What a privilege it was to have Isaiah Dawe speak with ACWA members at our recent AGM about the inspiring work he is doing, through his mentoring program ID Know Yourself, to empower young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in care and support them to thrive as adults. Isaiah, who grew up in care himself, is passionate about breaking the intergenerational cycle of trauma that impacts on many young Aboriginal lives. He sent a powerful message to the room about the importance of building rapport and trust with the young people we work with, and stressed that listening and responding to their young voices is crucial to delivering genuinely effective outcomes. We were also pleased to have Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, Gareth Ward, participate in the meeting by calling in to thank ACWA’s members for their work and support throughout the year.
While our AGM provided us pause to reflect on the past 12 months (and I invite you to read our Annual Report to find out more about the key activities that preoccupied ACWA during this period) our eyes remain firmly focused on the work that lies ahead and opportunities that we as a sector can embrace together to make a genuine difference to vulnerable children, young people and families in NSW.
For example, in February the newly established Joint Taskforce will formally commence its critical work addressing issues associated with the implementation of the Permanency Support Program. This team, which is comprised of representatives from AbSec, the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) and ACWA, has already met to discuss the critical issues that will need to be addressed ahead of the official February start date. The team has also started work on identifying the areas and activities that will be a priority for the Taskforce. This is being informed by feedback received from ACWA members during a recent consultation process. I extend my thanks to the many member agencies who responded to our call for input on this crucial planning issue. Early in the new year, we will be hosting a meeting with all interested agencies to update you on related adjustments that have been made to the work schedule in light of your feedback. We will also be keen at this time to canvass communication strategies that will ensure the ongoing work of the Taskforce will continue to be informed by a strong NGO voice.
February will also see ACWA move to our new premises, located within the Stronger Communities Investment and Inclusion Unit (SCIU). The savings resulting from this new office arrangement, and other cost saving initiatives, will enable us to channel around $1 million of resources into future system transformation, sector development and member support activities.
The release of our project report earlier this month detailing the work of the joint Alternative Care Arrangements Taskforce highlights the encouraging outcomes that can be achieved through a collaborative and solutions-focused approach by the sector. Most importantly, there has been a significant decrease in the number of children and young people in these placements during the reporting period. The paper also discusses a range of future opportunities and strategies for improving responses in this critical and complex area of the system. In particular, it flags the creation of a safety net model of accredited residential accommodation that seeks to provide children and young people the stability, care and attention they need while permanent options are being sought. ACWA has recently hosted a range of consultations with NGOs, DCJ and other stakeholders regarding this proposed model, and we look forward to keeping you updated as further developments come to hand.
As you would be aware, the Children’s Guardian Act is set to commence on March 1 next year, following the passage of the Bill through Parliament in November. This new legislation, which extends the functions of the Children’s Guardian to include the reportable conduct scheme, holds significant implications for our member agencies, as well as for the carers and children that we collectively seek to support. As such, ACWA put forward a number of submissions aimed at improving the fairness and effectiveness of the proposed Bill, which ultimately led to a number of significant amendments being made.You can access a transcript of the debate in Parliament here. While there are still a number of aspects to this legislation that will need to be closely scrutinised moving forward in terms of its impact on the sector, ACWA is nevertheless pleased that we were able to have a hand in advocating for an improved outcome on this occasion.
It was also pleasing to see more than 50 agency representatives and other sector stakeholders turn out to participate in our recent Members' Forum on the National Redress Scheme and its insurance implications; and models of foster care and the related issue of tax concessions and reimbursement. As many of you would be aware, we circulated all the presentations to participants and member agencies on December 2. The feedback that we have received indicates that the attendees found the forum very valuable. ACWA will be pursuing a number of the key issues that were raised. This will include ACWA seeking expressions of interest from member agencies to work with us on carrying out more detailed work on a number of fronts - for example, further examination of emerging carer models and consideration of the sector’s strategic response to the issue of redress. We will be in touch early in the new year to provide more information about this follow up work.
In terms of upcoming events, our Care Proceedings: Achieving the Best Outcomes for Children forum, on March 2 next year, is proving to be a crowd pleaser, having already attracted more than 80 registrations. This full day event, which we’re hosting in partnership with the NSW Children Court, will examine critical practice issues relating to care proceedings and compliance with court orders. You can find more details here.
Plans for ACWA’s 2020 conference, which will be held at Sydney’s International Convention Centre from November 9-11, are also well in train. The theme for this event is ‘Early intervention, child protection, regulation and care – how strong is Australia’s practice?’ Our conference committee is pulling out all stops to develop a rich, relevant and stimulating mix of presentations, panel discussions and master classes that goes to the very heart of what constitutes effective practice for our nation’s children and families, and how can we do better. Visit our website or, better still, sign up to our conference mailing list to receive regular event updates.
On behalf of ACWA, I wish to convey my congratulations to Lisa Griffiths (OzChild), Nigel Lindsay (Wesley Mission), Chris Brown (Challenge Community Services) and Robyn Miller (MacKillop Family Services) on their recent elections to the Board. Furthermore, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Nigel as ACWA’s new Board Chair, and Kathy Karatasas as Deputy Chair. I also take this opportunity to thank retiring Chair Bob Mulcahy for his dedication and outstanding contribution to the Board over the past nine years.
On a final note, I would like to thank you all for support, insight and commitment to the work of ACWA over the past year. I wish everyone a safe and happy Christmas with your families and friends, and look forward to catching up with you in the New Year.