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The question presented to the authorities we empower to deal with child abuse is in every case: Is the best interest of the child served by removing them from the circumstances that they are in? Is substitute care always the best outcome for a child in an abusive situation, or is family therapy the answer? Who is to decide and how are we going to get the best possible outcome? These dilemmas are faced on a daily basis by the child welfare officers in the family services area who deal with reported cases of child abuse. These are the dilemmas that face a doctor, a teacher, a nurse, a child-care assistant or another adult - a neighbour perhaps - who sees bruises or some manifestations of hunger or poor care. If we move to make the reporting of child abuse mandatory, these people will have to know that by reporting the abuse the outcomes for the child will be better than if they ignore it. We may need to counsel adults, the parents, the families. We have to be sure that the abuse is stopped properly. This is where the debate always stops within the community sector. There is concern that, if doctors, nurses, teachers, other carers - mandated adults - are forced to report abuse, further contact with the child will be stopped. There is concern that the child will not present at a school, a hospital, a child-care centre or some other public place and the abuse may be worse.
This is where we need a plan and some notion of how we deal with the complexity of mandatory reporting and putting the right responsibility on people who deal with abused children and put it on them in such a way that we are assured that both the child and the abuser - in many cases, unfortunately, most people would prefer not to know the abuser - are in fact dealt with sensitively and appropriately. With this motion today, I believe that we can map out for the people of the ACT what steps the Government is taking to protect our children. Overwhelmingly, the people of the ACT want to be reassured that if a child is being abused some action can and will ensue to protect that child. I am not, I repeat, asking for the immediate implementation of mandatory reporting. I am asking for some reassurance, once during every sitting of the Assembly over the next three years, that some development is happening towards the appropriate process of mandating the reporting of child abuse and then providing the appropriate support for the children, the abusers and all the victims of these unfortunate elements of life in our city.
MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education and Training and Minister for Housing and Family Services) (11.16): In a way, I thank Ms McRae for raising this question. I would just like to welcome to the Assembly the students from Campbell Primary School who are here today. Mr Speaker, Ms McRae has raised the issue of the implementation of mandatory reporting of child abuse and the Government’s intentions. This Government will implement mandatory reporting. We will do that when we have all the necessary structures and services in place. I was interested to hear Ms McRae say - she reiterated it on a few occasions - that she does not expect it to happen immediately. That is very sensible. All the various community groups that both the Chief Minister and I have spoken to are very worried about it being implemented immediately. They want work to be done and the necessary structures put in place first. They see that as being absolutely essential. There is good reason for that. Members will be aware of the effect of implementing mandatory reporting in Victoria. When they did that, notifications of child abuse rose alarmingly. There were some problems, and there is a lesson in that experience for the ACT. In order to respond to notifications and to protect children, it is necessary not to raise expectations of services that cannot be met. To do that, good preparation is absolutely necessary. That apparently, from what I gather, did not happen terribly well in Victoria.