On 6 June 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Strong Families, Safe Kids Project Team released the Child and Youth Wellbeing Framework (CYW Framework) and the final model for the Children’s Advice and Referral Alliance (CARA). This is part of the response to the 29 recommendations made in the Redesign of the Child Protection Services Tasmania: Strong Family, Safe Kids Report released in March 2016.
The CYW Framework fulfils a key deliverable in the Strong Families, Safe Kids Implementation Plan (the Plan). Alongside the CYW Framework, CARA will provide a single point of entry for people seeking information, advice and services referral regarding significant concerns for the safety and wellbeing of children. Unlike jurisdictions including Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, Tasmania is yet to introduce legally mandated child safe standards or risk management principles. These latest initiatives show some progress on reforming child protection in Tasmania and schools should be aware of these DHHS initiatives.
The CYW Framework provides guidance on what child wellbeing means. Wellbeing is a multi-faceted concept which incorporates a child’s physical, psychological and social aspects. The main aim for the CYW Framework is to ensure that the wellbeing of children and young people is maintained by implementing a support system that will ensure everyone, in all parts of Tasmania, will have a strong, common understanding of child and youth wellbeing. The CYW Framework is a living document, which will evolve over time to adapt to community standards and legal reform.
According to the CYW Framework itself, the Framework provides a "common language for Government, non-government organisations, the private sector and the community. It has no single application, but rather should be used as a foundation tool for talking about child and youth wellbeing, designing programs that promote wellbeing or for holding ourselves collectively to account for delivering better outcomes for children and young people in Tasmania."
The CYW Framework follows the six domains of The Nest Action Agenda developed by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Young People (ARACY), a private, national, not-for-profit organisation who conduct research and provide guidance on child wellbeing. These domains are:
- Being loved and safe
- Having material basics
- Being healthy
- Having a positive sense of culture and identity
The CYW Framework has adapted a definition of child and youth wellbeing from these six domains. Wellbeing is referred to as a state where a child or young person feels loved and safe; has access to material basics; has their physical, mental and emotional health needs met; is learning and participating; and has a positive sense of culture and identity.
Recent years have seen the rapid expansion of knowledge and understanding around the development of children, particularly with detrimental impacts of neglect and abuse on a child’s brain. As a child moves from infancy to early adulthood, their brain goes through distinct times of development where multiple changes occur. These changes are strongly influenced by prenatal events, quality of relationships and environmental influences during the child’s life.
While it is recognised that a child’s brain development commences from conception to early adulthood, the CYW Framework breaks up their program across key developmental stages:
- 5 years and under;
- 6 to 12 years; and
- 13 years and over.
Each of these stages are presented alongside the six wellbeing domains to provide guidance as to what wellbeing encompasses at each stage of a child's development.
The Tasmanian Government is the only government in Australia to adopt ARACY's domains and implement them as part of a child wellbeing or child protection plan.
It is up to schools whether or not they adopt the CYW Framework.
In 2016, the Tasmanian Government committed to a comprehensive reform of Tasmania’s Child Safety Service to create an integrated system that can respond effectively to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children. As part of this reform, CARA was introduced. CARA is designed to be a service and a single point of entry for people seeking information, advice and referrals regarding significant concerns for the safety and wellbeing of children.
CARA will be managed through DHHS’ Children and Youth Services. Referral to CARA will also satisfy the mandatory reporting obligations of people prescribed as mandatory reporters under the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1997 (Tas) (the Act), although not all contacts with CARA will be considered to be a notification to Child Safety Services. From the information available, legislative changes will be made during the implementation process to integrate CARA into Tasmania's child protection regime, but it is not clear as to when CARA will be implemented, the extent of CARA's powers or whether the Act will be amended to include CARA as part of Tasmania mandatory reporting regime. However, section 14 of the Act still requires Tasmanian principals and teachers to report any information if a child is suspected of being abused or neglected.
CARA comprises of three sections:
- Advice & Referral – this provides a contact point for individuals and agencies with significant concerns about child safety and wellbeing, to be a source of information regarding service options, and if appropriate, a referral to the available services that best meet the needs of the child.
- Triage – provides an initial safety and wellbeing assessment to determine the most appropriate response regarding the best interests of the child, including a recommendation for an urgent safety assessment, if warranted.
- Early Intervention – provides a suite of service options for children, young people and their families, so support, advice and assistance is provided as early as possible to ensure the best opportunity for children and their families to resolve concerns swiftly, with minimal disruption.
What this means for schools
The CYW Framework provides useful guidance not just for Tasmanian schools, but for all Australian schools, as possible indicators for child wellbeing so schools can be aware of the possible signs of neglect or abuse among students.
Discussed previously in School Governance, child wellbeing is one of the many competing priorities and growing concerns that schools around Australia have to deal with. Australian schools have been introducing and implementing student wellbeing programs where they deal with mental health concerns as a school-based prevention and intervention strategy. Some schools have even built wellbeing or wellness centres that promote student welfare so they are able to engage and learn more while they are at school. Some state and territory registration standards have introduced the requirement, or reference to, protecting the safety and wellbeing of students.