STUART GRIMLEY MP

Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Commission for Children and Young People Report 2020-2021

I rise to speak on the Commission for Children and Young People’s 2020–21 annual report. There were an incredible number of interesting things to come out of this report, but I only have a few minutes, so I will restrict myself to what I see as the most important or urgent. Firstly, I congratulate the commissioner on her excellent work in holding the government and its departments accountable for their role in child protection, or lack thereof in many cases. Among their work in recent times the commission has conducted three systemic inquiries, Keep Caring, Out of Sight, and Our Youth, Our Way. Importantly, the commission also completed 41 child death inquiries, examining the circumstances surrounding the death of any Victorian child with child protection involvement in the preceding 12 months. They also continued to enforce and educate on the child safe standards, a topic which was debated relatively recently in this place—about increasing these standards, which I was proud to support. The reportable conduct scheme administered by the commission has continued to grow. Among the many findings of the scheme were the following: around a third of the allegations were substantiated. For the first time the most common allegation type in all schools has been sexual misconduct, at 40 per cent. Interestingly, physical violence was the largest category of reportable allegations for females, at 52 per cent. Sexual misconduct and sexual offences accounted for 46 per cent of men’s reportable offences. Disappointingly only 130 out of the 1932 reports made to police since 2017 resulted in police laying charges. Note that this is not a conviction; it is just the laying of charges. Of particular concern to me is that sexual offences allegations reported to the commission have gone from zero in both 2017– 18 and 2018–19 to seven in 2019–20 and 11 in 2020–21. The commission noted a current legislative restriction on information sharing. This prevents the Department of Justice and Community Safety from notifying the commission of the outcome of working with children check assessments following a substantiated finding of reportable conduct. In the commission’s review of the administration of the Working with Children Act 2005, the commission recommended that the Victorian government amend the act to enable the DJCS to share information with the commission on the outcomes of these assessments. I would ask the government: why has this not been done? It seems like a very simple fix to me and would clearly allow for less red tape and more child safety. In terms of child protection, I read some very sobering statistics in this report, including that children whose cases were reviewed through the commission’s child death inquiries had been the subject of on average more than three reports to child protection. Fifteen children or 37 per cent had been the subject of between two and four reports, and one child had been the subject of 29 reports to child protection. This is just disgraceful. I know it is more complex than this, but it seems that children can be at much higher risk in their own parents’ care than in out-of-home care. In 2020–21 six children died in out-of-home care; two were in foster care and four were in kinship care. Of those in kinship care, two were Indigenous. Yet there were 100 children who died in the same time frame notified to the commission. Of interest to me, given my pursuit of the new offence of family violence in the presence of a child, I was shocked to see the joint inquiry into six child deaths found that all six had family violence aspects, yet in only one case was a specialist violence practitioner involved or called upon. My colleague Ms Maxwell will talk more about using custody, but I will commend the government in responding to the very serious youth justice issues that were occurring just a few years ago. One thing, though, in relation to youth custody is the proportion of African youths in custody. As I understand it, for the first time ever youths of African descent have overtaken non-Indigenous Australian kids in youth prisons at a hugely disproportionate rate of 38 per cent compared to 28 per cent of the whole prison population respectively. Whilst we had the government showing off their strategy to reduce Indigenous kids in custody, we heard silence on the African kids, who are vastly more over-represented. Why? Clearly there are failures to engage African kids properly or find solutions to their criminality. More importantly, there is clearly not enough attention being paid to early intervention strategies for African families. One solution is the City to Country project, and this is the rebrand of the Great South Coast Economic Migration project run by Carly Jordan, which resettles African families to regional areas, particularly Hamilton and Casterton. I think we should be expanding these programs sooner rather than later. Whatever the solutions, clearly the government needs to act. The commission wrote to the state government in September 2020 to address this problem, but we have heard nothing. So I strongly encourage the state government to recognise this as an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.

STUART GRIMLEY MP

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