Towards a successor for the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children

I am pleased to release Families Australia’s report on national consultations about the successor to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 and to provide an update on next steps in developing the next framework.

National consultations

During 2019-2020, Families Australia consulted around 800 people from the government, non-government and research sectors as well as carers, young people, parents and community groups, about next steps for the National Framework. Thank you to all those who participated and supported this undertaking.

We found a resounding consensus that the successor to the National Framework must drive real change …

At the highest level, we found a resounding consensus that the successor to the National Framework must drive real change by galvanising collective effort across governments, sectors and disciplines in actions that evidence tells us will prevent children, young people and families entering child protection systems, over time.

Participants told us that the next framework must be long-term, practical and achievable, intensify preventive approaches, prioritise the voices of children and young people in policy and program design and implementation, emphasise activities that support key cohorts, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, and strengthen data and evaluation. It is pleasing to see that the National Agreement on Closing the Gap now includes a target and outcome that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not over-represented in the child protection system.

Our report identified six priority or thematic areas for future national policy.

  • First, the next framework should be a long-term, measurable, aspirational and achievable plan for child wellbeing and safety. It should contain tangible desired outcomes, targets and timeframes and be based on a coherent narrative that is positively framed around a comprehensive view of children’s lives that includes but is not limited to safety and protection, and which emphasises prevention. Many participants argued strongly that the next plan must identify and track high level outcomes which align with, and are driven through, existing allied national policies in areas such as education, youth, health and housing, and related initiatives, including the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2012-2022.
  • Second, the next framework should strengthen prevention and early support under a public health approach, focusing especially on families with the greatest level of multiple and complex needs, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cohorts. It should also strengthen investment in infrastructure that supports placed-based approaches/initiatives.
  • Third, many participants argued that the successor to the National Framework should prioritise the voices of children, young people and families, and work to enhance how the community values children and childhood. This could be done, for example, by including a young people’s advisory group, promoting greater community awareness about the importance and broader welfare of children, and actively engaging parents in policy design and implementation.
  • Fourth, the successor framework should intensify the focus on priority cohorts by strengthening efforts to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children by implementing Aboriginal-led solutions, making more effort to improve outcomes for young people transitioning from out-of-home care to independent adulthood, including those who become young parents, and better responding to the needs of carers, especially young people who are kinship carers.
  • Fifth, there were strong calls for improved data, evaluation and reporting, specifically through better data sharing across governments and between government and NGOs, identifying data development priorities, and taking advantage of data linkage capability to track progress against agreed outcomes and indicators across multiple domains, including health, education, employment, housing and homelessness.
  • Finally, our consultations found strong support for the continued ‘tripartite’ approach to the National Framework, that is, a close and ongoing collaboration between the NGO/research sectors, the Commonwealth Government and State/Territory Governments. There was also strong support for broadening representation around the National Framework and the National Forum for Protecting Australia’s Children to include other relevant portfolios, especially health, education, housing and justice, and strengthening accountability in delivering system level change.

Next steps

The Families Australia national consultation report has been presented to the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and was discussed at this week’s meeting of the National Forum for Protecting Australia’s Children.

Commonwealth, State and Territory Community Services Ministers have been discussing the successor to the National Framework. Amongst the key points of their 20 March 2020 Communique, Ministers:

  • affirmed their strong commitment to improving safety outcomes for children and families beyond the conclusion of the National Framework at the end of 2020
  • agreed that the framework should focus on issues where there would be demonstrable benefit in having a national approach. These issues could include improving protective factors with evidence-based prevention and early interventions to prevent engagement with the child protection system where possible, supporting young people who are transitioning from out-of-home care, enhancing responses to supporting young parents who may have been in care as children and young people who are now kinship carers
  • agreed that addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children overrepresentation in child protection systems, ensuring co-design and engagement with Indigenous communities, and ensuring the voice of the child is included in decision making, would be some of the key principles underpinning the development of the new framework
  • provided in-principle support to develop a new 10-year framework with two 5-year National Plans, reaffirming the importance of this framework to all levels of government, and
  • agreed to consider a collaborative response to ensure a robust evidence-based approach to supporting young people in care aged 18 to 21 as they transition to independent adulthood.

On 29 July 2020, Community Services Ministers also agreed to extend the Fourth Action Plan of the National Framework (2018-2020) by six-months to 30 June 2021 to finalise actions that are delayed due to Coronavirus, and to better align with the commencement of the National Framework successor plan – see more here. The Children and Families Secretaries Group (CAFS), which comprises senior Commonwealth, State and Territory Government officials, has also been discussing next steps for the National Framework.

Coming months will see continued discussions between governments and the National Coalition on Child Safety and Wellbeing to further develop the main suggested themes for the next framework for final consideration by Ministers. It is anticipated that further public consultations will occur later in 2020.

Dr Brian Babington
CEO, Families Australia

12 August 2020