Minster for Human Services
Child Protection Policy
16 March, 2016 [10.24 a.m.]

QUESTION:  Can the minister provide the House with an update on how the Child Protection redesign statement has been received in the community?

ANSWER:  Madam Speaker, the redesign of Tasmania’s child protection system, led by Professor Maria Harries, finally provides Tasmania with a framework to fundamentally improve the lives of vulnerable children, young people and their families. This report and the Government’s response addresses the issues that have plagued the child protection services in this state for far too long – decades. We are determined to rebuild this system and support and protect Tasmania’s vulnerable children and young people. The Commissioner for Children has welcomed the Government’s response stating that: Tasmania now has an opportunity and a responsibility to give Tasmanian children and young people in Child Protection Services a better future.

I share his view and I thank the Leader of the Greens, Ms O’Connor, who spoke yesterday on the report and the Government’s response being a very significant reform to child protection and family support in Tasmania.

The Commissioner has also spoken about the report’s strong focus on ways to keep children and young people out of the statutory child protection system. The Government shares this desire, which is why our response focuses on supporting families to be the best parents that they can be. We will be intervening far earlier and providing families with necessary support and assistance before matters reach a crisis point to ensure the wellbeing of children and young people.

In my statement yesterday I spoke about the Government support of the child protection workforce and the initiatives on providing additional professional support, tools and new supportive team structures for our most important professionals. I note that the CPSU also shared the Government’s view and welcomes the additional funding for our vital Child Protection Service.

Unfortunately, the Opposition does not share the positive community consensus on the Government’s response to the report and it is claimed there is not enough money. New funding of an additional $20 million has been allocated but Professor Harries clearly states in her report that additional resourcing is not the only answer. In her words the temptation to invest only in more child protection workers is one that many jurisdictions have come to. The inevitability of this latest strategy will be maintenance of the status quo of discontent that marks the current professional environment alongside an increase in costs.

It would appear that Ms White has once again commented before taking the time to fully read the report or understand what Professor Harries is referring to, that we need to restructure child protection and provide better earlier and more intensive family support services. By helping families with immediate support and help before they fall into crisis we will reduce the longer term or indirect financial costs associated with child neglect, such as future drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, poor health, homelessness, juvenile offending, criminality and incarceration.

Ms White also claims that resourcing is the primary cause of the current broken child protection system. However, this Government quarantined front line child protection workers from the budget cuts despite having to fix the previous Labor-Greens government’s $1.1 billion black hole. If Ms White was so concerned she should have discussed this with the former minister, Michelle O’Byrne, who in November 2013, when Anglicare called on the then government to provide additional funding for services supporting children and their families, refused and stated, ‘We need to do the best with what we have got’.

The Hodgman Liberal Government, on the other hand, is not making vulnerable families make do with what they have got but rather investing an additional $20 million in services and support.

Ms White also claimed yesterday that there is still 17 unfilled vacancies in the Child Protection Service. I am delighted to say that the most recent pay period statistics I have indicate that the Hodgman Liberal Government has achieved what the opposition could not. Child Protection worker vacancies are currently sitting at 4.6 FTEs out of a total of 188.3 FTEs. Even the unions have previously stated they have not known a time, at least for the last decade, when there have not been vacancies less than 12. Child Protection is now changing for the better. We are recruiting for the remaining 4.6 FTEs now and there has never been a better time or a more exciting time to be a child protection worker than now to take part in rebuilding child protection services in Tasmania.