is
largely crisis-driven and under-capacity. This means that children’s needs –
stability, developmental, educational and therapeutic – are largely unmet, and
despite best intentions, are treated as secondary needs.
The committee recognises that over the past decade, all states and
territories have undertaken a series of extensive inquiries into child
protection systems to improve outcomes for children, often in response to a
crisis or highly publicised case of neglect or abuse. The key reports in each
jurisdiction are outlined in Table 2.1 below.
The committee also recognises the work of the Commonwealth's current Royal
Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse, including
investigations into institutions and organisations responsible for delivering
out-of-home care services.
Table 2.1 – State and territory child protection inquiries
New South Wales
Special Commission of Inquiry
into Child Protection Services in NSW
Vulnerable Children Inquiry
Child Protection Commission
Review of the Department for
Community Development 
Children in State Care
Commission of Inquiry
Child Protection Systems
Select Committee of Enquiry
into Child Protection
Australian Capital Territory
Auditor General's Performance
Audit Report of the Care and Protection System
Inquiry into the Child
Protection System in the Northern Territory
The committee heard these inquiries often respond to crisis rather than
evidence. Mr Paul McDonald, CEO of Anglicare Victoria told the committee at its
We often grow the system in innovation because of crisis. The
Cummins inquiry and all around the states, the Queensland Carmody inquiry, the
New South Wales inquiry were all led by incidents. Wouldn't it be great if we
reformed the system, led by research and effectiveness and evidence?
During the course of this inquiry, the committee saw further evidence of
crisis-driven inquiries. For example, in April 2015 the South Australian
Coroner released a report into the death of Chloe Valentine described Families
SA as 'broken and fundamentally flawed' and recommended significant changes to
the child protection system.
Researchers Dr Patricia Hansen and Dr Frank Ainsworth noted the
conclusions of these many inquiries into child protection systems are 'always
the same': the system is 'overstretched' and 'more resources' are needed. They
argue child protection in Australia is a 'game without end' as responses to
these reports take 'action at the wrong level' and fail to prioritise action to
relieve social disadvantage, which are significant factors in cases of abuse
Australia's current child protection framework is outlined below.
Child protection in Australia
In Australia, statutory child protection is the responsibility of state
and territory governments. Each state and territory department responsible for
child protection provides assistance to vulnerable children who have been, or
are at risk of being, abused, neglected, or otherwise harmed, or whose parents
are unable to provide adequate care or protection. Children and young people
are defined as aged under 18 years. This includes unborn children in
jurisdictions where they are covered under the child protection legislation.
A number of government and non-government organisations share a common
duty of care towards the protection of children and young people. Departments
responsible for child protection investigate, process and oversee the handling
of child protection cases. According to the Australian Institute of Health and
Welfare (AIHW), assistance is provided to children and their families through
the provision of, or referral to, a wide range of services, including
The Commonwealth government has a relatively minor role in child
protection, including funding services that focus on prevention and early
intervention to complement state and territory government services. Following
the development of the National Framework, the Commonwealth has taken on a more
active role in providing national coordination of child protection services
As a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC),
Australia is obliged to respect, protect and fulfil children's rights. As the
National Children's Commissioner, Ms Megan Mitchell, told the committee, 'children
and young people in out-of-home care are especially vulnerable to having their
Ms Mitchell told the committee the following articles of the UNCRC are
particularly relevant for children in out-of-home care:
Article 3 – in all matters concerning children their best
interests should be the primary consideration;
Article 12 – children have the right to have their views
considered in decisions that affect them;
Article 19 – states are obliged to take measures to ensure
children are protected from violence, abuse and neglect; and
Article 20 – a child temporarily or permanently deprived of their
family and whose best interests cannot be served in that environment are
entitled to special protection and assistance.
In 2012 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN
committee) considered Australia's fourth progress report under the Convention
and issued its concluding observations, including recommendations on
Australia's implementation of child rights.
Ms Mitchell noted the UN committee raised concerns about the increase in
the number of children placed in care in Australia and the absence of data
documenting the criteria and decisions leading to placements. The UN Committee
raised particular concerns about reports of inadequacies and abuse occurring in
out-of-home care, including:
inadequate screening, training, support and assessment of carers;
shortage of care options;
outcomes for children in care compared with the general
abuse and neglect of children in care; inadequate preparation for
children leaving care; and
placement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
outside their communities and the need for more Aboriginal carers.
As noted by Ms Mitchell, the UN committee:
...recommended Australia take all necessary efforts to examine
the root causes of the extent of child abuse and neglect and provide general
data on the reasons children are placed in care. It also recommended measures
to strengthen programs for family support by targeting the most vulnerable
State and territory legislation
States and territories are responsible for the administration and
funding of statutory child protection, out-of-home care and family support
services. These services are delivered by both government and non-government
organisations across jurisdictions.
A 2008 study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) noted,
in terms of child protection legislation and policy:
Australian jurisdictions have adopted broadly similar
positions on critical issues facing the child protection sector, namely the
delivery of early intervention services, the desirability of stability of care,
and the utmost importance of child-centred practice.
The principal legislation for out-of-home care and relevant department in
each state and territory is outlined in Table 2.2.
Table 2.2 – Out-of-home care legislative framework
Family Law Act 1975
Department of Social Service
Australian Capital Territory
Children and Young People
Community Services Directorate
New South Wales
Children and Young Persons
(Care and Protection) Act 1998
Department of Family and Community Services
Care and Protection of
Children Act 2007
Department of Children and Families
Child Protection Act 1999
Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services
Children's Protection Act
Family and Community
Services Act 1972
Department for Education and Child Development
Children, Young Persons and
their Families Act 1997
Department of Health and Human Services
Children, Youth and
Families Act 2005
Child Wellbeing and Safety
Department of Human Services
Children and Community
Services Act 2004
Family Court Act 1997
Child Care Services (Child
Care) Regulations 2006
Department for Child Protection and Family Support
Source: Australian Institute
of Family Studies, 'Australian child protection legislation,' Child Family
Community Australia Fact Sheet, August 2014, https://www3.aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/australian-child-protection-legislation
(accessed 31 March 2015); Productivity Commission, Report on Government
Services 2015, p. 15.5.
Entry into child protection system
Across Australia, jurisdictions follow a similar process for reporting
and responding to child protection concerns. A simplified version of the key
processes as identified by AIHW is outlined in Figure 2.1.
Figure 2.1 – The child protection process in Australia
AIHW, Child Protection Australia 2013–14, Figure 1.1.
Child concern reports
Children and young people come to the attention of departments
responsible for child protection through child concern reports. These reports
may be made by community members, professionals (for example, police or health
practitioners), organisations, or the children themselves and their families. Reports
may relate to abuse and neglect or to broader family concerns such as economic
problems or social isolation.
As AIHW notes, all jurisdictions have legislative requirements for the
reporting of suspected child abuse, known as 'mandatory reporting'. These
requirements differ across jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, individuals in
selected professions are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect,
whereas in others anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect is legally obliged
to report it. Commonwealth legislation also contains provisions requiring
certain court officials to report suspected child abuse.
Definitions of notifications
Across jurisdictions, child protection services assess child concern
reports to determine whether further action is required. The defined threshold
for intervention varies across jurisdictions. AIHW notes this can lead to
jurisdictional differences in the responses taken to initial reports. Reports
that are deemed to require further action are generally classified as either a
'family support issue' or a 'child protection notification'. Reports classified
as requiring family support are further assessed and may be referred to support
Each jurisdiction has a legislated threshold for what constitutes a
substantiation of a child protection notification. The threshold differs across
jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, it may be evidence of harm to a child,
and in others, risk of harm to a child. AIHW notes in considering harm to the
child, the focus of the child protection systems in many jurisdictions has
shifted away from the actions of parents to the outcomes for the child.
The key reasons for substantiations of child protection notifications are
examined in Chapter 3.
Types of protection orders
In situations where further intervention is required, the relevant state
or territory department may apply to the relevant court to place the child on a
care and protection order. The level of departmental involvement mandated by a
care and protection order will vary depending on the type of order.
Box 2.1 outlines the AIHW definitions of the different types of judicial
or administrative care and protection orders states and territories may issue.
Box 2.1 – Types of judicial or administrative care and protection orders
Finalised guardianship or custody orders: guardianship orders involve the transfer of legal
guardianship to the relevant state or territory department or non-government agency. These orders
involve considerable intervention in the child’s life and that of their family, and are sought only as a
last resort. Custody orders generally refer to orders that place children in the custody of the state or
territory department responsible for child protection or non-government agency. These orders
usually involve the child protection department being responsible for the daily care and requirements
of the child, while the parent retains legal guardianship.
Finalised third-party parental responsibility: orders transferring all duties, powers,
responsibilities and authority parents are entitled to by law, to a nominated person(s) considered
appropriate by the court. The nominated person may be an individual such as a relative or an officer
of the state or territory department.
Finalised supervisory orders: under these orders, the department supervises and/or directs the level
and type of care that is to be provided to the child. Children under supervisory orders are generally
under the responsibility of their parents and the guardianship or custody of the child is unaffected.
Interim and temporary orders: orders covering the provisions of a limited period of supervision
and/or placement of a child. Parental responsibility under these orders may reside with the parents or
with the department responsible for child protection.
Administrative arrangements: agreements with the child protection departments, which have the
same effect as a court order of transferring custody or guardianship. These arrangements can also
allow a child to be placed in out-of-home care without going through the courts.
Source: AIHW, Child
Protection Australia 2013–14, Box
AIHW reports on the number of children on care and protection orders in
its Child Protection Australia report. At 30 June 2014, 45 746 children
were on a care and protection order—a rate of 8.7 per 1000 children aged 0–17
The majority of children on care and protection orders were on either finalised
guardianship or custody orders (71.2 per cent) or finalised third party
parental responsibility orders (15.2 per cent).
Figure 2.2 outlines the proportion of children on different types of care and
protection orders across jurisdictions.
Figure 2.2 – Proportion of children on care and protection order at 30 June
2014 by type of order
Source: AIHW, Child
Protection Australia 2013–14,
Entry to out-of-home care
Out-of-home care represents the most extreme end of the statutory child
protection continuum and is considered the intervention of last resort where
all other options for care have been exhausted. Although there are provisions
for children to be placed in out-of-home care voluntarily by parents (such as
respite), most children in out-of-home care are placed according to an order
made by the relevant court.
According to AIHW, in 2013–14, 93 per cent of children in out-of-home
care were also on care and protection orders. The Northern Territory requires
all children in out-of-home care to be on a care and protection order. In all
other jurisdictions, the numbers of children in out-of-home care on care and
protection orders ranged from 86.2 per cent in Victoria to 98.5 per cent
in Tasmania. In SA and the ACT, a small proportion of children were on other
orders (such as offence orders). Figure 2.3 highlights the proportion of
children in out-of-home care on care and protection orders across
Figure 2.3 – Proportion of children in out-of-home by type of order across
jurisdictions, 30 June 2014
Source: AIHW, Child
Protection Australia 2013–14,
No national data are available on the reasons children are placed in
State and territory frameworks
New South Wales
In 2009, the NSW Government launched its five-year action plan
(2009-2014), Keep Them Safe: A shared approach to child wellbeing, to re-shape
the way family and community services are delivered in NSW to improve the
safety, welfare, and wellbeing of children and young people.
The NSW Government noted:
At the heart of these reforms is placing children back
at the centre of the child protection system. This will require us, as a
community and sector, to really focus on children’s rights and parental
As part of the Keep Them Safe plan, key changes to out-of-home
care service delivery include:
transition of out-of-home care service delivery to the
appointment of out-of-home health coordinators to provide health
assessments to children and young people entering out-of-home care; and
appointment of out-of-home care education coordinators to
implement educational support planning for children.
Following the Keep Them Safe plan, the NSW government undertook
an extensive consultation project, A Safe Home for Life, on proposed
reforms to child protection legislation.
These reforms were introduced in 2014 with an aim to move towards providing a
less legalistic, process-driven child protection system by focusing on three
building parenting capacity and increasing parental
providing greater permanency for children and young people in
delivering and developing a more modern, responsive and child-focused
As part of the A Safe Home for Life consultation process, many
stakeholders expressed the view:
that the current child protection system is overly
legalistic, adversarial and process-driven. Most young people interviewed
indicated that it is also too parent-focused. The need for greater parental
accountability and consequences for poor parental behaviour was a strong
message coming from young people who provided feedback.
Two key differences in the NSW reforms compared with other jurisdictions
is the focus on non-government agencies and permanent placements, particularly
adoption. The committee heard NSW is moving towards a model whereby all out-of-home
care services will be delivered by the non-government sector and the role of
the Department of Family and Community Services:
...as a direct provider of out-of-home care services will significantly
decrease and its role in funding and supporting non-government organisation
out-of-home care service providers will increase.
The reforms also raise adoption 'within the hierarchy or in terms of
permanency...as an option for many children' to encourage and support adoption by
These reforms will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 7.
In May 2013, the Victorian Government launched the Vulnerable
Children Strategy 2013–2022 (strategy). The strategy aims to
prevent abuse and neglect, act earlier when children are vulnerable and improve
outcomes for children in statutory care.
As part of the strategy, in March 2014, the Victorian Government
launched Out-of-home care: a five year plan (plan). The plan presents
immediate and longer-term actions to achieve improved outcomes, reduced demand
and sustainable delivery, including:
a new funding model that supports more innovative services and
promotes a stronger focus on the outcomes we achieve for children and young
a process to establish a more integrated service delivery
platform that better supports placement prevention and reunification, and
responds better to the needs of children and young people in or exiting care;
a tender process for the allocation of new funding to trial new
approaches to therapeutic care;
trial of a new outcomes framework for all children and young
people in care; and
development of a complementary plan for Aboriginal children and
young people that identifies specific actions to address the over representation
of Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care and improve
The Queensland Government is currently progressing a wide-ranging reform
agenda, Stronger Families, to improve the effectiveness of the child
protection and family support service system.
The reforms include additional investment of $406 million over five years
(beginning in 2014–15) and aims to design better client pathways and build
Through the Stronger Families reforms, the Queensland Government
has undertaken to:
create dual pathways for reporting child protection concerns;
ensure that meaningful work is undertaken to safely return
children home as soon as possible or, if that is not an option, plan for the
child’s long-term care needs; and
address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander families by implementing a range of supports and services (and
projects) specifically aimed at meeting their needs.
The WA child protection system has undergone significant reform since
the 2007 Review of the former Department for Community Development, including:
healthcare, education and permanency planning for children in
introduction of three tiers of service for residential care,
including a facility for secure care for children and young people at extreme
introduction of Foster Care Partnership and Residential Care
(Sanctuary) Framework which provides sound theoretical and practical bases to
guide work with abused children whose trauma severely impacts their behaviour
and development; and
increased support for transition from care, including clearer
processes for accessing funding.
In December 2014, the WA Department for Child Protection and Family Support
released a discussion paper for public consultation, Out-of-Home Care
Strategic Directions in Western Australia 2015–2020. The discussion paper
proposes five key strategic directions to guide the development of an
out-of-home care system that:
is driven by the needs of the child;
values and promotes stability and certainty for children;
is responsive and sustainable with capacity;
is accountable (including the development of an Outcomes
Framework for Children in Out-of-Home Care); and
is consistent across locations and types of care.
Commencing in 2013, the South Australian department responsible for
child protection, Families SA, has undergone a significant restructure.
Families SA has adopted Solution Based Casework as the practice approach for
child protection case work which combines solution-focused techniques with
relapse prevention strategies in an effort to help families focus on their
strengths, supports and protective factors.
As part of its restructure, Mr Tony Harrison, Chief Executive of the Department
for Education and Child Development, advised that the key changes to
child protection service delivery in South Australia include:
...more specialist service delivery hubs which look at
specialist investigation assessment, family preservation, guardianship support
and other areas, and we have built and are building in levels of decision
making to ensure that social workers who find themselves with responsibility in
the area of family preservation are not unnecessarily dissuaded from taking
firm and decisive action in the interests of children, so we have different
layers of decision making in relation to the appropriateness of removing
children from their biological families.
In 2014, the Tasmanian Government launched an implementation plan for a
radical reform of its out-of-home care system. The rationale for the whole of
service system reform was based on an assessment that the current out-of-home
care system was stretched to capacity, unsustainable, and lacked a strategic
plan for its future.
According to the Tasmanian Government, a trauma-informed framework will
provide the foundation of the new out-of-home care service system which will
ensure trauma-based intervention options in line with a comprehensive needs
assessment for all children in care. Introduction of appropriate therapeutic
interventions along the continuum of care will provide for increased placement
stability and improved outcomes for children and young people.
Key features of the proposed new out-of-home care system are:
capacity to comprehensively respond to the assessed needs of the
child in an ongoing manner;
placement options and services that are matched to the assessed
needs of every child;
clear planning and transition pathways between placement types;
flexibility of service delivery to meet the needs of the client
group and service demands;
funding agreements will have scheduled reporting with data used
to monitor the delivery, safety, quality and effectiveness of all services; and
service providers will be supported through consultation, data
collection tools and clear commissioning specifications.
Australian Capital Territory
On 22 January 2015, the ACT Government launched a new five-year strategy
for out-of-home care, A Step Up for Our Kids – One Step Can Make a Lifetime
Key reforms of the new strategy include:
renewed focus on diverting children and young people from
speedy reunification of children and parents wherever possible;
new and enhanced services to improve outcomes for children and
young people in care.
Under the new strategy the ACT plans to introduce:
annually reviewed therapeutic assessments and plans for all
children soon after they enter care; and
professional foster care arrangements, where foster carers would
be classified as an employee.
In August 2014, the Northern Territory finalised the 'Continuum of
out-of-home care' that provides a blueprint of out-of-home care service types
and establishes a set of definitions and expectations.
Representatives from the Department of Children and Families told the
committee the continuum 'was a blueprint for the department so that we could
plan the types of services that needed to be delivered to meet the need of
children in out-of-home care.' This included recognition of:
need for more therapeutic residential care services;
complexity of needs of children in residential care;
need to recruit and retain carers; and
consideration of professional carer system.
All states and territories have established independent commissions or
bodies that have differing regulatory roles in state and territory based
out-of-home care systems. All states and territories have also established a
charter of rights for children and young people in out-of-home care.
The key roles of each independent body are outlined in Table 2.3. The role of
the official visitor (in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital
Territory) will be examined in Chapter 4.
Table 2.3 – State and territory
Name of body
Key out-of-home care
National Children’s Commissioner
Advocate nationally for the
rights and interests of children and young people
New South Wales
Office of the Children’s Guardian
Accredit and monitor out-of-home
care and adoption agencies
Administer the Working with
Administer an Official Community
Visitor scheme for residential accommodations for children, young people and
people with a disability
Commission for Children and Young People
Promote continuous improvement
and innovation in policies and practices
Piloting an independent visitor
scheme for residential out-of-home care
Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People
Address issues specific to
Aboriginal children and young people, including overseeing the Five Year Plan
for Aboriginal Children in Out of Home Care
Office of the Public Guardian
Provide individual advocacy for
children in the child protection system
Administer community visitor
program for all children in out-of-home care
Commissioner for Children and Young People
Promote and monitor the
wellbeing of all children and young people
WA Advocate for Children in Care
Provide advocacy and complaints
management services for children in care
Office of the Guardian
Monitor and assess out-of-home
Advocate for, and advise on, the
circumstances and needs of children in care
Commissioner for Children
Promote the rights and wellbeing
of all children and young people
Public Advocate of the ACT
Monitor, protect and advocate
for rights of children and young people
Public Trustee of the ACT
Administer the Official Visitor
Scheme places of care, of detention or protection
Investigate complaints about the
care provided to children and young people
Office of the Children's Commissioner
Promote interests of vulnerable
children, including investigating and dealing with complaints about services
provided to children in out-of-home care
Commission, Report on Government Services 2015, pp 15.6–15.8.
National Framework for Protecting
Australia's Children 2009-2020
In addition to the state and territory frameworks, all state and
territories and the Commonwealth have agreed to the National Framework for
Protecting Australia's Children 2009–2020 (the National Framework). The
National Framework is a partnership between the Commonwealth, state and
territory governments and the community sector that aims to use a public health
approach to place children's interests at the centre of all policy and
The National Framework is a cooperative document that aims to provide a
shared, national agenda for change in the way Australia manages child
protection issues. The framework seeks to resolve the differences that exist
across state and territory jurisdictions. While there has been no nationally
consistent legislation implemented at the state or territory level, there is
work at a policy and practice level that aims to address these discrepancies.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) noted in its submission that the
...is a long-term approach to protecting vulnerable children
that seeks to deliver a substantial and sustained reduction in child abuse and
neglect over time. The National Framework articulates an approach that focuses
on prevention and early intervention, rather than just responding to abuse and
neglect, and involves parents, families, and governments at all levels and the
community sector. It sets out strategies, to be implemented through a series of
three-year action plans for achieving these outcomes.
Input to the National Framework from the community and academia is
coordinated by Families Australia through the Coalition of Organisations
Committed to the Safety and Wellbeing of Australia's Children. Families
Australia told the committee the drive to develop the National Framework:
...began in the community with non-government organisations and
academia joining forces to seek the commitment of all Australian governments to
address the abuse and neglect of children.
There are six broad supporting outcome areas under the National
children live in safe and supportive communities;
children and families access adequate support to promote safety
and intervene early;
risk factors for child abuse and neglect are addressed;
children who have been abused or neglected receive the support
and care they need for their safety and wellbeing;
Indigenous children are supported and safe in their families and
child sexual abuse and exploitation is prevented and survivors
receive adequate support.
The National Framework applies a public health model to care and
protection. Under a public health model, priority is placed on having universal
supports available for all families (such as health and education). More
intensive (secondary) prevention interventions are provided to those families
that need additional assistance with a focus on early intervention. Tertiary
child protection services (such as out-of-home care) are a last resort, and the
least desirable option for families and governments.
Under the National Framework, the Commonwealth, states and territories
are working towards reforms to improve early intervention and universal
supports for families and children.
Figure 2.4 shows the public health model for protecting children,
highlighting the major reform areas of early intervention services and
universal preventative initiatives.
Figure 2.4 – A public health model for child protection
Source: An Outline of National Standards for Out-of-home
The National Framework is implemented through a series of three-year
plans. DSS is responsible for leading the development and implementation of the
action plans, in cooperation with states and territories.
In its submission, DSS noted that the key achievements of the first
(2009‑2012) and second (2012-2015) action plans to date include:
the development of national standards for out-of-home care to
improve the quality of out-of-home care and promote a nationally consistent
the appointment of the first national children's commissioner;
the child protection national minimum datasets, which allow
comparability of child protection data across jurisdictions and support the
monitoring of child protection services, programs and policies;
development of transitioning from care resources and support
including an increase to transition to independent living allowance to assist
young people leaving formal care arrangements with the costs associated with
transitioning to independent living arrangements;
a child awareness approach to address risk factors for child
abuse and neglect; and
the establishment of the national research agenda for protecting
The focus of the second plan is 'working together' across governments
and non-government sectors to improve the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s
children and builds on, and strengthens delivery of, the identified national
priorities from the first action plan. The committee heard DSS
are currently in the initial stages of consultation on the development of the
third action plan (2015-2018).
Families Australia suggested the third action plan (2015-2018) on the
National Framework provides a vehicle through which the committee should seek
to progress its recommendations.
National standards for out-of-home
One of the key initiatives of the National Framework was the development
and implementation of the National Standards for Out-of-home Care
(National Standards). The overall aim of the National Standards is to deliver a
more consistent response for children and young people in out-of-home care.
There are thirteen national standards with agreed and defined measures.
The measures are being progressively introduced from 1 July 2011. The 2012-13
annual report on the National Standards reported on seven measures relating to
six of the standards.
The National Standards and associated measures are outlined in Table 2.4.
Table 2.4 – Out-of-home care standards
Measures (existing or for future development)
Children and young people will be provided with stability and
security during their time in care.
The proportion of children and young people exiting out-of-home care
during the year who had 1 or 2 placements, by length of time in continuous
care preceding exit.
The rate and number of children in out-of-home care who were the
subject of a child protection substantiation and the person believed
responsible was living in the household providing out-of-home care.
The proportion of children and young people in out-of-home care who
report feeling safe and secure in their current placement.
Children and young people participate in decisions that have an
impact on their lives.
The proportion of children and young people who report that they have
opportunities to have a say in relation to decisions that have an impact on
their lives and that they feel listened to.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities participate in
decisions concerning the care and placement of their children and young
The proportion of Indigenous children and young people in out-of-home
care placed with the child’s extended family, with the child’s Indigenous
community, or with other Indigenous people, by carer type.
Each child and young person has an individualised plan that details
their health, education and other needs.
The proportion of children and young people who have a current
documented case plan.
Children and young people have their physical, developmental,
psychosocial and mental health needs assessed and attended to in a timely
The number and proportion of children and young people who have an
initial health check of their physical, developmental, psychosocial and
mental health needs within a specified period of entering out-of-home care.
Children and young people in care access and participate in education
and early childhood services to maximise their educational outcomes.
The proportion of children and young people achieving national
reading and numeracy benchmarks.
The number and proportion of 3 and 4 year old children who
participate in quality early childhood education and child care services.
Children and young people up to at least 18 years are supported to be
engaged in appropriate education, training and/or employment.
The proportion of young people who complete year 10 and the
proportion who complete year 12 or equivalent Vocational Education and
Children and young people in out-of-home care are supported to
participate in social and/or recreational activities of their choice, such as
sporting, cultural or community activity.
The proportion of children and young people who report they may
choose to do the same sorts of things (sporting, cultural or community
activities) that children and young people their age who aren’t in care do.
Children and young people are supported to safely and appropriately
maintain connection with family, be they birth parents, siblings or other
The proportion of children and young people in out-of-home care who
are placed with relatives and kin.
The proportion of children and young people who report they have an
existing connection with at least one family member which they expect to
The proportion of children (as age-appropriate) and young people who
report having contact with family members, by the reported frequency of
contact, by their reported satisfaction with contact arrangements.
Children and young people in out-of-home care are supported to
develop their identity, safely and appropriately, through contact with their
families, friends, culture, spiritual sources and communities and have their
life history recorded as they grow up.
The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and
young people who have a current cultural support plan.
The proportion of children (as age-appropriate) and young people who
demonstrate having a sense of connection with the community in which they
Children and young people in out-of-home care are supported to safely
and appropriately identify and stay in touch, with at least one other person
who cares about their future, who they can turn to for support and advice.
The proportion of children and young people who are able to nominate
at least one significant adult who cares about them and who they believe they
will be able to depend upon throughout their childhood or young adulthood.
Carers are assessed and receive relevant ongoing training,
development and support, in order to provide quality care.
The number of foster carer households with a placement at 30 June, by
number of foster children placed, and number of foster carer households with
a placement during the year.
The number of foster carers at 30 June, and the number of new
approvals of persons as foster carers and the number of persons who cease to
be approved foster carers during the twelve months to 30 June.
The proportion of foster carers and kinship carers (who had at least
one placement during the year) who report feeling supported in their role and
who feel their developmental needs relevant to their role are catered for.
Children and young people have a transition from care plan commencing
at 15 years old which details support to be provided after leaving care.
The proportion of young people aged 15 years and over who have a
current leaving care plan.
The proportion of young people who, at the time of exit from
out-of-home care, report they are receiving adequate assistance to prepare
for adult life.
Source: Department of Social Services, Table 1:
National Standards for Out-of-home care, and related measures, tabled 16 April
Available data on National
The committee acknowledges that as part of the second action plan of the
National Framework, the Commonwealth, states and territories are working with
AIHW to implement two key data collection projects to report against the
The Productivity Commission also reports some out-of-home care indicators in
its annual Report on Government Services.
The first is the development and implementation of the Child Protection
National Minimum Data Set (CP NMDS). In its submission, AIHW noted the
CP NMDS aims to enhance the evidence base for child protection.
In its working paper on the CP NMDS, AIHW noted the development of the data set
...a major step towards improving the comparability of child
protection data across jurisdictions, and positions Australia alongside only a
handful of other countries with access to this type of national resource to
support the monitoring of child protection services, programs and policies.
AIHW noted in its submission that planned future work includes linking
the CP NMDS with other data sets including NAPLAN education data and youth
justice data to assist in measuring outcomes for children and young people in
AIHW noted data relating to the outcomes for children in out-of-home
care are not currently available from the CP NMDS. Planned future work will
enable some outcomes-related data to be available, but currently data are only
available for seven of the 22 National Standards measures. These data
are outlined in Table 2.5.
Table 2.5 – Available data on measures for National Standards for
2011/12 data (during
2011/12 or at 30 June 2012)
Proportion of children and
young people exiting OOHC during the year who had 1 or 2 placements, by
length of time in continuous care preceding exit.
1–2 placements: 63 per cent;
< 4 placements: 85 per cent;
> 5 placements: 15 per cent.
Rate and number of children in
OOHC who were the subject of a child protection substantiation and the person
believed responsible was living in the household providing out-of-home care.
522 children out of 46 973
children in care (1.1 per cent).
Proportion of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander children and young people in OOHC care placed with the
child’s extended family, with the child’s community, or with other Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people, by carer type.
69 per cent Aboriginal Torres Strait
Islander children placed with extended family, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
community, or with other Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people, including:
38 per cent placed with Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander relatives.
Proportion of children and
young people who have a current documented case plan.
Estimated 90 per cent of
children (data from QLD, WA, TAS and the ACT).
Proportion of children and young
people in out-of-home care who are placed with relatives and kin.
47 per cent of all children
placed with relatives/kin:
52 per cent of ATSI children
placed with relatives/kin; and
45 per cent of non-ATSI children
placed with relatives/kin.
Number of foster carer
households with a placement at 30 June, by number of foster children placed,
and number of foster carer households with a placement during the year.
At 30 June 2012, 8824 households
with >1 foster care placements: 1 child (49 per cent); 2-4 children (46
per cent); >5 children (4 per cent).
During 2011/12, 11664 households
with >1 foster care placements.
The proportion of young people
aged 15 years and over who have a current leaving care plan.
Estimated 77 per cent (data for
VIC, QLD and WA only).
Source: AIHW, Submission 22,
pp 7 – 12.
The other data collection project is a national survey of children and
young people in out-of-home care. The survey will report on seven of the
National Standards and eight associated measures.
AIHW told the committee that it will be the first survey that produces national
comparable data and is expected to be released in December 2015.
Some states and territories have undertaken surveys of children and young
people in out-of-home care, but the collected data are not comparable across
jurisdictions and often not publicly reported.
AIHW noted its survey is based heavily on the Viewpoint tool used in
At its Perth hearing, the committee heard the WA Advocate for Children in Care
(WA Advocate) introduced the Viewpoint Audio Computer-Assisted
Self-Interviewing (ACASI) tool in 2011 to be used by young people when
preparing their annual care plan review. The WA Advocate, Ms Judith Garsed,
told the committee:
...Viewpoint ACASI is used to elicit views and wishes from
young people to increase their opportunities for meaningful participation
individually, but, beyond this, the system also aggregates individual responses
into anonymous management reports across the same domain so that it is possible
to access the views of groups of young people in teams, offices or across the
state and on specific demographic details, such as age, ethnic background and
DSS told the committee that the first full report on national standards,
including the national survey data and data collected by AIHW, will be completed
later in 2015.
The committee also heard the Australian Institute of Family Studies
(AIFS) is leading a consortium of academics with the Pathways of Care Study, a
large-scale longitudinal study of children and young people in New South Wales
who enter out-of-home care on a court order for the first time.
The Pathways of Care study, commenced in March 2011, aims to:
...collect detailed information about the wellbeing of children
placed in OOHC in NSW and the factors that influence their wellbeing. It will
provide a strong evidence base to inform policy and practice, and in turn
improve decision making about how best to support children and young people who
have experienced abuse and neglect.
The committee notes that while the currently available data does not yet
provide sufficient information to make an assessment of the outcomes for
children and young people in out-of-home care, once fully developed, these new
data sources offer the potential to provide more comprehensive data on outcomes
for children in out-of-home care. Dr Daryl Higgins, Director of AIFS, told the
We are hoping that new data will emerge that will be able to
tell us better who does do well and who does not within the system, and what
the drivers or predictors are of better outcomes for those better trajectories,
and what predictors there are for those children who continue to decline.
Need for improved data collection
A number of submissions noted there is currently a significant lack of
data on the outcomes for children and young people in out-of-home care.
Ms Michelle Waterford from Anglicare Australia told the committee that due to
the lack of data, services are 'operating blind':
[W]e certainly had anecdotal evidence to say that not only
were the numbers increasing but the numbers of young people coming in and
staying longer are increasing and also that that churn for young people coming
in and going out and coming back in is increasing. All of that is anecdotal
because we do not have the reliable data to be able to make those kinds of
policy decisions or service decisions about how we support young people ... at
the moment I think the services are operating blind in terms of how that
process actually happens.
The committee heard that due to the lack of data, policies and practices
to improve out-of-home care services are not currently informed by reliable
evidence. Dr Nicholas Halfpenny from MacKillop Family Services told the
[O]ur experience is that a lot of public policy initiatives
in this space are not evidence informed. There is not a great deal of attention
paid to good evaluation and good decision making on the basis of evidence.
Noting AIHW's data projects are still in the early stages of
development, the committee identified a number of gaps in the current and
planned national data collections for assessing the outcomes of children and
young people in out-of-home care. In particular, these data projects do not
compare outcomes for children and young people in out-of-home care with
children and young people in the general population.
In its submission AIHW identified the following data gaps in its
collections about the needs of children and young people in out-of-home care across
specific relationship of relative/kin carers to the child (i.e.
permanency planning for children and young people;
types of permanent placement options utilised (including
consistency of jurisdictional approaches to service delivery in
out-of-home care (including outsourcing of out-of-home services to the NGO
sector and funding/professionalisation of foster carers).
While AIHW is working closely with state and territory child protection
authorities, Families Australia highlighted the importance of incorporating 'service
provider outcomes data from the community sector' into the CP NMDS and AIHW's
future projects. Families Australia recommended the Commonwealth, through AIHW,
work with state and territory governments to ensure data from the community
sector is captured and incorporated.
Submissions also highlighted the need for data on the specific needs of
children and young people with disability, and how outcomes for these children
compare with outcomes for other children and young people in out-of-home care.
These submissions acknowledged collection of this data is difficult due to
different definitions of disability across jurisdictions.
The specific needs of children and young people with disability are examined in
Similarly, submissions highlighted the need for data on children from
culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. These submissions supported
incorporating information about children's backgrounds into national data
The specific needs of children and young people from culturally and
linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds are examined in Chapter 9.
The need for data on children transitioning from care will be examined
in Chapter 4.
The committee acknowledges the work currently underway by AIHW and the
states and territories under the National Framework to improve national data
collection on the needs and outcomes for children and young people in
out-of-home care. The committee particularly supports those projects that seek
the views of children and young people in out-of-home care.
The committee recognises the importance of this data in contributing to
the development of evidence-based programs and services to best meet the needs
of children and young people and their families.
However, the committee notes there remain significant data gaps,
particularly in regard to children with disability, children in kinship care
arrangements, permanency planning and the role of community organisations, and
how these impact on outcomes for children and young people.
Efficacy of the National Framework
and National Standards
Most submissions and witnesses expressed general support for the
National Framework and welcomed Commonwealth coordination and support.
Mr Chris Twomey from the Western Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS)
told the committee:
We think the national framework is particularly important;
that aligning quality standards and sharing information across jurisdictions is
really helpful; and that some Commonwealth coordination is important to ensure
that we are learning from best practice in other jurisdictions; and to ensure
that particular areas in Australia—due to scale, history, whatever is
happening—do not necessarily fall behind because they have not got the
Mr Andrew McCallum from the Association of Children's Welfare Agencies
highlighted the importance of Commonwealth involvement in addressing the key social
issues that contribute to children entering out-of-home care:
...given the federal nature of these sorts of inquiries, I
think we need to look very clearly at what is happening at the national
framework level and what it means in terms of the big structural levers that
federal governments have the capacity to pull. This is a social cohesion
problem. It is not just a welfare problem. It is not just a child protection
problem. It is about the drivers.
Similar support was expressed for the National Standards. Ms Noelle
Hudson from the CREATE Foundation, an organisation that advocates for children
and young people in care, noted:
...consistency and best practice around Australia can be
achieved by the continuation of the National Framework for Protecting Australia's
Children and the National Standards for Out of Home Care to deliver better
quality outcomes for children in out-of-home care.
The committee heard the National Standards are particularly important in
those jurisdictions without an existing framework. David Pugh, Chief Executive
Officer of Anglicare in the Northern Territory noted that:
...without the national out-of-home care standards, we would
have been stranded with an unregulated environment for delivering out-of-home
care. More recently, the Northern Territory government has adopted the national
out-of-home care standards, adapted them slightly and called them the Northern
Territory out-of-home care standards—slightly watered down.
However, while there was general support for the National Framework and
the National Standards, the committee heard there are a number of issues
affecting the ability of the framework to achieve their stated goals. As the
National Children's Commissioner, Ms Mitchell, told the committee, the National
...has been a very positive development resulting in basic
standards for out-of-home care, improvements to data collection and the
establishment of a national survey of children in care. However, the collective
work of the states, territories and the Commonwealth in this area I believe
must continue and intensify if the experience and opportunities of children in
need of care and protection are to mirror that of other children.
The key concerns raised by submissions and witnesses with regard to the
National Framework are explored below.
Interaction with other frameworks
Families Australia told the committee of the importance of linking the
National Framework to other existing national frameworks that address
significant social issues.
In particular, Families Australia noted the significance of the National
Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022 that
outlines the Commonwealth, state, territory and community plan to reduce
violence against women and their children.
The National Children's Commissioner, Ms Mitchell, told the committee
these two national frameworks:
...need to be working together in lock-step in order to reduce
violence in the community. That goes right to teaching kids that it is not okay
in school, in curriculum type settings, that violence is not a way to solve
problems, right through to dealing with perpetrators and victims in different
Similarly, Ms Emma White, Director General of the WA Department for
Child Protection and Family Support, told the committee of the importance of
linking together related national frameworks:
[F]amily and domestic violence being a key driver for child
protection is a national experience. It is very hard to talk about child
protection, or in fact sexual abuse, without talking about family and domestic
violence. There is a certain assumed starting point within those two national
frameworks about how they fit together. The challenge going forward is how to
make that operational into every interface with families and children.
The committee heard one of the most significant issues with both the
National Framework and National Standards is the lack of accountability to
ensure government and non-government agencies are applying and meeting the
standards and principles in the delivery of out-of-home care services. A number
of submissions noted one of the weaknesses of the National Framework and
standards is the lack of enforceable measures.
As Ms Connie Salamone, Executive Director of the Victorian Aboriginal
Child Care Agency (VACCA), told the committee, 'we have a national framework
that really does not have enough teeth':
We have got a national framework where there is agreement
across the fundamentals that we want for Aboriginal children, and the national
framework is beyond Aboriginal children. It is the capacity to actually
implement that has been, I think, quite poor. 
The committee heard the National Framework and National Standards are
not legislated in any state or territory and there is no external oversight to
ensure compliance and no means to investigate or penalise breaches. Mr Michael
Geaney, Chair of the Alliance for Children at Risk, noted the child protection
system is responsible:
...to account for its adherence to good practice principles.
That is the problem with our legislative process: it does not require it. It is
an endeavour; it is not a requirement. There is no external view to that.
People should be watching us. People should be inquiring into what benefit we
are providing the children. We should not be our own judge and jury about how
good we are.
In the Northern Territory, Ms Wendy Morton, Executive Director of the
Northern Territory Council of Social Service noted recent changes to funding by
the NT Government are not consistent with the principles of the National
...everybody signed up to it [the National Framework], and yet,
clearly, going through the recent funding processes or the focus of the
Northern Territory government, I do not think that it could be said that that
is complying or fits well with the framework that they have signed up to.
Due to the lack of enforceable measures, Barnardos Australia argued the
National Standards have become little more than 'failed data collection
exercises'. Barnardos recommended that out-of-home care services delivered by
both government and non-government bodies should be subject to a national
accreditation system, similar to the process in place in NSW whereby an
independent body (such as the Children's Guardian) assesses, monitors and
audits agencies delivering out-of-home care services.
In its submission, Berry Street also supported the introduction of
mechanisms to ensure implementation and compliance with National Standards,
including development of a performance framework to measure compliance at state
and territory level.
In addition to the lack of accountability, the committee heard concerns
about which level of government was taking leadership to progress the action
plans under the National Framework and National Standards.
The first two action plans under the National Framework were progressed by theStanding Council on Community and Disability Services.
At its meeting on 13 December 2013, COAG agreed to collapse its 22 councils into
eight new councils.
The committee understands responsibility for progressing and implementing
projects under the National Framework now sit with the Children and Families
Secretaries Group (CAFS).
The committee also heard the high-level principles outlined in the
National Framework and National Standards did not necessarily translate into
tangible actions at the organisational level for government and non-government
agencies. In the Northern Territory, the committee heard agencies like
Anglicare have been working to adapt the National Standards for workers at the
service delivery level:
...so that workers on the ground understand that, when the
national standard talks about cultural practice, the worker knows what that
means in practical terms about how their day-to-day work with the young person
keeps the child connected to culture and family.
While the National Standards are developed and implemented by the
Commonwealth, state and territory governments and non-government sector at the
national level, there is no equivalent governance structure at the state and
territory level to ensure the standards are applied at a local level. To
counter this, Mr David Pugh from Anglicare in the Northern Territory suggested:
...at the NT level, the national framework could have a
consortium, like they have at the national level—it is a consortium of federal,
states and NGOs. That needs to happen ... That would make a huge difference, even
just to get it to a place based or local level.
The committee heard that one of the key challenges for addressing
accountability for the National Framework and the National Standards is the
lack of associated funding. Witnesses noted that although National Partnership
agreements are in place between the Commonwealth, state and territory
governments for issues such as homelessness and early childhood, there is no
similar funding arrangement for child protection. Ms Patricia Murray, Chief
Executive Officer of Wanslea Family Services in Western Australia noted:
...this framework had no funding attached to it. It was all
principle...If we are going to do it seriously there has to be some funding
attached to it so that it gets the resources it needs; otherwise, you are
waiting for buy-in and states to commit to it. And states have other priorities.
In addition, evidence to the committee suggested that state and
territory funding models are not structured to support the National Framework
and that out‑of‑home care funding is crisis driven and shaped in
response to major government inquiries. Mr Matthew Gardiner, Executive Director
of the Benevolent Society expressed concern:
...that reforms, inquiries and program funding seems to follow
election cycles rather than some really decent planning and commitment to it...Those
of us who have been around long enough have just seen that this is all
cyclical. There is the national framework, and so we are committing to early
intervention. Every time there is a major incident, the state conducts an inquiry.
They are all crisis driven.
Likewise, Mr Julian Pocock, Director Public Policy, Berry Street agreed
...if we do not fundamentally fix the way the system is funded
and change the funding to a demand-based model so that, as the number of
children coming into the system grows, the level of funding available to
support and place those children grows commensurate with that growth. Then the
gains we will make in improving the system will only ever be marginal.
The committee is strongly concerned by evidence that suggests child
protection systems continue to be crisis driven. While acknowledging the
initiatives undertaken by state and territory governments in response to a
range of child protection inquiries, the committee is concerned that the number
of children in out-of-home care continues to increase and the significant
issues raised by these inquiries remain unresolved.
The committee acknowledges the commitment by Commonwealth, state and
territory governments, through the National Framework, to improving the
outcomes for children and young people in statutory care. However, the
committee is concerned that at the half-way point of the implementation of the
National Framework, there appears to be little progress in improving outcomes for
children and young people in out-of-home care and their families. The continued
increase in the number of children and young people entering and remaining in
out-of-home care over the past five years since the National Framework has been
in place indicates the high level principles espoused in the National Framework
and its action plans are not translating into positive improvements for children
and young people.
The committee considers the third action plan (2015–2018) for the
National Framework as the most appropriate means to progress the committee's
recommendations, to harness the commitment by Commonwealth, state and territory
governments to improve outcomes for children and young people.
The committee recognises the National Framework lacks 'teeth' and there
is limited oversight under the new COAG structure to ensure governments of all
levels comply with its principles and objectives. The committee supports
reinvigorating the National Framework to include measures to increase
accountability, funding and local responses, as well as integrating it with
other frameworks including the National Plan to Reduce Violence against
Women and their Children 2010–2022 and the National Drug Strategy 2010–2015.
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