In March this year the Greens raised the serious concerns of child safety staff that a lack of planning and resourcing in the child safety system would push children into situations of increased risk as COVID-19 restrictions were introduced. We urged you to take immediate action. This month we heard from Anglicare Social Action and Research Centre that once COVID-19 restrictions tightened children were indeed forced into more vulnerable precarious circumstances. Too many had no choice but to remain in unsafe environments or sleep rough.
Given the lessons of past months and indeed past years one would have thought you would understand the importance of a properly funded child safety system. Despite this, we understand new, heavy-handed expenditure constraints are being put on child safety staff. They have been told not all services may be provided to children in need in all cases and that they must manage the expectations of people in the system. Minister, can you confirm this? Can you explain why services are being cut to at risk children at any time, particularly in a time of pandemic?
Madam Speaker, keeping our young children, families, carers and staff safe and secure is one of the Government’s and as minister my highest priorities as we face the significant challenges presented to us by the spread of COVID-19 and the recovery period which we are still in. My department has been well prepared with comprehensive business continuity plans to maintain essential services as well as ensuring the safety and wellbeing of clients and staff through all phases of the pandemic. We take it very seriously. COVID-19 does not pose specific safety risks to children and young people. The financial insecurity, family disruptions, household stresses and changes to roles and routines that have come about because of COVID 19 do have impacts. We do recognise that. We have maintained close vigilance and monitoring of the children in our care and the system that is wrapped around them throughout the pandemic and the recovery efforts.
I want to talk about some of the matters that Ms O’Connor has raised about how we have handled our responsibilities to children in the state’s care through COVID-19. As part of our social and economic support package we provided $2.5 million to enhance child safety and wellbeing. Our funding commitment included $260 000 in additional funds to ensure that children and young people in care have internet access and mobile technology for communication and home learning. It is also important to ensure they have the ability to reach out to other advocacy services and the services of things such as the Child Advocate and the Commissioner for Children and Young People.
Ms O’CONNOR – Point of order, Madam Speaker. We do not want to hear a list. It would be really good if the minister would address the question. Our understanding is there have been cuts made in child safety to the services that have been provided to at risk children.
Madam SPEAKER – That is not a point of order, but it is a very interesting question.
Mr JAENSCH – I am pleased to be talking about the increased funding that is being provided to these services, specifically during COVID-19. It is related to Public Health restrictions, the extra services that taxpayers’ money has been directed to to ensure these kids, their families and their carers are safe through this period. It is totally relevant to the question that is being asked, and ask you to let me continue.
Additional funding of $200 000 was provided to establish an informal kinship carer liaison and support function, providing grandparents and other informal kinship carers with access to necessary advice and support, when they require it, recognising that the children in their care are also in the care of what may be a vulnerable cohort in themselves with older people. We all note those.
CREATE received $50 000 that will allow enhanced engagement and advocacy for children and young people through this time. There was $53 000 to extend the carer support hotline, $260 000 to provide a one-off immediate $200 payment to fostering kinship carers, $480 000 to provide financial support to CatholicCare’s therapeutic residential care service, $70 000 for flexible active family funds to support children and families.
Ms O’CONNOR – Point of order, Madam Speaker, it goes to standing order 45. The minister cannot be allowed to get away with rattling off a list of funding that has no relation to the child safety question and the issues that we have raised. None.
Madam SPEAKER – I have no ability to tell the minister what to say, and I do not have any idea what is going to come out of his mouth, as you know. So, I cannot rule it in as a point of order. I am sure the minister is getting to that point.
Mr JAENSCH – What we are talking about is a large and complex responsibility for the Government during a very difficult time. I am showing how we have responded comprehensively, which is what your question went to.
Madam Speaker, $1.2 million was also allocated for an enhanced after-hours response service.
In terms of the services and care that we are providing in this sector, additionally, Children and Youth Services took further action to increase safety and stability for children, young people and their families during COVID-19. For example, the Child Advocate accelerated the implementation of her services and access programs. There were more stakeholder forums and a register created by CYS to track emerging issues. There were regional joint agency meetings, which include the development of a vulnerable students panel between CSS, the Department of Education and Tasmania Police. A range of extra work was done to ensure there have been eyes on kids who were not able to have regular face-to-face contact with children and families in care during this period.
We have maintained the essential care services. We are pleased to be re-establishing all the face-to-face elements of that governance, care and support function, during this time now that COVID-19 restrictions are lifting.
I am not aware of any direction being provided to reduce services. I am confident that this Government has invested appropriately, heavily, in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children in the state’s care, through our various service providers and directly through this period. We will continue to do so.
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