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The NSW Government is embarking on major reforms to the states child protection system.

Keep Them Safe: A Shared Approach to Child Wellbeing is the Governments five-year plan to fundamentally change the way children and families are supported and protected in this state.

This marks the beginning of a new era of collaboration and partnership between government, community organisations and the wider community.

As the former Justice Wood emphasised in his report from the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection, the care and wellbeing of children is first and foremost the responsibility of parents, families and the community.

Where intervention is needed, the responsibility to protect our children must be shared across all agencies in the government and non-government sector.

Our goal is to foster environments where children can grow up healthy, happy and safe and have opportunities to reach their full potential.


Keep Them Safe Reform Round-Up

Each month we’ll be bringing you updates on the progress of Keep Them Safe reforms, along with details of upcoming milestones 

Already much progress has been made. The Department of Premier and Cabinet is the lead agency for the whole-of-government reform agenda, and has established a Senior Officers Group from the Government’s justice and human service agencies to oversee and lead implementation of Keep Them Safe.

The legislation for the Keep Them Safe reforms has passed through Parliament and was assented to on April 7 2009. However, to ensure training and support tools are in place before the legislation takes effect, the new provisions of the Children Legislation Amendment (Wood Inquiry Recommendations) Act 2009, will not come into force until each provision is formally proclaimed. Provisions proclaimed to date relate to:

  • the appointment of District Court Judge Mark Marien SC as the new President of the Children's Court
  • changes to the reviewable deaths definition and the Ombudsman’s reporting period, implementing two specific Wood recommendations.

The remaining sections will be proclaimed over time, with updates provided in this newsletter.

Meanwhile, work continues to establish Child Wellbeing Units (CWUs) in four government agencies – NSW Health, NSW Police, the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Human Services (covering staff employed in the areas of Juvenile Justice, Housing and Ageing, Disability and Home Care).  These agencies are responsible for over 60% of all reports to the Community Services Helpline.

The CWUs will assist staff of these major mandatory reporting agencies to identify which matters do and do not meet the new threshold of risk of significant harm. They will also provide advice on ways to help children, young people and their families at the local level, to ensure more families who need access to services to reduce the risks to children receive the support and services they need earlier.   Over time,  the CWUs will work individually and together to drive better alignment and coordination of agency service systems to enable better responses to children, young people and families in need of assistance.

For mandatory reporters without a Child Wellbeing Unit, the Community Services Helpline will provide feedback on reports that do not reach the new threshold as well as those reports that do reach the threshold.

Work is also progressing on establishing Regional Intake and Referral Services (RIRS). NSW Health and the Council of Social Services of NSW (NCOSS) led a planning workshop in June to inform the sector about this initiative and to engage its interest and commitment in helping NSW Health trial RIRS.  The workshop focused on the identification of key principles and intended outcomes for the new service. 

Recent Milestones

June - August 2009

  • Proclamation of changes to the reviewable deaths definition and Ombudsman’s reporting period.
  • Communications and training plan completed to support implementation of the Keep Them Safe reforms.
  • Planning workshop on Regional Intake and Referral Services
  • Establishment of Keep Them Safe website.

Key Upcoming Milestones

September 2009

  • Regional engagement tour for senior managers from government and non-government justice and human services to discuss the impact of the reforms on mandatory reporters, their agencies and communities led by Minister Burney (4 Sept – 16 Oct)
  • The Family Case Management project trials commence, designed to achieve better case management coordination
  • Issue tender for Regional Intake and Referral Services (issued 14 September on the Government's e-tender website: www.tenders.nsw.gov.au/health - RFT reference number DOH 09/20).

October 2009

  • Proclamation of the new legislative provisions on information exchange
  • Child Wellbeing Units will be established to begin testing the new threshold tool and trialling new systems.
  • Mass briefings commence in preparation for the new statutory reporting threshold - risk of significant harm – which takes effect in 2010.

January 2010

  • The majority of new legislation – including the new risk of significant harm reporting threshold – commences in late January 2010
  • The Regional Intake and Referral Service trial commences in three locations (metro and rural/regional) in January 2010
  • Roll-out of new services commences.

Implementation Timeline


Funding

A $750 million Keep Them Safe funding package was announced by the Premier when he handed down the 2009-10 NSW State Budget on 16 June 2009. 

Significantly, more than 40% of the funding package will go to non-government organisations over the next four years, reflecting the additional involvement and responsibilities they will assume under Keep Them Safe. More details of the funding package can be found here.

The relevant media release and the Department of Community Services Budget Papers from the 2009/10 State Budget can be found here.


Child Wellbeing Units

Child Wellbeing Units, or CWUs, will be established in the four major Government agencies who currently make over 60% of all reports to the Community Services Helpline: NSW Health, NSW Police, the Department of Education and Training, and the Department of Human Services, covering staff employed in the areas of Juvenile Justice, Housing and Ageing, Disability and Home Care.

It will be the CWU's job to advise mandatory reporters in these government agencies whether a case meets the new threshold of risk of significant harm and should be reported to the Community Services Helpline. For cases that dont meet the threshold, CWUs will be able to identify alternative local responses or guide referrals to other services that may assist the family.

The CWUs will commence operation in October 2009 for a trial and testing period, including cross-agency staff training. The Child Wellbeing Units will become fully operational in early 2010. 


Regional Intake and Referral Services

New Regional Intake and Referral Services (RIRS) are help hubs, able to put families in touch with appropriate services in the local area. They will be run by non-government organisations with NSW Health overseeing the project.

RIRS will identify the needs of vulnerable children below the statutory reporting threshold and their families and make referrals to support services in the local community. 

Planning is underway to set up 12 month trials in three areas (metropolitan and rural/remote) in early 2010. One of the trials will focus on Aboriginal specific services. Two different models will be trialed a basic advice service and a model with a greater capacity to conduct more active referrals. Discussions with stakeholders are currently underway.


Who reports to the helpline and how do they report?

Until the new threshold of risk of significant harm comes into effect in 2010, all reports about children and young people should go to the Community Services Helpline, by calling 132 111.

After end January 2010

When the new threshold of risk of significant harm comes into effect:

  • mandatory reporters employed in Government agencies that have a Child Wellbeing Unit (CWU) in their agency can call their CWU for help in identifying whether a case meets the new threshold of risk of significant harm;
  • mandatory reporters employed by non-government organisations or by Government agencies without a CWU will still report matters where they believe a child is at risk of significant harm to the Community Services Helpline;
  • the general public will continue to make reports to the Community Services Helpline by calling 132 111.

New Guidance for Reporting a Child or Young Person at Risk

New Mandatory Reporter Guidance is being developed by Community Services in partnership with Government agencies, mandatory reporters and non-government organisations (NGOs) to help front-line mandatory reporters such as police officers, teachers, nurses, social workers and non government service providers to determine whether a case meets the new threshold.

The guidance will be available for testing by the Child Wellbeing Units in October 2009. A final version of the Guidance will be available on the KTS website prior to proclamtion of the new threshold.


Working Together

Meanwhile, the shared responsibility for child wellbeing inherent in Keep Them Safe means the child wellbeing net is stretching more broadly than ever before. Already we are moving to ensure child wellbeing really is everybodys business. The CREATE Foundation and the Youth Action and Policy Association of NSW held an initial consultation forum with young people on July 15, with further consultations to take place later in the year. DPC also convened a second Aboriginal stakeholder forum on 6 August, following on from an earlier forum in February.

Non-government Peaks are also providing valuable direct input into key aspects of the implementation of Keep Them Safe. Already Peak organisations have had significant involvement in the development of a whole-of-Government training and change management strategy and the policy definition for significant harm, which forms the basis of the new statutory threshold. Three key consultation forums working with the Government to implement the reform agenda include the Child Protection Advisory Group, chaired by Minister Burney; the Service System Advisory Group and the Community and Carers Advisory Group. Minutes and agenda papers for each of these groups can be found here.

Peak organisations across the community services sector and unions are represented on these advisory groups, providing their non-government members a way to comment on the implementation of Keep Them Safe.


Keep Them Safe Spotlight

In each newsletter we will examine a particular area of the Keep Them Safe reforms in greater detail. This edition looks at information sharing between Government agencies and NGOs.

Information Sharing

Information exchange provisions in the amended Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 clearly prioritise the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the child or young person over an individual's right to privacy. These changes have the full support of the Privacy Commissioner.

The amended legislation enables agencies to share relevant information and requires them to co-ordinate with other organisations in promoting the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the child or young person.  NGOs working with children are covered by the new legislation.  

The information to be shared must relate to the safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child or young person or class of children or young people.

Where there are inconsistencies with existing privacy legislation, the new provisions in chapter 16A in the legislation will apply.

The information exchange provisions are expected to be proclaimed in late October 2009 to support the early operation of the Child Wellbeing Units. Work has commenced on developing guidelines to support these changes, in preparation for proclamation.

Getting a copy of Keep Them Safe

The best way to access a copy of Keep Them Safe is through the Department of Premier and Cabinet website at www.dpc.nsw.gov.au, or through the Community Services website at www.community.nsw.gov.au.


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