For immediate release – Thursday 28 October, 2021
The Commission for Children and Young People tabled its annual report in the Parliament of Victoria this morning. The report contributes to a growing understanding that the pandemic has significantly and disproportionately impacted children and young people, particularly those who are financially disadvantaged or marginalised, but that children and young people’s needs are too often out of the spotlight.
During the last year the Commission’s work has championed children and young people’s safety and wellbeing in Victoria through determined oversight and advocacy, and by amplifying the voices of children and young people.
‘Children and young people in Victoria have shown remarkable grit this year, living through multiple lockdowns, disrupted education and separation from friends. But the pandemic has also made many children and young people already at risk of abuse and neglect even less visible to organisations and critical services,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
The Commission tabled three systemic inquiries in 2020–21. Keep Caring drew attention to the extra support care leavers need to transition to adult life while Out of sight examined how often children and young people are absent or missing from residential care, the serious harms they often suffer when they are missing, and what needs to be done to address this concerning issue.
‘Our inquiries into the out-of-home care system this year showed, once again, that the system too often leads to devastating impacts for the children and young people who rely on it’ said Commissioner Buchanan.
‘While the Victorian Government’s recent efforts to reform the system are welcome and positive, our inquiries continue to demonstrate the urgent need for significant ongoing investment and a new model of care.’
We also tabled Our youth, our way, a landmark inquiry report led by the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People that recommends fundamental change to end the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in the justice system (see additional media release Giving back power to Aboriginal children and community key to ending over-representation).
As in previous years, our child death inquiries raised concerns about the capacity of a pressured child protection system to assess, investigate and respond adequately when reports are raised about children at risk of harm. ‘The pandemic truly tested and exposed the vulnerabilities in the service system, and too many children continue to fall through these gaps,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
Throughout the pandemic, the Commission has raised concern about the reduced visibility of children combined with heightened risks in the home during periods of lockdown. Sadly, the Commission’s child death inquiries this year started to identify cases where services central to the protection of children drastically reduced face-to-face service delivery.
This year, the Commission continued our role overseeing investigations into allegations of child abuse in our institutions. Despite reduced in person contact between adults and children in most organisations due to lockdown restrictions, the Commission reported an increase in mandatory notifications with a record 1,006 notifications received.
The highest number of allegations received across all organisations related to physical violence this year. For the first time however, the most common allegation type across all registered schools was sexual misconduct. The proportion of sexual misconduct allegations in all sectors that are substantiated has increased, as has the proportion of substantiated allegations that involve sexual misconduct.
‘As awareness in the community grows, thanks in part to the many survivors of abuse who have shared their experiences, we are seeing an increased focus on sexual misconduct in our schools. The increase may well reflect a growing willingness among children and young people to speak out and for organisations to listen and act,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
For the first time this year, the Commission is reporting publicly through our Annual Report on the Government’s progress on implementation of the Commission’s inquiry recommendations.
‘Reporting publicly on action taken against our systemic inquiries simply gives greater transparency in relation to the reforms we have called for. It is an important way for us to hold ourselves accountable to the children and young people who have shared their lived experience with us in the hope that things can be made better.
Involving young people
‘As Victoria navigates its way out of the pandemic, one thing is clear. We must hear from and act on the voices of children and young people, and our path from here must be guided by their best interests, voices and lived experience’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
This year, the Commission’s Youth Council helped the Commission engage with children and young people to inform the findings and recommendations of our inquiries and guided the design of our rolling COVID–19 survey, which enabled us to hear directly from young people about how they are coping in the pandemic.
‘Being involved in ensuring that children and young people were able to talk about how they were and are impacted in the pandemic, and also knowing that this was actually being listened to, felt very important.’ said Youth Council member, Amelia Hunt.
‘I think that all organisations should ensure that children and young people can be involved in the work that they do on all levels. We have a lot to say and a lot to do, and we shouldn't be underestimated.’
Commissioner Buchanan is available for media comment.
The Commission’s 2020–21 annual report can be downloaded from the Commission’s website.
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