Update on Monitoring APY Child Protection Issues

Introduction

The implementation of the recommendations of the Children on APY Lands Commission of Inquiry (Mullighan Inquiry) is a key issue that the Anangu Lands Paper Tracker continues to track.

The final report, in November 2013, of the Government’s response to the Mullighan Inquiry indicated that the APY Lands Steering Committee, with oversight from the APY Regional Partnership Agreement, would be responsible for the ongoing monitoring and coordination of child safety initiatives on the APY Lands:

The taskforce has identified the APY Lands Steering Committee as an appropriate forum for the maintenance of strong interagency collaboration to guide initiatives relating to the safety of children on the APY Lands … The APY Lands Steering Committee will have a lead role in service planning and coordination in partnership with Anangu under the APY Lands Regional Partnership Agreement … As governments and the Anangu people establish plans for the future under the APY Lands Regional Partnership Agreement, the need for a sustained focus on the safety of children must remain a high priority (Government of South Australia, Fifth Annual Report, November 2013, pp. 7, 10).

The APY Lands Steering Committee only met twice in 2014 and child safety did not form part of the agenda for those meetings. It only held one meeting in 2015. At its meeting on 25 February 2016, a decision was taken to set up the APY Lands Child Safety and Wellbeing Sub-committee – ‘a strategic action group whose purpose is to oversee child safety and wellbeing on the Lands post Mullighan Inquiry, and will provide a forum for identified child protection initiatives’ (APY Lands Child Safety and Wellbeing Sub-committee, Terms of Reference, p. 1).

Despite the Government’s fifth and final report in response to the Mullighan Inquiry emphasising the importance of the APY Regional Partnership Agreement (RPA) including a sustained focus on the safety of children remaining a high priority, to date, no child protection schedule or action plan has been developed under the RPA. In addition, the current status of the RPA remains unclear – it came into effect on 7 August 2013 and was due to expire on 7 August 2016. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, the Hon Kyam Maher MP, was asked a question on 20 September 2016 in the Legislative Council of Parliament about the status of the RPA. At the time of uploading this web-post, no information in response to this question had been provided.

 

Anangu Lands Paper Tracker requests information on Sub-committee

On 11 July 2016, the Anangu Lands Paper Tracker wrote to the Minister for Education and Child Development, the Hon Susan Close MP, and requested information about the APY Lands Child Safety and Wellbeing Sub-committee – including its Terms of Reference, membership, frequency of meetings, and the location of the Sub-committee within the restructured Department – and the status of the APY Lands child protection protocols for the investigation and assessment of suspected abuse and/or neglect (the Child Protection Protocols), which had been under review since 2013.  The letter to Minister Close sets out the requested information and can be read here.

 

Response from the Minister for Education and Child Development

In September 2016, the Paper Tracker received a response from Minister Close, dated 24 September 2016.

Minister Close indicated that the Sub-committee meets every two months in Adelaide and that it has the following focus areas:

  • Improving school engagement and attendance
  • Addressing problem sexualised behaviours
  • Improving child safety and wellbeing
  • Providing an interface with family violence initiatives.

It is noted that the purpose and focus of the Sub-committee has no explicit responsibility for the ongoing monitoring of the implementation of the Mullighan Inquiry recommendations. It would appear that a process of dilution has occurred as a result of various new structures having been set up – the Final Report to Parliament transferred responsibility from the Taskforce to the APY Lands Steering Committee and APY RPA, and subsequently, the responsibility has been transferred to the new Sub-committee. In the process, the responsibility for the ongoing monitoring of the Mullighan Inquiry recommendations has been watered down.

 

Terms of Reference for Sub-committee

Attached to the Minister’s letter were the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Sub-committee, which were adopted at a meeting of the Sub-committee on 25 August 2016.

The functions of the Sub-committee include the following, amongst others:

  • Acknowledge that the views of Anangu are pivotal in deciding how child safety and wellbeing programs are planned, implemented and evaluated.
  • Commit to genuine engagement with the APY executive, APY communities and An

The ToR do not indicate how these two functions (above) are to be carried out or what the mechanisms are for engagement with Anangu tjuta.

 

The membership of the Sub-committee is made up of Commonwealth and State agencies at Director-level. The Commonwealth member agencies include the following:

  • Department of Social Services
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The State member agencies include:

  • Aboriginal Education, Department for Education and Child Development
  • Families SA
  • Aboriginal Strategic Advisor, Families SA
  • Women and Children’s Health Network
    • Child Protection Services
    • Child and Adolescent Mental Health
  • Disability SA, Department for Communities and Social Inclusion
  • Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation
  • South Australia Police
  • Department of the Premier and Cabinet
  • Education Director APY Lands
  • NPY Women’s Council.

 

The meetings of the Sub-committee are to be held every two months and will occur ‘immediately following the meeting of the APY Steering Committee’ (ToR, p. 3). Given that the Sub-committee meets after the APY Lands Steering Committee, this proposed sequence of meetings does not appear to maximise the opportunity for the Sub-committee to provide the Steering Committee with current information/updates about critical issues so as to inform discussions at the APY Steering Committee meetings.

Similarly, the ToR state that the Sub-committee will provide a bi-monthly report to the APY Lands Steering Committee and that ‘Reports (of the Sub-committee) will be finalised and forwarded within two weeks following the meeting of the APY Steering Committee’ (ToR, p. 3).

The sequence of meetings and reporting timeframes do not appear to enable reporting to occur in such a way that the information contained in the Sub-committee’s reports will address current issues or inform discussions at the Steering Committee meetings. The sequence of meetings determines that the information in the Sub-committee’s report will be provided to the Steering Committee six weeks prior to the next Steering Committee meeting; this could mean that the information provided in reports may be out of date by the time the meeting takes place.

 

Child Protection Protocols

In response to the Paper Tracker’s request for an update on the review of the APY Child Protection Protocols, Minister Close’s letter states that:

I can inform you that since the decision to review the protocols was made in 2012 and despite delays that occurred, the review was finalised in 2015.

In February 2015[1], a decision was made by agency representatives who are representative signatories to the 2010 APY Protocols, that in lieu of updating the protocols as a separate document, that the protocols be incorporated within the existing Families SA ‘Interagency code of practice: investigation of suspected child abuse or neglect’ document. Information specific to the APY Lands is included within this document as an addendum[2].

The ‘Interagency code of practice’ provides the framework for efficient and effective interagency processes for agencies involved in suspected child abuse or neglect and has been in existence since 2009. Having one document will provide for consistent practice responses to child protection across all agencies.

A copy of the Interagency Code of Practice can be read here.

 

For background information on the ongoing monitoring of the Government’s implementation of the recommendations of the Mullighan APY Commission of Inquiry and the establishment of the Child Safety and Wellbeing Sub-committee, please click here.

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[1] The Paper Tracker notes that the Preface to the Interagency Code of Practice states that ‘the decision to retire the 2010 protocols was made in July 2015 by the agencies and organisations involved in responding to allegations of child abuse and neglect arising on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands’ (p. 3).

[2] The ICP includes Appendix A: ‘Principles For Working With Aboriginal People’ (p. 46). However, no specific reference is made to the APY Lands or any information which is specific to the APY Lands.

The Paper Tracker works hard to provide accurate and up-to-date information. We will correct any inaccurate information as soon as it is brought to our attention. Please contact us if you have additional information or can provide us with an update.