NSW: States’ first multicultural foster service launched
NSW has launched its first Multicultural Foster Care Service (run by Settlement Services International) as a new provider of out-of home care for children and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse (“CALD”) backgrounds. 
The service aims to provide bilingual and cross culturally trained staff members and caseworkers for children and young people involved in the out-of-home care system.
While this service does go some way to address communication barriers and problems with children understanding their own care arrangements, the government should also seek to address problems CALD families face before entering the out-of-home care system at an early stage. This may include a lack of adjustment to life in Australia or the lack of culturally and linguistically specific resources to assist them to care for their children. 
NT: Successful recruitment drive for care workers
Low staffing and caseworker levels have been addressed in the Northern Territory by the Office of Children and Families’ national recruitment campaign. A deficit of 40 professional staff in the Office’s service centres was identified, with up to 23 places due to be filled as a result of the campaign. 
While this is a positive achievement, it is important for the government to ensure that new staff are adequately trained after recruitment, in order to protect child safety. Retention rates should also be a point of focus in order to maintain staff with valuable professional skills and experience.
NT: Care and Protection of Children Act 2007 set for review
The Northern Territory government has announced its intention to introduce legislation amending the Care and Protection of Children Act 2007 which would provide greater powers for investigation to the Children’s Commissioner and increase accountability across the sector.  The amendments are also set to enable pre-natal notifications and investigations, as recommended by the CRC.  The movement towards family reunification through the “refining of short term orders to better facilitate reunification with family,” as well as provisions to ensure children’s voices are heard in the legal system are also listed as planned amendments. Both of these measures are recommended by the CRC  and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 
The government should be encouraged to amend the current Act to include focuses on family reunification, accountability and to ensure children’s voices are heard in the care process. However, care must be taken in the drafting of new legislative amendments in order to ensure children’s rights are preserved and prioritised and that the recommendations of the CRC are fully enacted.
QLD: New Fostering Families initiative sites announced
The Queensland government has announced a new child safety intervention service aimed at reducing the number of children entering out-of-home care in the state.
The program will run for two years and aims to provide around 300 targeted families with practical support to help keep children at home and out of state care, with a budget of $4 million. 
Neglect of children’s hygiene, food or health requirements has been identified as the primary issue in one third of child safety notifications in the Queensland area, which the initiative aims to address through the development of parent and carer’s practical and parenting skills. 
This initiative is to be commended, as it is in line with the recommendations of leading child rights bodies and the CRC for governments to take active measures to reduce the number of children being placed in out-of-home care. As stated by the Minister for Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services the Honourable Tracy Davis MP, “the ultimate goal of this trial is to reduce the number of children entering the child protection system and to keep families safely together when possible.” 
QLD: Continued funding for high need foster children program
The Queensland government has pledged to continue their support of a high need based service run by Key Assets Fostering Queensland to provide a targeted, coordinated response to the complex and extreme behaviours of children and young people in family-based care. 
The government is set to provide over $500,000 each year for three years under the service.
TAS: New mentoring program for out-of-home care children
In April 2013 the Tasmanian Minister for Children announced a new program to provide children and young people in out-of-home care with mentors and role models. The government pledged $85,000 to the non-profit organisation Whitlelion, which has a demonstrated capacity for the provision of such programs. 
This initiative is a positive benefit for children and young people in out of home care, though it is important to seek feedback from the children involved in the process and assess effectiveness of the program in contributing to children’s rights and health.
TAS: New information to be provided to children transitioning into out-of-home care
New resources and information brochures have been developed in Tasmania in order to provide children transitioning into out-of-home care with greater guidance and information about the process. The materials will be distributed by services working with children in out-of-home care and were developed with particular reference to children and young people’s comments and feedback. 
This initiative is to be commended, particularly for its focus on taking into account and responding to the views of children and young people themselves.
Developments requiring further attention
NATIONAL: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children (National Standards for Out-of-Home Care)
The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children (“The Framework”) has now entered into its second stage (2012 – 2015).
One of the national priorities for this second stage is the building on and continued development of the National Standards for Out-of-Home Care which were established in the First Action Plan.  The actions in this priority aim to address key issues in the out-of-home care system, such as: improving the stability of out-of-home care placements; enhancing the application and nationally consistent reporting of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle; developing quality benchmarks; and listening to the voices of children and young people in out-of-home care. 
One of the main actions to be conducted under the Framework is the development of a biennial survey of children and young people in out-of-home, which was scheduled 2012-2013.  However a revised date for 2014 has now been set for this reporting,  as well as for a National Carer Survey.
Undertaking a national survey of children in out-of-home care would be a positive way for children and young people to be heard and for complaints to be voiced. However, it does not satisfactory meet either of the CRC’s recommendations:
- that an effective child friendly complaint system be established; or
- that a large-scale research assessment be conducted to examine the root causes of child abuse and obtain general data on the reasons that children are being placed in care.
The Framework also identifies the increased health risks faced by young people in out-of-home care and prioritises strengthening links with preventative health initiatives and mental health care services in particular. The Framework provides that work will be undertaken to, “review options for ensuring ongoing and substantive health assessments and interventions for children and young people in out-of-home care, including mechanisms to track health histories.”  However, it remains unclear what will actually be done to achieve these goals, and when.
NATIONAL: Increased spending in out-of-home care, rather than early intervention programmes
According to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, in the year 2011-12 approximately $3 billion was spent nationally on child protection and out-of-home care services.  This was an increase of $100.8 million from the previous year. Of this expenditure, out-of-home care services accounted for the majority, being 64.9% or $1.8 billion of spending. Since 2007-08, the national expenditure on child protection and out-of-home care services has shown an average annual increase of 7.5%, equating to an increase of $748.4 million since 2006-2007. 
While greater spending on out-of-home care is clearly necessary in light of the growing numbers of children entering care, it is advisable that the government seek to pledge equally increasing funds toward early intervention programs. Once prevention and early intervention programs are established and operating fully, this will result in reduced cost at the tertiary end of the system and better outcomes for children and families. 
NATIONAL: Falling numbers of foster carers
Recent reports have shown an alarming decrease in the number of willing foster carers throughout Australia which, combined with the increasing number of children being placed in out-of-home care, may lead to the collapse of the current system and the absence of proper monitoring and placements for vulnerable children. 
Sandie de Wolf from Berry Street, a non-government organisation involved in children and family support, has voiced her concerns that the increase of children needing care and the shortage of carers could lead to the return to babies and children’s institutional homes. 
This has led to calls for increased adoption and the introduction of legislation in NSW to increase adoption rates for children in care.  However many advocates such as Andrew McCallum, chief executive of the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA), state this is not effective in addressing the situation and should only be considered as a last resort. 
Initiatives such as the ACWA’s state-supported campaign Fostering NSW, which commenced in May 2013, has been implemented to attempt to remedy this issue. This particular campaign aims to recruit 900 new carers over the next two years.  However, the government must act more directly and rapidly in order to prevent vulnerable children being overlooked as a result of reduced resources and a lack of carers.
ACT: Policy reforms in line with CRC and Auditor-General recommendations
The ACT government has begun implementing a number of policy reforms which support both the CRC’s Concluding Observations and the Auditor-General’s recommendations on child protection. The government will immediately introduce a requirement that all children in care be visited at least annually by Care and Protection staff and will provide additional record-keeping training for Care and Protection staff and staff of non-government out-of-home care agencies. 
While these policy reforms are in line with the CRC’s recommendations, the Auditor-General also identified several areas which require further attention in its report. 
In particular, the Auditor-General was concerned with the lack of up to date and accurate data on its computer database and poor management of information and records on care and protection.  There was also a lack of records supporting various decisions which were made by caseworkers and management,  which is alarming considering the stress placed on the need for accountability in such procedures by the CRC.
The lack of scheduled or regular quality assurance activities on case files was also flagged as a concern, as well as the absence of a formal policy or guide to visitations for the monitoring of welfare of children and young people in out-of-home care placements. 
Furthermore, the Auditor-General recommended further training of staff in order to ensure all staff possess the skills to operate the computer databases and that team leader reviews of staff members are more routinely conducted.  Online training options were recommended for caseworkers in particularly who may be diverted from face-to-face training by heavy workloads. 
NSW: Legislation planned to re-establish out-of-home care adoption arrangements
As a result of the lack of carers in the state and increasing need for placements for vulnerable children, the NSW government has proposed laws which will amend the current law to increase consideration and cases of adoption in court where a child cannot be safely returned to his or her family. 
These amendments would allow courts to consider open adoption in such cases, where contact with the biological family would be retained where safe to do so.
Foster care organisation Barnados Australia has supported the changes, which they hope will make children in long term foster care able to seek adoption processes more quickly and easily. 
However, chief executive of the ACWA Andrew McCallum has expressed his concern at the move, stating that removing children from their families should always be considered only as a last resort. 
NSW: New online courses for foster carers
Foster Care Online Training Australia (FCOTA) is now offering a number of courses to foster carers online on child care, protection and health. 
Each course takes one to two hours to complete and carers are issued with a certificate after passing a short online examination. The courses were established to make it easier for foster parents to satisfy state regulations which require the completion of two child protection courses per year. Co-founder Alison Ewington has said that carers “can’t always attend face-to-face courses because they work or have child minding issues.” 
While this initiative has been developed in response to the requests of many foster parents, care must be taken that the need to increase foster carer numbers is balanced with the need to provide high quality and continuous training to foster carers. Although this may be a positive development in relation to ease of carer training and facilitative support, there remains a lack of standardised criteria in relation to the selection, training and support of carers and workers, which was specifically recommended by the CRC in its Concluding Observations. The NSW government has however, developed a new Code of Conduct for carers, which goes some way towards establishing standardised criteria for carers to follow. 
Areas lacking progress
NATIONAL: Lack of children’s voices in government policy
Although children have the right for their opinions to be taken into account in decisions which affect them under the Convention for the Rights of the Child,  current government policy often fails to take this into account, particularly in relation to family reunification procedures.
National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell has stated that she is particularly focused on raising awareness on the importance of listening to children who are living in out-of-home care and ensuring, “one of the key measures to ensure child safety and well-being is to give children at risk an opportunity to be listened to, and be taken seriously.” 
CREATE Foundation has also called on the Federal government to actively engage with children by committing to an external independent National Children’s Survey.  CEO Ms Jacqui Reed says that “…what is clearly needed is an independent, balanced view which includes the opinions of care recipients”. 
The government should seek to immediately conduct a national children’s survey into experiences in out-of-home care as per the National Standards for Out of Home Care.  It should also take all efforts to examine the root causes of the extent of child abuse and neglect in Australia and develop national documentation on the decision making process leading to a child being placed in care, as per the recommendations in the CRC’s Concluding Observations.
NATIONAL: Lack of support for children leaving out-of-home care
In its Concluding Observations the CRC explicitly recommended that the government seek to improve support given to young people during their transition from care to independence.
However, recent reports have shown that many children do not feel ready to leave out-of-home care at 18 years of age and remain unequipped by the system to enter adult life.
In a study by CREATE Foundation, 80% of Victorian young people living in out-of-home care were not aware of their transition or leaving care plan.  In Tasmania, only 20% of 15-18 year old care leavers in Tasmania actually had leaving care plans in place as of June 2012.  As found by the Tasmanian Children’s Commissioner, without transition planning, “it is hard to take all factors into account for preparing young people for leaving care.”  This situation isworsened by the fact that there is currently no mechanism established for independent monitoring of the requirement for young people to have a transition care plan.
Anglicare Victoria is calling for children in foster and state care to be permitted to stay in the system beyond the age of 18 or provided with supported accommodation in order to reduced homelessness and poverty. 
Governments should seek to ensure that information programs relating to transition care plans are commenced in order to assist young people. Monitoring systems should be put into place to ensure caseworkers are developing plans with all young people transitioning from care and that young people are actually aware of the plans.
Governments should also consider extending the age of transition to beyond 18 years to reflect the common behaviours of other young people not in care living at home after this age and the difficulties associated with independent living for young people.
NATIONAL: Failure to implement CRC’s recommendations
The CRC made a significant number of recommendations to the Australian and state governments in its Concluding Observations, most of which have not yet been addressed.
In particular, the government has failed to conduct studies into the root causes of the extent of child abuse and neglect and has not provided general data on the reasons children are placed in out-of-home care. Its data systems in particular have been criticised by monitoring bodies  and recording of review and periodic review has not been nationally implemented.
While recruitment of carers and caseworkers has been a priority, there has not been any development of new nationalised criteria for training child carers, nor regular evaluation strategies for carers to review and visit placements on a periodic basis. This is despite the fact that widespread maltreatment has historically occurred and continues to occur in the out-of-home care system.  The CREATE Foundation survey of children in out-of-home care found 10% of children do not feel safe in their current placement.  In another recent study it was found that the inexperience, lack of knowledge and rapid turnover of caseworkers is a major contributor to child maltreatment, as well as heavy workloads which mean not all children are regularly visited or contacted. 
Furthermore, there has been no clear development of, “accessible and effective child friendly mechanisms for reporting cases of neglect and abuse,” as recommended by the CRC. The National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, after in-depth consultation with children during ‘The Big Banter’ program, stated that:
… one of the key measures to ensure child safety and well-being is to give children at risk an opportunity to be listened to, and be taken seriously. I believe we should get a whole lot better at how we facilitate children’s complaints, at all levels corresponding to children’s lives, especially for those most vulnerable. 
In relation to this, it is also of concern that the current rate of visitation of children in placements by caseworkers is irregular and, in some cases, not performed at all after a child has been placed in long term care. In the ACT, the Attorney-General found that there is also, “no policy to guide visitations for monitoring the welfare of children and young people in out-of-home care.” 
Additionally, while the government has committed to “enhancing” the application and reporting of the Indigenous Child Placement Principle, this is not equivalent to the CRC’s recommendation that it be “fully implement[ed]”. In 2011-2012 approximately 69% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care in Australia were placed with relatives/kin, other Indigenous caregivers or in Indigenous residential care.  Although this is an encouraging statistic, the government must seek to intensify its cooperation with Indigenous community leaders to find suitable solutions for indigenous children, as recommended by the CRC. Organisations such as SNAICC have sought increased contact with and support from government for a number of years, including the need to properly define, legislate and implement the Child Placement Principle. 
Children and young people in out-of-home care continue to perform below the national average in NAPLAN testing  and only one quarter of surveyed young people have knowledge about education plans which had been developed for them in accordance with most states policies.  This does not reflect an adequate response to the CRC’s recommendation that equal access to education is ensured for children young people in out-of-home care.
It is of vital importance that the government immediately commit to enacting these recommendations, particularly in relation to those that directly relate to the care and protection of vulnerable children. As the rates of children being placed in out-of-home care increase, government policy and strategies must also develop to cope with these increases.
WA: Need for increased external accountability
Leading child protection advocacy group CREATE Foundation has called for the need for increased external accountability in the child protection system, after the death of a 20month-old child in out-of-home care in 2012. 
CREATE Foundation CEO Ms Jacqui Reed has stated that the state’s system lacks the external safeguards recommended in a 2006 Ombudsman report and is “more insular” than that of other states and territories. 
It is advisable that the WA government bring its policies and legislation in line with other states and territories to ensure proper external safeguards and accountability within its child protection and out-of-home care system.