Putting children first and providing earlier support for vulnerable families is at the heart of tough new child protection laws which came into effect in Victoria this week, Member for Western Victoria, Gayle Tierney said.
Ms. Tierney marked the start of the Children, Youth and Families Act, saying the new legislation was the result of the first overhaul of child protection laws in a generation.
“The Bracks Government believes every child has the right to live a full and productive life in an environment that builds confidence, security and happiness, irrespective of their family circumstances and background,” Ms. Tierney said.
“Child protection will now be guided by the ‘best interest’s principle’, which says children should continue to be protected from harm and neglect, but also live in an environment that meets their development needs.
“By putting children first, we give them every chance of growing into strong, happy health members of our community.”
Ms. Tierney said the major features of the reforms were:
• A major funding boost to family services and new local referral teams to support more vulnerable families and make it easier for people to access available services;
• A tougher response to child neglect as well as child abuse, including the accumulation of repeat notifications; and
• New maximum timeframes to assess chances for children in out of home care to be reunited with their family or recommend alternative long-term living arrangements to the courts.
“The new legislation requires child welfare professionals to be more attuned to the cumulative impact of harmful events and experiences on a child’s development and wellbeing, and to act earlier,” Ms. Tierney said.
“The 2006-07 State Budget provided a major funding boost to family support services to help more families stay living together.
“This increased support is the main emphasis of the reforms and should a child require out of home care, the first goal will be to help the family re-unite.
“If however, a family is unable to make the changes necessary to provide a child with a stable living environment within new maximum timeframes, we will recommend to the Children’s Court that alternative arrangements be made.”
Maximum time frames for assessing a parent’s capacity to provide a stable environment for their children are: 12 months for a child under 2 years; 18 months for children under 7 years; and two years within a three year period for a child aged 7 years or older.
Ms. Tierney said the new laws also created Child Family Information, Referral and Support Team (FIRST) teams to help struggling families get support more quickly.
Nine Child FIRST teams began operating this week, including the Colac-Otway, Corangamite Child FIRST providing services for the Colac Health areas.
“This will involve family and community services and child protection working closely together to meet the best interests of each child,” Ms. Tierney said.
“Child FIRST will take referrals from concerned professionals and community members and assess what the family needs.
“They will then link them into the best available local services such as maternal and child health services, mothers’ groups, parent support groups or mental health, drug or alcohol counselling services as required.
“If a family has more pressing needs, the service may offer temporary support while a long-term plan is developed with local agencies.”
Other key reforms include:
• A Victorian Carers list to be established so that approved foster carers and employees of agencies are registered centrally;
• Promotion of more culturally appropriate service responses to better maintain Aboriginal children’s connection to their culture, family and community.
“These new laws will help us to ensure that the most vulnerable children and young people in Victoria get the best possible start in life,” Ms. Tierney said.