Jay Weatherill

The magnitude of the task of overhauling South Australia’s maligned child protection regime has been laid bare in a royal commission report that demands a substantial injection of funds into a raft of structural reforms, including a wholesale rejection of current residential care systems.

Royal commissioner Margaret Nyland’s report, released yesterday after cabinet met to discuss its contents, highlights “a system overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of work, with notifications received every day relating to children living in dire circumstances who desperately need someone to take action on their behalf … in many cases the response comes so late that there is little choice to do anything other than to remove the child from their family”.

However, despite government speculation of a complete “re-write of the state’s child protection laws”, Nyland warns “the temptation to impose additional layers of policy and process to achieve sustainable change should be resisted”.

Instead, she wants what successive governments perhaps feared most — substantial new investment.

“System change does not come from imposing more regulation on how the work is to be done; it comes from a greater investment in growing the knowledge base of workers, both at a planning and service delivery level,” the report states.

Jay Weatherill today committed $200 million budgeted over the next four years to begin addressing the demands, noting that some of the reforms would “require considerable work and consultation”.

“My Government accepts full responsibility for the failings of the state’s child protection system in keeping children safe,” he said.

“I am sorry for failing in this most fundamental duty to the children in our care.”

Fronting media, Weatherill said he was “sick at heart” about the litany of failures documented, but warned “protection of children has to be everybody’s business”.

“No single agency can begin to bear these responsibilities alone,” he said.

The Premier argued his government was spending more than the national average per child on child protection measures, but conceded “we’re mot spending in the right place”.

He said there were now 3300 children in state care compared to a peak of 1200 when he was the minister responsible.

[The most shocking thing about the Four Corners footage: the abuse was legal]

Nyland’s is the latest in a series of dissertations on the troubled agency Families SA, and its findings both endorse and reject a range of recommendations that have come before it.

Nyland calls for the implementation of the long-ignored Layton report demand for the establishment of a children’s commissioner — a demand that has been taken up by the state opposition.

But she is less convinced about the call by state coroner Mark Johns, who last year concluded an inquiry into the death of Chloe Valentine, to examine a broadening of adoption provisions.

“The Commission is not persuaded that an increased emphasis on making children in care available for adoption is necessarily appropriate, when fundamental considerations of the child’s best interests are brought into account,” the report states.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW