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Children's Court targeted

News

Cite as: April 2012 86 (04) LIJ, p.19

A report finds the state's child protection system needs reform.

A report into Victoria’s child protection system has made 90 recommendations aimed at strengthening and improving government guardianship of the state’s most at-risk youths.

Wide-ranging recommendations contained in the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry Report included changing the threshold age for legal representation from the current age of seven to 10 and abolishing the Children’s Court Clinic. It also suggested that the Children’s Court be governed by its own Act of Parliament.

The report suggested repealing laws allowing judges to suppress convicted sex offenders’ names, raising alcohol taxes to curb abuse among parents and forcing priests to report suspected child abuse.

Following the tabling of the report on 28 February, the Victorian government announced it would immediately act on many of the 90 recommendations, 20 findings and 14 matters for attention.

The report noted that 60 Victorian children were removed into state care each week and spent an average of 18 months in the child protection system.

Premier Ted Baillieu said $61.4 million would be allocated to begin improving frontline service delivery.

“The final report outlines the need for significant effort to reform the way we protect vulnerable children,” he said.

“The failures of the child protection system over the past decade in Victoria have been this state’s shame.”

Mr Baillieu said the money would be used to recruit 42 additional child protection workers, expand child and family support services in areas of extreme demand and to establish three multi-disciplinary centres where police, child protection officers and specialist counsellors were located together.

The inquiry began on 31 January 2011 and the inquiry panel, which comprised retired Supreme Court judge Philip Cummins, Professor Emeritus Dorothy Scott OAM and Bill Scales AO, held public hearings, meetings and consultations across Victoria and received more than 220 written submissions.

Their report was handed to the state government on 27 January 2012 and tabled on 28 February.

The overarching recommendation of the 900-page report was for a whole-of- government Vulnerable Children and Families Strategy to be created to respond comprehensively to the report.

It was also recommended that priests be included in mandatory reporting of child abuse – which currently covers police and teachers – and that a separate inquiry be held to probe how different religions have handled allegations of abuse in the past.

The report suggested raising alcohol taxes to ease the number of parents abusing alcohol, allowing children in care to be adopted out even when parents do not consent and paying foster carers wages to increase people wanting to become carers.

Report authors called for the Children’s Court Clinic, which provides expert advice to judges and magistrates, to be abolished and the Children’s Court of Victoria to be governed by its own Act of Parliament.

The most controversial aspect of the report, however, recommended repealing laws which currently allow judges to suppress the names of convicted sex offenders.

“Parents and families have a right to know if a serious sex offender is residing among them,” the report said. “Repeal would enhance the protection of vulnerable victims and would affirm the principle of open courts.”

LIV president Michael Holcroft said that while the LIV supported the vast majority of report recommendations, it could not advocate for the “naming and shaming” of child-sex offenders by removing suppression orders.

“Identifying child sexual offenders has the potential to hurt even more children,” he said. “Suppression can be used to protect the identity of the victim and most sex offenders are known to the victim. We also believe that identifying sexual predators takes away their motivation to rehabilitate.”

Mr Holcroft said that a 2011 LIV submission to a Victorian Law Reform Commission review of the Sex Offenders Register noted a high number of those registered posed no risk to society.

The child protection report also said that the health, education and human services departments all shared responsibility for the previous systemic failures.

Following the release of the report, Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge told media that “there is not going to be any quick fixes”.

“There are things to do now, and things that are going to need more work,” she said.

However, Opposition spokesperson for child safety Danielle Green said the government “had treated the inquiry with contempt” by cutting 500 jobs from the department responsible for child safety days before the report was released.

The full report is available at www.childprotectioninquiry.vic.gov.au.

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