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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 11 Hansard (19 October) . . Page.. 3294 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

Those quotes can be applied equally to the debate in the Assembly today. This Bill is inseparable from the context in which it will work. That context has changed very little from the situation outlined in the 1997 report, Services for Children at Risk in the ACT, of the Standing Committee on Social Policy, which I chaired. There has been some tinkering at the edges and the development of a couple of very worthwhile programs. Family group conferencing as outlined in this Bill is one such worthwhile initiative. The focus on the best interests of the child is also worthy.

But poor resourcing, lack of services, lack of agency coordination, lack of broad social planning and lack of adequate preventative intervention are still features of this Government's social policies affecting children and young people and are fundamental to how the ACT provides for its most vulnerable citizens - children at risk and children in need. Those concerns have been raised with my office while we have been seeking views on this Bill from people working at the coalface of services for children and young people, those working in youth refuges and shelters, those working for substitute care agencies, those who work with children and young people in the court system and those working in the Aboriginal community.

As we debate this Bill, the Richmond Fellowship's Marlow Cottage, a so-called transition facility under the Children's Services Act providing emergency and short-term residential care, is permitted to take children and young people for a maximum of only 21 days at present, with the Bill reducing that to 14 days. In reality, it is taking children for months at a time, due to a lack of medium- and long-term accommodation and support services that meet the needs of these often very troubled individuals.

Mental health services for children and young people continue to be inadequate. Many children and young people who have experienced family violence and/or breakdown or who have been sexually abused and many of those in substitute care and those who have drug and alcohol problems cannot access appropriate counselling, support and/or rehabilitation services. Those are just some of the resourcing and policy issues which provide the context in which this Bill will operate.

Whilst the Government consulted widely with those working in the sector in developing the broad sweep of this Bill, many of those in the sector were taken aback by the final Bill. It appears that the Government has not closed the loop. The Government has not come back to those people who have a lot of experience to contribute to the debate on legislating for services for children and young people. It has not shown those people how it has responded to the consultation process and it has not shown people working in the sector what the final Bill would actually look like and asked for their input, which is important because it is the final Bill, subject to amendments, that service providers, police, courts, foster carers and advocacy agencies will have to work with. The service providers do have very legitimate concerns. Chief amongst those are the provisions relating to therapeutic protection orders, and I will come to those shortly. First, I will address some of the positives in the Bill.

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