Serious challenges remain for child protection, despite investment and systemic progress, Commission finds

Victoria’s child protection and care systems face continuing and serious challenges despite critical investment by government and some systemic progress, according to the annual report of the Commission for Children and Young People, tabled in the Parliament of Victoria today.

‘While we have seen increased investment, particularly in the child protection workforce, and some progress with systemic change, the Commission’s inquiries offer hard evidence that we need sustained reform and investment if we hope to protect the most vulnerable children in Victoria,’ said Liana Buchanan, Principal Commissioner, today.

Two inquiries completed this year and detailed in the annual report consider the deaths of children known to child protection, highlighting the role of cumulative harm in suicide, and the heightened risk for children with complex medical needs and/or disability.

The Commission’s Systemic inquiry into cumulative harm and suicide in child deaths examined the deaths by suicide of 26 children, and revealed a theme of ‘missed opportunities’ to address ‘significant and persistent harm from an early age’. It found 91 per cent of cases were closed at the early stage of intake or investigation, and that 33 per cent of these children’s deaths occurred within eight weeks of the final Child Protection report being closed. Across the deaths examined, children came to the notice of Child Protection on average seven times, with a range of 2–25 notifications.

‘Although the deaths examined occurred from 2007–2015, we continue to see these themes in our current child death inquiries, and our recommendations to better recognise and act on cumulative harm have continuing urgency,’ Principal Commissioner Buchanan said.

The Commission’s Systemic inquiry into vulnerable children and young people with complex medical needs and/or disability examined 72 child death inquiries from 2013–2017, and found that Child Protection had often not developed or considered a full picture of risk to these children or of their parents’ capacity to care for them. It also highlighted a lack of coordination between Child Protection, family services and disability services, which must be addressed in the full roll-out of the NDIS to prevent the situation for vulnerable children with disability becoming worse.

‘While the capacity of the system to recognise and respond to complex medical needs and/or disability is improving, there is still considerable work to be done before this is fully integrated into practice to protect children whose medical meeds and/or disability places them at heightened risk,’ Principal Commissioner Buchanan said.

Also considered in the annual report, the Commission’s earlier ‘…safe and wanted…’ inquiry found the reunification of families and timely permanency decisions were impacted by system pressures, including family access to services, and significant numbers of children with no allocated child protection case manager. The annual report notes an increase in the allocation rate from 80 to 85.8 per cent across the year.

‘Our inquiries and the broader evidence gathered through the Commission’s work make a compelling case that we must always assess progress and the need for further action against the sheer scale of the challenge we face in protecting children,’ the Principal Commissioner concluded.

Download the annual report of the Commission for Children and Young People (PDF).

Media contact: Darren Lewin-Hill 0437 046 360