Media statement 11 August 2017
11 August 2017
The Public Guardian’s safeguards for children in care, implemented following the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry three years ago, are stronger than ever according to Queensland’s Public Guardian, Natalie Siegel-Brown.
In 2016-17, OPG Community Visitors made nearly 33,000 visits to children and young people in foster, kin and residential care, youth detention, authorised mental health services and disability services—the highest in the agency’s history.
But the number of visits doesn’t tell the whole story.
Community Visitors opened 19,007 issues, of which 97% were resolved locally—almost 3000 more issues than ever resolved before, even when Community Visitors operated under the former Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian.
Further, there is evidence to suggest that more disclosures of harm have been made directly to Community Visitor’s since the reformation of the Community Visitor’s role in 2014.
Ms Siegel-Brown said that since the advent of the Public Guardian Act 2014 and the transfer of the Child Guardian function to the Public Guardian, significant work has occurred to transform the role and purpose of Community Visitors to achieve the right balance between monitoring and advocacy, strengthening safeguards for children in care.
“Community Visitors provide fundamental human rights protection and advocacy to children and young people who are vulnerable in the systems that are designed to care for them.
“Our advocacy in foster care and kinship care placement is a critical safeguard to check that the carer is meeting the child or young person’s needs in that placement appropriately,” said Ms Siegel-Brown.
Following recommendations from the Inquiry, the re-calibration of the Community Visitor role as an ‘advocate’ has resulted in a strengthening and empowering of the voice of children and young people within systems in which they have been historically silent – or unable to participate in decisions made about them.
“The success of the Community Visitor program’s monitoring work, relies on the teeth of its advocacy—the number of issues and the types of cases we have seen have increased since we have recalibrated this role,” said Ms Siegel-Brown.
“Our advocacy ensures systems are held accountable—the child advocate function is now a more powerful and effective function than the previous ‘monitoring’ role of the Community Visitor program. It means children and young people have a say at the table where they may not have before.
“Monitoring by itself is powerless to effect change however, advocacy builds trust and relationships through empowering and engaging children and young people to speak out, knowing that when they do, they will be listened to, taken seriously and most importantly, action will be taken”.
Through ‘advocacy’, the OPG is creating a culture in Queensland where vulnerable children and young people not only know their rights and how to access them, but are listened to.
“The changes that the program has been able to achieve for children and young people in care, speak to the vastly increased outcomes that our Community Visitors have been able to achieve for the rights of children and young people in care, in addition to the voice they have been provided, since the role has evolved,” said Ms Siegel-Brown.
- Community Visitors conducted a total of 32,749 visits (up 14% on 2015-16) to 8025 children and young people (up 6% on 2015-16). This was despite a 7% increase in the number of children and young people entitled to a Community Visitor
- Community Visitors opened 19,007 issues, of which 18,475 (97%) were resolved locally—almost 3000 more issues than ever resolved than when Community Visitors operated under the former Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian.
The following case study demonstrates how a Community Visitor’s advocacy changed a young person’s life
Matt’s right to a safe living environment
A Community Visitor received a phone call from a residential service provider one day, regarding the alleged physical assault on a new resident, Matt (aged 16), by another resident, Samantha (aged 17). Matt, who had been diagnosed with a number of behavioural disorders as well as an intellectual impairment, had allegedly been punched in the stomach by Samantha on his first day in the placement.
The Community Visitor found that the alleged assault followed a pattern of behaviour evident in Samantha, who had assaulted five additional young people when they arrived at the placement. Samantha referred to the placement as ‘hers’, and the workers as ‘her workers’. The immediate safety of Matt was discussed with the service provider youth workers, who indicated that they could not guarantee they would be able to keep him safe from Samantha.
After the assault, the Community Visitor was advised that Child Safety officers were seeking an emergency respite placement for Matt over the weekend, but that he would be returned to the residential placement when Samantha had ‘settled down’. Samantha had continued to make verbal threats towards Matt, and so the youth workers raised their dissatisfaction at this outcome with the Community Visitor. Matt had indicated that he feared returning, and these concerns along with Matt’s right to have access to a safe living environment were conveyed to Child Safety. The matter was raised by the OPG to the Child Safety Service Centre Manager, who committed to look further into the matter and provide feedback.
Over the next few days, the Community Visitor brought Matt’s concerns to the attention of the residential service provider and Child Safety – and they discussed the situation. Before Matt was due to be returned to the residential placement, an outcome was achieved. Child Safety advised that Samantha would be removed from the placement and placed by herself due to the risk she posed to other young people.
Office of the Public Guardian media contact: (07) 3006 2589 or firstname.lastname@example.org