Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth say they are “extremely concerned” by the findings of a nationwide ABC investigation that revealed children were being raped and neglected in government care.
- More than 700 people came forward as part of a nationwide ABC investigation into child protection, many making shocking allegations of abuse and neglect
- Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus says he’s “deeply concerned by the horrific cases uncovered around the country”
- He and the Social Services Minister have contacted the National Children’s Commissioner
Mr Dreyfus and Ms Rishworth said they had contacted the National Children’s Commissioner to see what action could be taken to protect children in care.
More than 700 people came forward as part of the investigation into child protection, revealing some children were at risk of more harm in care than before.
More than 200 of those were current and former child protection workers with intimate knowledge about how the system operates. Some alleged departmental misconduct and manipulation of statistics about children in care.
National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds has also reacted to the investigation, saying the system was “really struggling” with its purpose to protect children and “desperately needs reform”.
“It’s shocking how commonly one hears these stories.
“These are the most vulnerable children in this country and they’ve been removed from their families for their own safety and then unfortunately we find that they have been abused or harmed in various ways within the system that was meant to be protecting them.
“And, again, this is a sign that this system desperately needs reform.”
She has called for national leadership on the issue.
“We need to have national leadership for child wellbeing in order for children to be a national policy priority,” Ms Hollonds said.
“When it comes to specific child protection departments and systems, there needs to be very clear accountabilities that they have for ensuring the wellbeing of the children that are in their care.”
Mr Dreyfus said he had heard the commissioner’s concerns.
“I have contacted the National Children’s Commissioner and will be talking with her about her concerns and what action we can all take to protect children in care.”
Ms Rishworth said families deserved to have access to “well-integrated” services.
“The matters raised about the abuse of children in care are extremely concerning,” she said.
“I will join the Attorney-General and National Children’s Commissioner in a meeting to ensure all children in care are safe and protected.”
System causing ‘further harm’
The Assistant Minister for Indigenous Affairs, senator Malarndirri McCarthy, said she “sadly” had not been surprised by the revelations.
“I think that’s the biggest disappointment here, that this isn’t new,” she said.
“There are families across this country who have known this for a very long time. There is more that has to be done.”
She said in her new role she would investigate what could be done to protect Indigenous children.
In a statement, peak Indigenous body SNAICC said it was clear the system did not protect children, and instead “it causes further harm”.
“Governments know what the solutions are to keep children safe. But there seems to be no real will to implement them,” it said.
‘They break our hearts’: ministers respond
Tasmania’s Women and Disability Services Minister Jo Palmer said the stories were heartbreaking.
“They’re uncomfortable stories they break our hearts and we know that more work has to be done in this space.
“We have failed children. Our premier has come out and said that we know that that has happened in the past, and now we’ve got to move forward and make sure where we did fail in the past we won’t fail in the future.
“This has to be a whole-of-community effort to find these solutions, all levels of government, all parts of our community.”
New South Wales Minister for Women’s Safety, Natalie Ward, said it was “dreadful to hear these stories”.
“My heart goes out to those families,” she said.
“We will always address these issues absolutely head-on and I welcome a very thorough investigation into those allegations.
“It is important that the police do their job and that those victim-survivors are well supported in their journey.”
Asked what his newly-elected government was planning to do, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his ministers had been sworn in less than two weeks ago.
“We will deal with the range of issues we’re confronting,” he said.
“One of the things that we find, frankly, is that we inherit a trillion dollars in debt, we inherit crises in a range of areas because of neglect — in some cases wilful neglect, in other cases just incompetence.”
‘Lack of implementation’ by departments
Ms Hollonds was a child protection worker in the 1980s. She said while efforts had been made since then to try to address the needs of Indigenous children and families, the progress had been too slow.
“It’s quite shocking to me to find, 40 years later, that relatively little has changed,” she said.
“[The child protection] system is really overwhelmed because the other systems are desperately in need of reform, and by this I mean the early intervention systems.
“Struggling families, families in poverty, kids living with disadvantage — I hear from them directly that they’re unable to get the help they need when they need it, and things just escalate and become worse.”
Ms Hollonds said her office had gone through child welfare reports published over the past 10 years and found many of the 2,500 recommendations made over the decade kept recurring, pointing to the lack of implementation.
“What was remarkable about those recommendations is how often they are repeated across different reports, which really underscores the strength of the findings,” she said.
“We need to investigate what are the barriers to implementing the evidence.”
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