Commission’s work for vulnerable children and young people saw heightened focus on oversight and advocacy when pandemic struck

News 10 December 2020

Thursday 10 December 2020 – for immediate release

A year of strong progress in the work of the Commission for Children and Young People brought a heightened focus on oversight and advocacy in early 2020 as risks changed and escalated, and the visibility of the most vulnerable declined amid restrictions to curb the COVID–19 pandemic. These were key themes of the Commission’s annual report tabled in the Parliament of Victoria this morning.

In November last year, the Commission tabled two systemic inquiries that highlighted the inadequate responses to children and young people at high risk in child protection in the Lost, not forgotten report, and the quality of out-of-home care for children and young people detailed in the report of the In our own words inquiry.

‘These systemic inquiries shone a light on children and young people in care as well as those brought to the attention of Child Protection where there had been no resulting intervention to prevent their experience of violence and neglect,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

‘We are encouraged that the Victorian Government’s response to these inquiries has included significant Budget investment in early intervention, Child Protection, out-of-home care and care leavers; of course we know ongoing effort will be needed to implement that investment,’ she said today.

‘If our work in 2019 revealed the urgent need to fundamentally strengthen the systems we examined, the pandemic heightened our concerns and drove a marked increase in our oversight and advocacy once the pandemic struck.

‘The most vulnerable children and young people became the least visible as supports available to them were disrupted by restrictions designed to curb the pandemic,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

In response, the Commission transformed its priorities, expanding the voices of children and young people to give them a central role in shaping the Commission’s advocacy and recommendations to government to address the increasingly critical issues they faced.

‘This year, our COVID consultations alone included more than 600 children and young people, and our broader work involved more than 1000,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

‘By ensuring the direct involvement of children and young people, we identified what was important to them, and how their concerns might be resolved through new approaches that can benefit them through the pandemic and beyond it,’ she said.

Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Justin Mohamed concurred, highlighting the importance of ‘tackling issues through the voices of the children and young people most affected by them’.

This year Commissioner Mohamed led statewide consultations for the Koori Youth Justice Taskforce, and the Commission’s related, independent Our youth, our way inquiry, which will be tabled in Parliament early next year amid the State’s development of new youth justice legislation and the slated launch of a new Aboriginal youth justice strategy.

‘Our work this year has made abundantly clear that we cannot ignore the vital role of connection to culture, community and family in tackling the unacceptable over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria’s youth justice system,’ Commissioner Mohamed said.

Both commissioners continued their advocacy to #RaiseTheAge of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years to reflect international human rights standards.

‘Our work on the Taskforce and inquiry, and in monitoring Victoria’s youth justice system this year continues to demonstrate that this is no environment for a ten-year-old, and it’s the last place we should be sending young people if we want to support rehabilitation, reduce reoffending, and promote a safer community for everyone,’ Commissioner Mohamed said.

The year also saw the Commission adapt its approach to preventing and responding to child abuse through the Child Safe Standards and the Reportable Conduct Scheme (see also separate media release).

‘During the pandemic, the nature of threats to children and young people changed with the shift from face-to-face to online interactions with workers and volunteers from organisations. As a result, the Commission placed a greater focus on threats in the online environment, reshaping the advice and support we provided to organisations subject to the Child Safe Standards and the Reportable Conduct Scheme, and delivering that advice and support through online platforms.

'We take from this year a heightened understanding of the challenges facing children and young people that we have gained through our efforts to listen to and empower their voices. We have also learnt that the approaches we have developed during the pandemic, and the responses we have advocated for will stand us in good stead in better meeting the challenges of the future,’ Commissioner Buchanan concluded.

Commissioners Buchanan and Mohamed are available for media comment.

The Commission’s 2019–20 annual report can be downloaded from the Commission’s website.

For media enquiries, please click here.