Over the past 18 months, we have all endured terrible revelations about the South Australian child protection system. The news last Friday that there is ‘high concern’ about twenty percent of Families SA employees working with children, including twenty five immediately being suspended from having direct contact with children, was the latest shocking development.
The seemingly endless saga of our most vulnerable children being put at risk within a system that should be protecting them demands a strong effective policy response. The first place to begin is removing child protection from within the Education Department.
This will take political courage from Premier Jay Weatherill – it was his decision to embed child protection within the Education Department. But the facts speak for themselves and for the sake of vulnerable children in our community the Premier’s embarrassment needs to be put aside.
Friday’s news came at the end of two horrendous weeks of evidence given to the Coronial Inquest into the death of Chloe Valentine. Revelations that Families SA condoned her mother’s drug use, ignored filthy living conditions and knowingly allowed a convicted sex offender to live with her sends chills down my spine.
The head of Families SA, the agency responsible for child protection, resigned three months ago. He is yet to be replaced. That resignation came in the midst of revelations that a Families SA employee had been charged with child sex offences against the children he was meant to be caring for.
Ultimate responsibility for Families SA rests with the head of the Department of Education and Child Development, Tony Harrison. He is meant to be running our entire education system at the same time as dealing with these ongoing crises.
There have been nine different chief executives and acting chief executives of the Education Department since Labor came to power.
Over that same period of time there have been four separate reviews into child protection: the Layton Report, the Mullighan Inquiry, the Allan Report and the Debelle Royal Commission. A fifth review and second Royal Commission has just been announced by Jay Weatherill and is likely to report in late 2015.
The Liberal Party is also committed to establishing an independent Children’s Commissioner with investigative powers who will report annually to State Parliament.
We need to be so much more vigilant about protecting all children in our community – leaving things as they are is simply not an option.