Case Study 24: Hearing room updates

The Royal Commission is holding a public hearing in Sydney to inquire into the principles, practices and procedures involved in Out of Home Care.  Read more


Update 61
Wednesday 18 March 2015 – Day 7

Case Study 24 into out of home care continued in Sydney today with the final non-government panel giving evidence about the systems, policies, practices and procedures for supporting children who have been sexually abused in out-of-home care.

The five-member panel comprised Mr Paul McDonald, Chief Executive Officer of Anglicare Victoria, Ms Sandie de Wolf, Chief Executive Officer of Berry Street, Mr Stephen Walkerden, General Manager United Protestant Association, Ms Connie Salamone, Director Strategy and Services VACCA and Ms Karen Larkman, General Manager Family & Community, CatholicCare Sydney.

Ms Larkman told the Royal Commission that based on her 15-years of experience working in the United Kingdom, the training and oversight of foster carers in Australia falls behind standards in the UK.

Ms Larkman said while there is an expectation all foster carers attend five training sessions a year there are always a number who don't attend. “I think it would be useful as a sector as a whole if we had mandatory training.”

She also said there are possible conflicts in the panels that are used in out-of-home care to approve foster carers.

“I think the panels here could be far more robust than they are and far more oversight in panels when foster carers are assessed.

She said it is often the case that a foster carer assessment panel is made up of the same agency people who have recommended a candidate be approved to work as a foster carer.

“The panel, more often than not, is an agency panel, so for me it's a bit of a conflict of interest, because agencies are assessing foster carers and then they are providing a panel that approves the foster carers.”

Ms Larkman said she would like to see multi-agency panels made up of health, education, mental health and other experts to determine the suitability of proposed foster carers.

Connie Salamone, Director Strategy and Services form the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency said understanding child sexual assault within an Aboriginal context requires an understanding of significant cultural issues and intergenerational trauma.

“It would be important to be looking at child sexual assault counselling services that really have a very strong Indigenous focus, run by Indigenous organisations, for example.

Ms Salamone told the Commission there are currently no such services.

“So we would have counsellors through our clinicians to do some individual work with children, but it is not a service set up as such. So, for me, that's a critical gap in our service system,” she said.

The Commission heard last week there are more than 50,000 children in out-of-home care in Australia with at least half of these in foster care.

The out of home care hearing has now concluded.  The Royal Commission will issue a consultation paper later in the year.  It will seek submissions in response from interested parties into the direction of its final recommendations for out-of-home care in Australia.


Update 60
Monday 16 March 2015 – Day 5

Case study 24 continued in Sydney today, with three senior bureaucrats with responsibility for out-of-home care in NSW, Victoria and Queensland giving evidence about the third of the five issues identified by the Royal Commission for examination in this hearing: systems policies, practices and procedures for reporting allegations of child sexual abuse in out-of-home care.

Senior Counsel Assisting Gail Furness told the Royal Commission there are different legislative requirements, practices and procedures in each state and territory for the reporting and recording of allegations of child sexual abuse.

Ms Furness told the Commission “When asked for their view as to the merits of a nationally consistent approach, non-government agencies were generally supportive. The perceived benefits included nationally consistent definitions, comparable and standardised data, the ability to share information, and the creation of equity in outcomes for children in different jurisdictions.”

Ms Furness said government responses to this proposal were more mixed, with disadvantages identified such as the need for considerable action and commitment to reach agreement, significant required amendments to legislative frameworks, data management and information technology systems.  This, it was said, might have significant resource and cost implications and it may well not improve outcomes for children.

The Queensland Government in this hearing for the first time today.  It was represented by Ms Cathy Taylor, Deputy Director of the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Queensland.

Ms Taylor told the Commission that following the Forde Inquiry into the abuse of children in Queensland institutions in 1999 the provision of out-of-home care in Queensland has been progressively transferred from the government to non-government organisations. This was due, she said, to the non-government organisations having expertise, good practice and their provision of good levels of support to carers and children alike.

She said Queensland is different to other jurisdictions in that there are greater numbers of children in out-of-home care in rural and regional centres. Of the State’s seven regions, Brisbane has the lowest number of children in care.

This presents challenges, particularly in service delivery model and attracting and retaining qualified staff in rural and regional areas.

During the afternoon, the non-government panel looking at issue three took to the stand.  The panel once again included Micaela Cronin, CEO of Mackillop Family Services, who gave evidence with representatives from Life Without Borders and Wesley Mission Victoria.

Ms Cronin told the Commission that in Victoria, when an allegation of sexual abuse of a child in out-of-home care is received, it is reported to the department, and in consultation with the department, to the police.  The first priority however is the safety of the child concerned.

She explained that incident reports record primary information about each allegation received.  She told the Commission that Mackillop is trying to become more proactive instead of reactive about the risks children face in out-of-home care.

Data regarding allegations of abuse in out-of-home care indicated that children were vulnerable to child on child abuse and also child sexual exploitation.  Ms Cronin told the Commission that Mackillop is very aware of these risks, and considered them when making placement decisions.  Strategies were also in place to address child sexual exploitation.

“There has been significant partnership with the department and the police around what we can do in terms of information staff can proactively gather, and sharing that, gathering as much information proactively as they can, sharing that information and working actively with the police around disrupting that activity.”

Ms Cronin discussed the ways that Mackillop is working to ensure a culture in which children in care feel they are able to disclose abuse.  “You have to think of a whole range of ways and people for children to speak to … a whole range of ways that we can encourage children and young people but also hear about what's going on, on the ground, and we've been supportive of the community visitor programs, which is another avenue for ensuring that there are a range of trusted adults who the children will have access to for speaking about their experiences.”

The hearing continues tomorrow to consider issue four: Systems, policies, practices and procedures for responding to allegations of child sexual abuse in out-of-home care.

Catholic Care Sydney, which provides out-of-home care in Sydney will be represented on the NGO panel for issue five later this week.


Update 59
Wednesday 11 March 2015 – Day 2

Case study 24 continued in Sydney today with four senior bureaucrats with responsibility for out-of-home care from NSW, NT, SA, Tasmania and Victoria continuing their evidence about policies for the recruitment, assessment and training of foster and kinship carers and staff in residential care.

Simone Jackson, the acting Executive Director of Out-Of-Home-Care in the Northern Territory said staffing levels for out-of-home care services are a concern.  She told the Commission that in the two jurisdictions in which she had worked there could sometimes be a deficit of up to forty per cent in staffing numbers in the sector.

"If people aren't invested, or there for long enough, you can't build a relationship that is meaningful," she said.

Tony Kemp, Deputy Secretary of Tasmania's Human Services Department, said the well-established theory that staff should spend eighty per cent of their time with children and twenty per cent attending to administration had been reversed in recent times.

"It has been an over-engineered, over-proceduralised process whereby workers spend more and more time driving desks than actually visiting and seeing children," he said.

Following the government representatives, Micaela Cronin, CEO of Mackillop Family Services along with Claire Robbs, CEO of Life Without Barriers and Connie Salamone, Director of Strategy and Services for the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency gave evidence on the same issues.

Ms Cronin told the Royal Commission that Mackillop Family services had been established in 1997 as an amalgamation of seven out-of-home care services previously operated in Victoria by the Sisters of Mercy, the Christian Brothers and Sisters of St Joseph.

She said Mackillop currently employs the ‘Sanctuary’ model of out-of-home care, which focuses on the organisation providing a trauma-informed approach to the case management of individual children in their care.

Ms Cronin said there were a number of key reasons to shifting to the Sanctuary model three years ago including reducing staff turnover, staff engagement and understanding of trauma informed practice and reduction in the number of particularly restraints of clients.

When asked about the impact of the new model on children Ms Cronin responded that while it is too early to tell “the assumption is that if we have a more trauma-informed workforce who are more stable and engaged, then that will lead to greater outcomes and better improved outcomes for young people”.

Ms Cronin acknowledged that ‘child-on-child’ abuse is a serious issue in out-of-home care, and that assessment and planning processes for placement of children, with a trauma-informed response to the changing needs each of the children in out-of-home care is an ideal to which providers aspire.

Ms Cronin said recognising that all children who enter the out-of-home care system have suffered trauma, Mackillop Family Services is working to ensure they all receive the same assessment and matching to appropriate carers and programs to ensure the best possible individual outcome.

When asked to suggest areas for improvement in the sector, she said “I think one of the things we need to keep improving on is hearing the voice of the child… these are very traumatised children who often have experience of being disbelieved and punished for talking about their experiences.  So how we embed processes that encourage them to speak and ensure that we are hearing their stories is a key strategy that we need to do more work on”.

The hearing will move on tomorrow to consider issues involved in the monitoring of children in out-of-home care.

The next involvement in the hearing from a Catholic provider will be on Monday 16 March.


Update 58
Tuesday 10 March 2015 – Day 1

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse commenced Case Study 24 in Sydney this morning, examining policies, practices and procedures for the prevention of child sexual abuse in out-of-home care and responses to allegations of child sexual abuse occurring in out-of-home care.

The hearing is specifically looking into strategies for the prevention of child sexual abuse in contemporary out-of-home care settings, including recruitment, assessment and training of carers and the care, monitoring and oversight of children.

It is also looking into systems and policies for reporting and responding to allegations and also supporting children who have been sexually abused in out-of-home care.

This is the Royal Commission's first policy-focused public hearing. The Commission will not be hearing directly from survivors who have been abused in out-of-home care. Instead, the Commission is using narratives to provide context for the issues it is considering.

The Royal Commission will hear evidence concurrently from a range of expert witnesses with experience in the sector nationally. These include representatives from each of the state and territory governments as well as non-government out-of-home care providers, including the Catholic Church’s Mary MacKillop Family Services, Marymead Child and Family Services and CatholicCare Sydney.

In her opening statement, Senior Counsel Assisting, Gail Furness told the Royal Commission valid national data about children in out-of-home care, and particularly children who have been sexually abused, is not readily available.

Ms Furness said, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there were 43,000 children in out-of-home care as at 30 June 2014, with a national average of 6.1 children in care for every 1000 children aged up to 17 in the general population.

She went on to tell the Commission that there is no national body that collects statistics on children who have suffered sexual abuse while in out-of-home care. Indigenous children were nine times more likely to be in care than non-Indigenous children.

Of the 3000 survivors of child sexual abuse who have spoken to the Commission during private sessions to date, out-of-home care represented more than 40 per cent of all institutions named, with much of this being related to historic cases in the 1950s and 1960s.

She said a review of studies which focused on child abuse in contemporary out-of-home care settings had found it is likely child-to-child abuse is currently more prevalent than abuse by carers or other adults.

“The major focus of preventing child sexual abuse in out of home care should be on efforts to prevent child-to-child sexual abuse rather than caregiver child sexual abuse, since this type of abuse likely represents the vast majority of observed child sexual abuse in out of home care,” she said.

Ms Furness noted that there is no national body that collects statistics on children who have suffered sexual abuse while in out-of-home care.

She said the Commission had requested specific information on child sexual abuse in out-of-home care from state and territories as well as the 13 non-government providers of out-of-home care represented at the hearing. This revealed in the two years to 30 June 2014, there were 2,683 reports of abuse from government providers and 956 reports from non-government organisations.

Ms Furness said this data contains ‘many limitations’, including the very real possibility of double counting and the fact that information had only come from selected non-government organisations providing out-ofhome care, rather than all providers.

Following Ms Furness’ opening statement the Royal Commission heard from senior public servants with responsibility for out-of-home care from NSW, NT, SA, Tasmania and Victoria, who gave evidence about the way in which these jurisdictions undertake the recruitment, assessment and training of foster and kinship carers and staff in residential care.

Tomorrow the Royal Commission will hear evidnce from three non-government organisations on thses issues, including Ms Micaela Cronin, CEO of MacKillop Family Services.

Unlike previous case studies, there will be no findings made following this hearing. Rather, evidence gathered during the hearing will be used by the Royal Commission to formulate an issues paper on out-ofhome care, to be released for responses following the hearing.

Case study 24 is listed to continue until 20 March. 

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The Council concluded its work on 30 April 2018 and is no longer distributing any material about its work.