Page 2453 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 1 July 2008
infrastructure—being used to implement these changes. Care and protection is and always will be contentious. We only need to look at the headlines which recur in our papers with unfortunate regularity. We have had a recent spate of cases, and we know that the media and opposition parties are always alert to issues, often tragic, which occur in our community and which can be used as a barb to point at governments, ministers and overworked departments.
These are contentious issues, but they are also really important, because they get at the heart of our most vulnerable community members—our children, and often our least advantaged children. No matter how wonderful our legislation is and how diligent and effective our care and protection officers are, there will, sadly, always be children who suffer abuse and neglect. This bill is a step in the right direction towards dealing with the situation, but I would be interested to know what extra resourcing and what extra measures are being provided to the department and the community groups to put this legislation in place.
During my meetings I was advised by many sources that staff turnover in child protection services is a problem both here and across jurisdictions. I totally understand why. This is one of the most difficult jobs in our community. The department has informed me that the ACT is better in this regard than many jurisdictions, and I am really pleased about that. But I am hearing over and over again that staff turnover is causing trouble for the new staff coming in and for the existing staff who must support and mentor them. There are problems in consistency of care and record keeping which affect the children, their families and those caring for them. The result is that we can have inconsistent responses to recurring issues.
The legislation gives a good groundwork for improving the stability and security of kids in care, but if you have a different case worker every six months, how much is even the world’s best practice legislation actually going to help? Care and protection is a demanding and challenging field of employment, and high turnover is to be expected. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to work with vulnerable children and families day after day; to be that knock on the door that those families dread. The ACT government may be one of the best at keeping its staff happy, and there may be little more that it can do to keep them. If it cannot keep them—and a variety of anecdotal evidence is suggesting that it cannot—then other ways have to be found to address the inconsistency and the lack of continuity created.
The legislation includes a section regarding family group conferencing. I am pleased to see the government giving this level of attention to working with families to overcome problems before they reach crisis. I will be interested to see the family group conferencing standards when they are complete. Encouraging families to seek support and to work together is a vital component in protecting vulnerable kids, and I believe it helps to build trust, which is also important for assisting these families.
Trust was raised repeatedly as an issue in the recent hearings of the inquiry of the committee on health and disability into the early intervention and care of vulnerable infants in the ACT. The Women’s Centre for Health Matters, amongst others, noted that fear is a big factor impeding families approaching and utilising support services. People fear that if they use one service then that service will tell others or tell the