The Commissioner for Children recently spoke on local radio about what’s on the agenda for his office in 2016. Listen to the interview by clicking on the play button above.
The Commissioner for Children has called for independent external monitoring and accreditation against minimum standards for Tasmanian foster carers and other out-of-home care providers. Read more here: Foster care reform proposed
To better address the growing costs of adult mental illness on our health system, we must refocus on addressing infant, child and adolescent mental health. The report of the second national survey of children and adolescents’ mental health and wellbeing was released during the last quarter of 2015. The prevalence of mental health problems in children and adolescents remains high: In 2000, the first national survey of child and adolescent mental health found that 14% of Australian children and adolescents met the criteria for having a mental health problem. In Tasmania, this is equivalent to 16,850 children and young people aged 0-18. The findings from the second national survey show that the overall prevalence has not changed, with approximately one in seven children and young people experiencing a mental disorder in the past year. Mental ill health affects almost every aspect of society and the economy and represents a significant public health challenge, however to date we have not been effective in reducing the prevalence of mental health problems. The costs associated with mental illness continue to grow significantly. Evidence shows that we must increasingly focus our resources and interventions on childhood and adolescence. Chronic mental disorders typically have their onset during this critical developmental period. For example, 50% of all mental disorders develop before age 14, and 75% before age 24. Once established, child and adolescent mental health disorders often have a long-term adverse impact in a broad range of areas. For example, children’s success in gaining a quality education is often determined by the state of their mental health. Early onset mental health disorders are associated with reduced functioning at school, non-attendance, and early termination of education which can in turn have dire consequences for economic and social functioning into adulthood. It is widely acknowledged that early intervention and prevention during childhood and adolescence is the most effective way to address mental health issues. Whilst we of course must continue to meet the needs of the acutely and chronically unwell, it is increasingly clear that we need to strengthen investment in early intervention and prevention. Addressing mental health issues early in life is one strategy that we know with confidence makes the biggest difference in better addressing mental health across the life course. It’s good for the individual, it’s good for the community –it’s also very good for the economy. Download the REPORT ON THE SECOND AUSTRALIAN CHILD AND ADOLESCENT SURVEY OF MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING
SPEECH BY MR MARK MORRISSEY, COMMISSIONER FOR CHILDREN AT THE LAUNCH OF THE UNITING CHURCH, SYNOD OF VICTORIA AND TASMANIA’S KEEPING CHILDREN SAFE POLICY GA WOOD HALL, SCOTS UNITING CHURCH, 29 BATHURST ST, HOBART FRIDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2015 I would like to begin by offering my sincere thanks to the Uniting Church’s Synod of Victoria and Tasmania for inviting me to speak at the Tasmanian launch of its Keeping Children Safe Policy. Intro As Commissioner for Children, one of my key functions is to increase community awareness of matters relating to the rights and wellbeing of Tasmanian children and young people. My office works from a child rights perspective. This means our work is informed by the principles contained in the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights conventions. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular, sets out the rights that are essential to the promotion and protection of children’s interests and wellbeing. By wellbeing, I am talking about children’s care, development, education, health and safety. The Convention recognises that children have the same rights as adults, but that they need additional protections because of their vulnerability. So, for example, children have the right to be safe from harm no matter where they are, and adults have an obligation to ensure their care and protection (Articles 19 and 34). Also of relevance is Article 3, which requires that in all actions concerning children, their best interests must be a primary consideration. I will talk further on children’s rights – particularly the child’s right to have a say in decisions that affect them – in a moment. Child Abuse in Organisational Settings The work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has highlighted the issue of child sexual abuse in institutions, including in churches, and has emphasised the need for work to be done to strengthen our approaches to keeping children safe from all forms of abuse. When a child is abused in an organisational setting – or where an organisation fails to respond appropriately to a child’s abuse – the impact can be devastating, and life-long. We also know that it can take many years for a victim to disclose abuse. Child abuse affects the entire community. It breaches the trust we place in organisations that care for, or provide services for our children. While many of the institutions examined by the Royal Commission in its case studies no longer exist, we cannot reassure ourselves that the abuse of children within organisational settings is a thing of the past. The risk of child abuse remains a contemporary issue. Organisations have a responsibility to actively ensure that their policies, procedures and, especially, their culture promote children’s rights and wellbeing, and to protect them from all forms of abuse. In a submission to the Royal Commission, the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians identified three key elements of a Child Safe Organisation…. A child safe organisation consciously and systematically takes steps to: reduce the likelihood of harm occurring; increase the likelihood that harm is discovered if something does happen; and respond appropriately to any disclosures or suspicions of harm. In short, a child safe organisation places children at its centre. As many of you would be aware, my office has, and continues to have, a strong focus on promoting child safety in Tasmanian organisations. In April, we ran forums in Hobart and Launceston for organisations that work with children and young people. During the first half of this year we undertook extensive consultations with children and young people about what safety means to them. In September, we published a report of our work called Strengthening Child Safe Organisations in Tasmania. The report explores key themes which arose during our forums and consultations; and contains a number of findings. Our findings include that: Children and young people want adults to listen to them more. Children require more direct and open information about abuse in the context of organisations. Many children still believe that the greatest risk to their safety comes from strangers. But we know that this is not the case. Many children are not well prepared, empowered or educated to adequately report abuse. Many children identify shame, fear and a sense of self responsibility as reasons why they would not disclose abuse. Organisational culture is a key factor in ensuring an organisation is truly child-safe. Without a culture that values, informs and empowers children and openly prioritises their safety, policy cannot be effective. Children’s Participation I would like today to emphasise the importance of listening to children. A large part of my work as Commissioner for Children is to promote and empower the participation of children and young people in decision-making. The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises that children have a right to have a say in decisions that affect them and for their views to be taken into account. This right is also known as the “Right to be Heard” or, the “Right to Participate”. This right is one of the 4 ‘key principles’ of the Convention – It is fundamental to the fulfilment of other child rights. It has been described by the National Children’s Commissioner as a ‘gateway right’. Safeguarding children means having a strong focus on listening to them, providing them with relevant information, helping them to raise concerns and taking them seriously if they do speak out. In my discussions with children, they frequently tell me that they want adults to listen to them more, and to take what they say more seriously. As one young person so beautifully put it, “We know what young people think – as we are young people. We are the experts at what it’s like to be a young person, not adults.” Children also tell me that adults can do more to teach them about abuse so that they are better equipped to recognise abuse or inappropriate behaviour and speak out if they have concerns. Children also want to be more involved in conversations about how organisations protect their safety. In a recent report of consultations with children for the Royal Commission undertaken by the Institute of Child Protection Studies, one of the key findings was that children and young people often hear about threats to their safety but don’t actually know what is being done to protect them. Children often feel that they experience fear unnecessarily. Children need adults to tell them about what is being done to protect them in order to reduce their fears. Secrecy about this issue does children no favours. The Keeping Children Safe Policy The Keeping Children Safe Policy recognises the importance of promoting children’s participation in decisions that affect them and commits the Church to listening and acting upon concerns raised by them. The Policy emphasises the importance of developing and maintaining a culture of openness and awareness about the issue of abuse. It includes a Code of Conduct which sets out clear and unambiguous expectations of the behaviour of everyone associated with the Church. Clear instruction on the recruitment and training of safe and trustworthy staff and volunteers is provided, and the policy outlines comprehensive guidelines on appropriate responses to disclosures or suspicions of harm. Significantly, the policy provides implementation strategies and emphasises the importance of a culture that places children’s safety and needs at its centre. I commend the work that the Synod has done to strengthen its approach to keeping children safe. By this policy, the Church has made a clear and public commitment to actively protecting children from physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse or neglect. It is to the Church’s credit that it is openly demonstrating strong leadership on the issue of child safeguarding. It is so important that we keep this discussion alive and that we continue to promote awareness of the fact that we all – both individually and collectively – have a part to play in keeping children safe from abuse.
Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) Meeting Communiqué Canberra: 25th – 26th November 2015 The purpose of the Australian Children’s Commissioners & Guardians (ACCG) group is to strengthen the quality and effectiveness of strategic advocacy to promote and protect the safety, wellbeing and rights of children and young people in Australia, particularly the most vulnerable or disadvantaged. Welcome Aunty Violet Sheridan welcomed to country all ACCG participants. The ACCG welcomed Colin Pettit as the newly appointed Western Australia Commissioner for Children & Young People. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Staff from the Royal Commission attended the meeting to seek advice from the ACCG about the design and implementation of principles and elements for child safe organisations. Issues discussed included: the regulation and monitoring of child safe practice; benefits of binding versus non-binding child safety frameworks; and the unintended consequences of expanding mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect. Commonwealth Children’s eSafety Commissioner The Commonwealth Children’s eSafety Commissioner, Alastair MacGibbon, attended the meeting to discuss issues of common interest, including: mechanisms to allow the eSafety Commissioner to engage more effectively with children and young people, particularly those in care; information sharing between eSafety Commissioner and child protection services; and how the ACCG can promote the work of the eSafety Commissioner within jurisdictions. Countering Violent Extremism The ACCG discussed recent developments in law and policy across the country with regard to countering violent extremism and the radicalisation of children and young people. The ACCG noted the importance of engaging directly with children and young people about this issue, and the need to listen to and learn from their perspectives. Child Safe Organisations The Office of the Tasmanian Commissioner for Children has produced a short film featuring children and young people talking about child safety in organisations which is available from their website (http://www.childcomm.tas.gov.au). The ACCG recommends the film as a useful introduction to child safe practice within organisations, and the views of children and young people about the topic. Passports for Children & Young People in Care The ACCG discussed the difficulties experienced by children and young people in care, in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, who do not have a birth certificate or other acceptable proof of identity when seeking a passport. The ACCG will continue to advocate for a resolution to this issue. Overseas Surrogacy Following the May meeting of the ACCG, the ACCG wrote to the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, supporting the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs’ enquiry into the regulatory and legislative aspects of surrogacy arrangements, and encouraging the Standing Committee to prioritise the rights and bests interests of children. The ACCG will continue to monitor this issue. Behaviour Management in Australian Youth Justice Facilities The ACCG considered a draft report on the use of restraint, seclusion, segregation and strip-searching in Australian youth justice facilities prepared by the office of the Western Australian Commissioner for Children People and the office of the ACT Children & Young People Commissioner. The ACCG agreed to finalise the paper for release in early 2016. Don Dale Youth Detention Centre The Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner tabled her report on the outcomes of her investigation into services provided by the Department of Correctional Services at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. The ACCG welcomed the report, and will receive an update on the implementation of the report’s recommendations at the May ACCG meeting. ACCG Model Charter of Rights for Children & Young People Detained in Youth Justice Facilities The ACCG discussed implementation of the Model Charter of Rights within each jurisdiction. The South Australian Guardian for Children & Young People tabled a summary of the outcomes of her consultation with residents of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre and other stakeholders about the Model Charter, and reported that the Lower House of the South Australian Parliament recently passed a Bill that enshrines a Charter of Rights for children and young people in detention. Children & Young People at Risk of Disengagement from School The Western Australian Commissioner for Children & Young People tabled his literature review on children and young people at risk of disengagement from school. The ACCG welcomed the review, and discussed the need for an evaluation of the effectiveness of alternative education programs. The ACCG will discuss this issue further at the May ACCG meeting. Next Meeting The next meeting of the ACCG will be in Brisbane in May 2016.
Young Tasmanians talk candidly about what a child safe organisation means to them…Children have the right to be safe and feel safe where ever they are. A child safe organisation aims to keep children safe from all kinds of abuse.
Level 1, 119 Macquarie St.
Hobart, TAS 7000
Telephone: (03) 6233 4520
Country Freecall: 1300 362 065
Fax: (03) 6233 4515
Concerned about the current safety of a child or young person?
Contact Child Protection Services on 1300 737 639, or use their online form:Child Protection Notification Form