Amendments to child protection legislation to better reflect human rights in the ACT have underpinned 44 recommendations from a parliamentary committee tasked with investigating the power imbalance between government and vulnerable people.
The inquiry was called after the Court of Appeal removed five children from the care of their mother, resulting in advocates criticising the system for a lack of transparency, accessibility and information that would be in the best interests of the child.
Trust in the ACT care and protection system had been “in decline for many years” and remains low, the Committee found.
The second report on child and youth protection services built on the interim report it released in March. It recommended the appointment of a Child and Youth Services Council by the end of the year, a 12-month pilot program that delivers specialised support for those with a disability or mental illness and a legal entitlement for family group conferences.
“I believe that we have not yet fully reflected or acknowledged, in the policy and practices of child protective services, the momentousness of the decision that leads to the removal of a child from a parent,” ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) CEO Dr Emma Campbell said.
“As a result of this failure, we have neglected our responsibility as a community to provide the support necessary to families to manage the challenges that they face that lead to the involvement of child protection agencies.
“As a result of that failure, we have not ensured that there is robust accountability and appropriate transparency for a child protection system that can take a child from its parents and/or its extended family permanently.”
The report was welcomed by the ACT Law Society which accepted the Committee’s recommendations directing the Directorate of Children and Youth Services to properly consider the best interests of the child when taking any action.
“Importantly, the Committee has recommended restoring the right of a person to obtain information about themselves under the Freedom of Information Act, a right that was legislated away in an omnibus bill last year,” the President of the ACT Law Society, Chris Donohue, said.
“Carers and family members have been denied any right of appeal against decisions made by the Child and Youth Services Directorate regarding children in care.
“The report states that this represents a culture of secrecy that is not in the best interests of a child or young person, and goes on to recommend that the rights to external appeal and a fair hearing be restored, in accordance with section 21 of the Human Rights Act.”
The full report can be found here.