Meet the New NSW Children’s Guardian

From the very beginnings of her career, NSW Children’s Guardian Janet Schorer has wanted to help improve the lives of people.

She started her career as a nurse at The Children’s Hospital Westmead before moving into working with people with disability. A self-described ‘people person’ with an empathic but sensible nature, she says these hands-on roles provided her with both routine and variety, pace and decisiveness.

“I saw myself working alongside the person who required assistance to help meet their needs, not just telling them what they needed and then ‘delivering the service’,” she said.

“In return, these experiences as a frontline care provider gave me a strong foundation for when I later moved out of direct care delivery and into program development and management.”

Janet has since worked in several senior roles at the Department of Family and Community Services. She has also worked as the Executive Director in Communities and Social Investment for the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Her most recent role was leading the Commonwealth negotiations and transition to the NDIS across NSW Government. She has also been involved in a suite of reforms to improve responses in Aboriginal communities, as well as the whole-of-government strategic framework for the response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In July Janet took up her posting as NSW Children’s Guardian. Her appointment comes during a pivotal time of child protection reform, when key government agencies, non-government organisations and the community are reassessing how they deliver the right supports to vulnerable children and families. According to Janet, this also presents a major opportunity for examining the role of the Children’s Guardian and how it approaches its responsibilities towards the sector.

She believes one of the essential elements of the Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG) is to help others to identify the situations and behaviours that contribute to children not being safe.

“As a former nurse, the notion of children as part of families and communities, and the protective factors that need to surround them, resonates deeply,” she said.

“While the OCG does an enormous amount of really varied and important work, we have a clear mandate to act in the best interests of children and young people.”

Janet has spent her first weeks on the job talking and listening to OCG staff and meeting with many of their key stakeholders – the Ombudsman, peak organisations and larger NGOs. She observes there is “a high positive regard” for the way the OCG actively partners with these groups. And while she intends to continue building on these important relationships, she is also eager to explore ways of ensuring that children’s voices and views are an active part of any decisions that will impact on their lives not just now, but in their futures.

“As Children’s Guardian I have a strong commitment to the people I serve – the kids in NSW – and to ensure they have safe and happy environments in which they can thrive,” she said.

“But I’m also aware that even with the best of intentions and goodwill of governments, agencies and professionals there can be large divides and complicated navigations within the systems that support vulnerable children.

“I’m a strong advocate of effective, purposeful collaboration and bringing together diverse perspectives to develop shared solutions that will benefit the people we serve. This is especially the case in complex and challenging situations where we have to resolve issues or find new directions.

“I’m looking forward to working with the out-of-home care sector to put this commitment to collaboration into practice.”

One of the things that has struck a chord with Janet in her short time as Children’s Guardian is the impact those working in the sector can have in the lives of others, even when they don’t realise it.

During her sector rounds, she explains, she was reminded of a project she managed some years ago which involved building integrated child and family centres in nine Aboriginal communities around the state. An “incredibly challenging project”, she said she was determined that every aspect would be entirely community led, with government being fully transparent with information and resources.

“We insisted the operation of the centres needed to be handed over to an Aboriginal organisation within two years, if they weren’t ready at the project’s start,” she recalled.

“The onus was on the successful NGO to work closely with the community to make that happen. I spent a lot of time in Gunnedah and with that community, talking through how that would work and helping to build the foundations of what they saw as their vision for the future.

“I was restructured out of that project before I could see out the life of the contract and never saw the final result. So I was absolutely over the moon when I found out the centre had been handed over to a strong community organisation. That centre now helps more than 40 Aboriginal kids get valuable early childhood education that meets both their developmental and cultural needs.

“For me, keeping sight of this footprint, at a point in time, is an important part of being the Children’s Guardian; to ensure that we orient our legislation, policies and practices – including our internal operations – towards having a positive impact in the lives of children and young people, in whatever way we interact with them.”