Child protection reforms
The Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry
Following mounting public concern over the increasing number of children and young people coming into care, in July 2012, the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry (the Carmody Inquiry) was established under the leadership of the Honourable Tim Carmody QC. The Carmody Inquiry was tasked with conducting a far reaching review of Queensland’s child protection system; to find out if the system was failing children and, if so, why and what should be done to fix it.
The Commission presented its final report—Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection—to the Queensland Government in July 2013. (This publication was produced prior to the current government.)
The report concluded that the existing system was not ensuring the safety, wellbeing and best interests of children as well as it should and made 121 recommendations to improve Queensland’s child protection system. The reforms focussed on:
- reducing the number of children and young people in the child protection system
- revitalising child protection frontline services and family support to break the intergenerational cycle of abuse and neglect
- refocussing oversight on learning, improving and taking responsibility.
After reviewing the report the Government accepted 115 of the recommendations in full while the remaining six were accepted in principle.
A number of agencies within the Justice Portfolio will form part of the new child protection system. Implementing the Commission’s recommendations is one of DJAG’s five key renewal and reform initiatives identified to support Queensland’s Renewal Program.
Child protection reform Acts
The first stage in implementing the Carmody Inquiry recommendations was the passing of three Acts:
- Public Guardian Act 2014 - commencing 1 July 2014
- Family and Child Commission Act 2014 - commencing 1 July 2014
- Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2014 - Court reforms commenced on 28 May 2014
These Acts form the foundation on which the new child protection system will be built.
To reduce duplication and better utilise resources, the three Acts transfer the existing functions of the Commission for Children, Young People and Child Guardian (CCYPCG) to other agencies. As a result, this statutory body will cease operations on 30 June 2014.
Public Guardian Act 2014
This Act establishes the position of the Public Guardian and the new Office of the Public Guardian, an independent statutory body reporting to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice. It effectively combines similar functions currently undertaken by the CCYPCG with those of the Office of the Adult Guardian, an organisation already within the Justice portfolio.
The Office of the Public Guardian will start operating on 1 July 2014 and will work to protect the rights of children and young people in out-of-home care—foster care, kinship care and residential care—and vulnerable adults who have impaired capacity to make their own decisions.
While providing individual advocacy for all children and young people in out-of-home care, the Public Guardian will also take over the community visitor program currently undertaken by the CCYPCG and in line with the Carmody Report’s recommendations this will be refocussed on the most vulnerable children and young people—young children in out-of-home care, those in mental health facilities and young people in detention.
The Public Guardian will provide general information and guidance about the child protection system, help in making complaints, case planning, advocacy and mediation. The Public Guardian will also have the right to appear in child protection legal proceedings in the Childrens Court and in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, to explain proceedings to the child and make submissions to the court or tribunal on the child’s behalf to ensure the child’s views are properly represented.
Family and Child Commission Act 2014
The Family and Child Commission Act 2014, creates the Family and Child Commission (FCC), a statutory body reporting directly to the Premier. This body will start operations on 1 July 2014. The FCC will provide oversight for the whole child protection system, including secondary family services for vulnerable children and young people and their families. It will take over some of the systemic oversight and research functions of the CCYPCG providing cross-sector and whole-of-government leadership, advice and research for the child protection system and further refocussing the current oversight of the child protection system as recommended by the Carmody Inquiry.
Stakeholders will be involved in the strategic work of the FCC, primarily through the establishment of one or more Advisory Councils.
Find out more information about the Family and Child Commission Act 2014.
Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2014
The Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2014, implements a number of other recommendations made by the Carmody Inquiry in relation to the mandatory reporting regime set out in the Child Protection Act 1999 and further reforms the oversight of the child protection system through changes to child death reviews, the blue card scheme, complaints handling and the court system.
Reporting child safety concerns to the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services
The Carmody Inquiry found that a major contributing factor to unsustainable demand on the child protection system is the high number of intakes received by Child Safety as a result of reports about child protection concerns. The Act amends the Child Protection Act 1999 to clarify when a report may be made to Child Safety about a child and to consolidate mandatory reporting requirements in one piece of legislation. This will help reduce unsustainable demand on the child protection system, enabling children and families to access the right services at the right time.
The Act further states that doctors and nurses, teachers working in schools, police with child protection responsibilities, staff of the new Public Guardian, and Child Safety staff who visit residential case services must report child protection concerns when they have a reasonable suspicion that a child is in need of protection from physical or sexual abuse. The Act also provides guidance about things that should be considered when forming a reasonable suspicion that a child is in need of protection.
These new reporting arrangements to Child Safety will commence in early 2015.
Child death reviews
Currently Child Safety Services conducts a review of all deaths of a child known to the department in the last three years of the child’s life. The department’s review is considered by the Child Death Case Review Committee, which is an externally appointed, multidisciplinary committee chaired by the Children’s Commissioner.
Child death reviews of children in out-of-home care are also provided to the Coroner as a reportable death under section 8(3) of the Coroners Act 2003. The report informs the Coroner’s processes and may reduce the need to proceed to an inquest.
The Carmody Inquiry found that there is little benefit in conducting a review of a child’s death if the issues identified can not be used to inform current policy and practice. To reflect this finding, rather than review all deaths of children who within three years of death have been known to Child Safety, under the Act reviews will occur where a child dies or is seriously injured and they were known to the Child Safety within 12 months of their death or injury. The Act also disbands the current Child Death Case Review Committee chaired by the CCYPCG and instead allows for an independent multidisciplinary panel to be formed by the Minister for Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services to conduct independent reviews. The new arrangements will commence on 1 July 2014.
Blue card scheme
As the Queensland Police Service (QPS) already conducts criminal history checks for the public service and has ready access to criminal history information, the Carmody Inquiry recommended that the working with children check (blue card scheme) should be transferred to the QPS, and that the process should be streamlined to establish an efficient, rationalised service that builds on child-offender legislation.
The Act transfers the administration of the blue card scheme from the CCYPCG to the Public Safety Business Agency (PSBA), the new government entity providing corporate service support to QPS and the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service. The transfer will take effect from 1 July 2014.
A comprehensive review of the blue card scheme will subsequently be undertaken with a view to streamlining the system.
The Carmody Inquiry identified judicial oversight by the Childrens Court and Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal as providing an important third tier of oversight of the child protection system. This oversight is provided, in the case of the Childrens Court, through its role in determining applications for assessment and child protection orders.
Significantly the Act specifies that the Chief Magistrate is the leader of the Childrens Court when constituted by Magistrates. This will allow for the introduction of a case management framework for child protection matters in the Childrens Court, speeding up court proceedings and reducing delays when obtaining court orders to protect a child’s safety and wellbeing. It will also enable the Chief Magistrate to ensure that all matters brought before the Childrens Court, including child protection, youth justice and adoption matters, are dealt with swiftly and efficiently.
These changes commenced on 28 May 2014.
The Carmody Inquiry recommended that it would be more efficient if complaints about the child protection system, currently directed to the CCYPCG, were investigated by the relevant Government Departments with oversight by the Queensland Ombudsman which has the power to investigate complaints about state government agencies.
In response to this the Act moves the oversight of complaints from the CCYPCG to the Ombudsman. To assist the Ombudsman manage any additional workload this may cause, the Act also amends the Ombudsman Act 2001 to allow the Ombudsman to delegate functions and powers to appropriately qualified staff.
These changes will come into effect on 1 July 2014.
Find out more information about the Child Protection Reform Amendment Act 2014.
For more information read the Government Response to the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry final report, Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection. (This publication was produced prior to the current government.)