In Brief - The Victorian Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) has released its Annual Report for 2022 - 2023 which was tabled in parliament on 1 November 2023. The report contains a number of key updates for stakeholders who provide services to children and young people.
The CCYP is an independent statutory body that holds wide ranging functions and powers in Victoria regarding the reporting and investigation of child abuse allegations, including into child death and other inquiries and manages the Reportable Conduct Scheme. In January 2023 the CCYP received new powers to enforce Victoria's Child Safe Standards and responsibilities to monitor and support organisations to respond to allegations of misconduct and child abuse.
The Report affirms CCYP's commitment to supporting Aboriginal families and cultural connections for its young people as well as advocating raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old. The CCYP stressed that children are to be engaged directly and be given the chance to have a say regarding decisions concerning them.
The Victorian government has allocated $534.4 million of the incoming 2023 - 2024 budget to improvements for children in residential care in response to CCYP recommendations and $13.4 million to support child protection.
Of note for organisations include increased powers for the CCYP and its recommendations to improve protection and compliance with the legislation and obligations on service providers.
Child protection and child death inquiries
In this past year, the CCYP has completed 45 child death inquiries in relation to children and young people who died within 12 months of their last involvement with Child Protection. Key takeaways from the CCYP included premature case closures, inadequate responses to family violence and poor responses to Aboriginal children.
Family violence featured in 80% of the child death inquiries by the CCYP. The Department rolled out a new SAFER children framework in late 2021 for increased training for the child protection workforce.
The CCYP identified a number of positive responses from services and organisations, citing meaningful communication between services involved with families and proactive information gathering and sharing. Other good practices included effective and appropriate service support, such as follow up when a client missed appointments and ensuring access to services for young people past 18 years old.
CCYP has made 21 further recommendations to the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) this year, noting that it is aware of resource constraints, workload pressure and systemic challenges and this contextual landscape is taken into account.
Reportable Conduct Scheme
The Victorian Reportable Conduct Scheme (Scheme), established in the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 (VIC) (CWSA), requires heads of organisations to notify the CCYP of allegations of reportable conduct. The CWSA also allows any member of the public (including young people) to disclose allegations to the CCYP.
In 2022 - 2023, mandatory notifications from organisations have increased by 18% from 2021-2022 and by 81% from the first year of the Scheme in 2017 - 2018. That is a total of 1,457 mandatory notifications for the past year compared with a total of 6,231 received since the commencement of the Scheme. There has also been a significant increase in public notifications (377 for the 2022 - 2023 year and 1,152 since the start of the Scheme).
There are five types of reportable conduct listed in the CWSA:
behaviour that causes significant emotional or psychological harm; and
significant neglect of a child.
The statistics demonstrate that in the past year, the education, out-of-home care and early childhood education sectors contributed the highest proportion of notifications with a 51% increase in notifications in the education sector. The CCYP expects the number of notifications will continue to increase in future years as organisations strengthen their reporting processes and awareness of the Scheme grows.
There were 1,364 identified alleged workers or volunteers who were the subject of these notifications in the 2022 - 2023 year (one person can have multiple allegations). 1,427 adults have had substantiated allegations, 53% female, 47% male. 71% of substantiated claims were employees of an organisation, 25% were foster or kinship carers, with the remaining 5% were ministers of religion, religious leaders, volunteers or some other type of involvement.
9% of all mandatory notifications have involved a historical allegation (defined as occurring prior to 1 July 2017) with 19% of those relating to prior to 1980. Since the commencement of the Scheme, 69% of allegations regarding religious institutions are historical.
A key recommendation from the CCYP is the importance of organisations having robust systems in place and appropriate training for employees to identify allegations that are reportable and investigate them in accordance with the requirements of the Scheme.
Systemic issues in out of home care
The 2023 Report highlighted CCYP insights from its review of out of home care incident reports. The CCYP noted the high number of reported incidents of child sexual exploitation while in out of home care and has called for a complete overhaul of the residential care system and "continues to monitor this issue closely". The CCYP has recommended to DFFH for a review of guidelines to service providers for the provision of clothing and luggage, obligations of service providers where a young person receives additional income or payments, child friendly information for young people of what they should expect from service providers, and to develop specific guidance on expectations regarding supports provided to children first entering out of home care.
New Child Safe Standards
Victoria's new Child Safe Standards came into force on 1 July 2022 to more closely align with the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. For more information about the new Child Safe Standards in Victoria, you can read our article here. The CCYP promoted the new standards as part of a media campaign in 2022.
From 1 January 2023, the Child Wellbeing and Safety (Child Safe Standards Compliance and Enforcement) Amendment Act 2021 (VIC) granted new powers to the CCYP and regulators to monitor and enforce the Standards. The powers include increased inspection capabilities, the issuance of warnings, pursuit of court injunctions and the establishment of enforceable undertakings. There are also new criminal offences and increased penalties for infringements of failure to comply with notices and directions of the CCYP. In the past year, six officers have been trained and appointed to enforce these new regulations. The CCYP is now solely responsible for the Standards regulation of around 33,000 organisations.
The CCYP initiated 54 potential non-compliance actions on organisations in 2022 - 2023 and shared information regarding organisations with other regulators. In progressing a compliance action, the CCYP takes into account the seriousness, risk profile and strategic significance of the action.
The CCYP noted circumstances in which it will take action includes:
organisations that had not yet implemented or updated the mandatory Standards;
poor screening and recruitment procedures particularly in relation to volunteers;
lack of accessible information for young people;
organisations struggling to maintain child safe systems and cultural safety;
leaders failing to model appropriate conduct or prioritise child safety; and
not having adequate procedures to manage child abuse risks with third party contract arrangements.
You can read the CCYP's full report here: https://ccyp.vic.gov.au/about-us/annual-reports/
This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2023.