2012–13 Budget Estimates Hearings - Department for Child Protection
Date:Monday, June 18, 2012
Hearing commenced at 2.05 pm
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY - Minister for Child Protection, examined:
Mr TERRY MURPHY - Director General, sworn and examined:
Ms KAY BENHAM - Executive Director, Policy and Learning, sworn and examined:
Mr PETER BYRNE - Executive Director, Corporate and Business Services, sworn and examined:
Ms PHILIPPA BEAMISH BURTON - Manager, Management Accounting, sworn and examined:
Mr JAY PECKITT - Director, Business Support and Coordination, sworn and examined:
Hon ALISON XAMON: I actually wanted to follow on from that same dot point, because I had some questions as well. I want to know: is this related to the PECN program which has been running for a number of years from the Mental Health Commission, which I understand received a large proportion of funding from the federal government. Is it related to that?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: The program is modelled on the program you are talking about, but this is specific to us and our agencies.
Hon ALISON XAMON: What I am interested in was you stating that you are taking the lead agency role. I had noticed that you had not been able to find any PECN funding within the Mental Health Commission budget for this financial year, which is something I had been looking at, something I have actually raised in previous estimates. You are not here to answer the Mental Health Commission’s estimates, but I am curious to know whether that program has effectively ceased. I do remember there had not been forward estimates money for that program and it simply had been taken over by emergency with a focus on children, because I am aware that previously the PECN project has very much focused on adults.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: You are right. I cannot answer for the Mental Health Commission, because I just have no knowledge of that federal funding, but this is our program and we work at a state level with Mental Health and Disability. I am the lead agency, and the funding comes out our Child Protection money. I am sorry; I just cannot answer for Mental Health. Maybe the director can answer a bit more.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Of course, minister; absolutely. I completely understand that, as I said. What I am trying to figure out is whether this program is actually over and above the existence of that program which is dealing with adults with complex needs or whether it is actually an offshoot of that program that is happening in addition to.
Mr Murphy: I think we would describe it as over and above but modelled on the adult process. My understanding, given how closely we work with disability and mental health, is that the adult People With Exceptionally Complex Needs has just doubled its capacity, employed a second coordinator —
Hon ALISON XAMON: Yes, there is a huge need.
Mr Murphy: — and that is funded on a cooperative basis by the agencies in the same way as Young People with Exceptionally Complex Needs is funded on a cooperative basis by the agencies.
Hon ALISON XAMON: So how many young people are you estimating are likely to be picked up by this program?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: About 10, I think.
Hon ALISON XAMON: So you have budgeted for 10?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes, 10 young people.
Hon ALISON XAMON: That is 10 per year, presumably, and hopefully there will be success and turnover.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: As I said before, I am quite excited about this program so that we can get those young people and start to work with them, and not a lot of agencies coming in over the top. So if we are the lead agency and there is a coordinator, we can work with them, and I think you will find an improvement. It is a start—10. I know that there is a great need out in the community, as you said, for it, but we are starting, and hopefully we have got something that will work really well for these young people with exceptional needs.
Hon ALISON XAMON: So how are young people to be selected for this program?
Hon SUE ELLERY: I suspect they self-select.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes. I was actually going to say that, and then I thought, “Oh, that doesn’t sound very good”, but it is the truth.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I suppose what I really meant—and, sadly, Hon Sue Ellery is correct— but what I am asking is: how will the department be determining those 10 children, because the need, undoubtedly, is greater than 10?
Mr Murphy: It is the case that the most difficult cases rise to the top and become evident, but we have been through a pretty big process with this. It is a bit like the Booker Prize. You develop a long list that comprises something like 100 children of the most difficult placements in each of our districts, which we have whittled down to a short list of around 30, who are seriously difficult children in terms of the amount of harm they pose to themselves or the community and, therefore, the challenge in providing a stable placement and all that entails in terms of safety and their own development. Then the committee itself, which includes, as I said, the CEOs of mental health and the Disability Services Commission and me, literally make the choice of those people who are participating. It is a capacity of 10. We have taken on three to begin with, and we will run two months with the first three, two months with the second three, and two months with the next three, so that they are not all coming all at once. It is really important to recognise, too, that these children are not coming from a zero position; they are not just rattling out there in the community, hurting themselves and other people. They are in placements; they are being managed, but the key thing about this program is: can a very focused, coordinated interagency effort, with some more resources perhaps, make a real difference to the stability of that placement, safety of community and wellbeing of the young person?
Hon ALISON XAMON: I was hoping—and I am happy to take this on notice—I suppose I do not need to because I was going to ask what other agencies are putting in. Actually, could I have that on notice, how much exactly other agencies are putting in for this program?
Mr Murphy: I can do it straight off.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: I have already given you the other agencies that are in it.
Hon ALISON XAMON: You have; you have listed all the other agencies.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Do you want a breakdown of money?
Hon ALISON XAMON: Yes, please. I am happy to take that on notice.
Mr Murphy: It is just the coordinator that is being paid for initially, and that is a third from mental health, a third from disability and a third from us. Then it is on a case-by-case basis, and we have not made additional allocations at this stage.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: What is a social worker at, though?
Mr Murphy: Sorry; it is level 6, which is a specified calling 3—the new regime of specified callings, 3.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: Specified calling —
Mr Murphy: Specified calling 3, which is the old level 6. We pitched it at a level equivalent to a team leader in our system.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: Does the program actually have a name?
Mr Murphy: Young People with Exceptionally Complex Needs.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: YPECN.
Mr Murphy: YPECN
Hon ALISON XAMON: And the one that has been going for a while is PECN.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Can I just go to page 699, under “Major Spending Changes”, line item four, HUGS. Why is there no figure for the 2011–12 estimated actual and why is there no provision for HUGS funding in the forward estimates?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: As part of the 2012–13 budget, the HUGS has increased to $11.7 million, and the department recently undertook a procurement process to contract financial counselling services across the state. In 2008, I think there was a $24.4 million package over four years to help households experiencing utility hardship. The funding allocation, as I said, was $11.7 million, which comprises $9.36 million for HUGS grants, $2.139 million for financial counselling and $0.201 million for administration.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Are you saying that is for this financial year?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I have got the major spending changes, so what I am looking at is a figure here of $7 640 000, so I am trying to make sense of that in the context of the figures you just gave me.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Of the $11.7 million, $4.6 million is ongoing funding provided since the 2008–09 budget, and $7.64 million has been provided for the 2012–13 years, in addition to the base funding to meet expected demand for the HUGS grants and financial counselling services.
Hon ALISON XAMON: There is quite an increase required. Can I move on to page 701, “Significant Issues Impacting the Agency”, and the third dot point. This is on page 701. I am wondering whether there is any new money to support informal carers—for example, grand-carers?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: That is actually in the Department for Communities, the carers and grand-carers, so if you are here during the Department for Communities, I will answer that. But it is certainly not in the Child Protection —
Hon ALISON XAMON: Right; it is just because that refers to foster carers. That is why I asked it.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Okay; sorry. We provide $1 000 to our—sorry, different —
Hon ALISON XAMON: I am aware of that —
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes.
Hon ALISON XAMON: — and I was aware of that payment. What I am asking you is whether there is any new money.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: No, there is no new money.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Okay. If I can go on to the fifth dot point, outsourcing case management to NGOs, I am wondering how many cases is it estimated that this will involve, what sort of savings are anticipated and whether it is a trial?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: We agreed to pilot the delegation of case management to community sector agencies —
Hon ALISON XAMON: So it is a trial?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: — and the pilot project will involve four community sector agencies and 34 children who are in the CEO’s care until 18 years, but they are in long-term stable placements and where there are no contentious case management issues. It is anticipated that the pilot will commence after June 2012.
Hon ALISON XAMON: So how long is it anticipated this pilot will go for?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Twelve months, and then we will have a look and reassess.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I am assuming it is going to be evaluated.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: It is evaluated after 12 months.
Hon ALISON XAMON: What savings are anticipated as a result; and, also, could you tell me the four agencies?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Wansley Family Services, Parkerville, Yorganup and MercyCare
are the four agencies.
Hon ALISON XAMON: What sort of savings are we talking about?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: The department has allocated $150 000, but you must realise that these agencies have wanted to do this for a long time, so that is why we are having this trial. But it will save 2.5 FTE.
Hon ALISON XAMON: What is the mechanism to ensure cases are returned to department management if something difficult or unforeseen occurs?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: I imagine—I do not imagine; I know that if something unforeseen or difficult occurs, it will go straight back to the department.
Hon ALISON XAMON: So you are anticipating the contractual arrangements will enable that flexibility to be able to quickly resume —
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes; and do not forget that I did say that these are long-term stable children —
Hon ALISON XAMON: Yes, I did hear you say that.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: — and that is the crux of this. We are not just going to, certainly not while I am minister, anyway—this is a trial with long-term stable children placements.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Moving on, again under “Significant Issues Impacting the Agency”, the fourth dot point, out-of-home care placements, could you please provide some information about the placements—where they are available and how long are children, on average, spending in these placements?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: The funding provided to the community sector for out-of-home care services has increased by over 450 per cent; so it has increased greatly under this government.
Hon ALISON XAMON: That was not what I was asking; I was asking for some more information about the placements themselves. How long are children, on average, spending in them; the average age of the children that are in these placements? I am happy to take that on notice if it is easier.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: It just depends really. So I will hand you over to the director. But we cannot control the ages of children coming into care.
Hon ALISON XAMON: No. I am just wanting the information about it.
Mr Murphy: We contract three areas to the non-government sector. General placements for foster children in general who require nothing over and above a normal placement arrangement: the age of those children, and the length of time in those placements, is exactly parallel to those placements that are provided by the department, and in measuring we do not differentiate. We monitor the contracts and we work with those agencies very closely. But essentially they are the same as the placements we provide directly. The second area is what we call family group homes, where there are live-in carers supported by staff of the agency in houses that we provide to the agency. So, really that is a residential care arrangement, but at the low end of intensity, because it relies predominantly on live-in carers. There were 144 of those placements created out of the reform and expansion of residential care, and most of those are operating. Some are operating in temporary premises in the country, but most of them are up and running. The idea there is that those placements are eligible for all ages, but they tend towards younger children, and they tend towards sibling groups. The idea is that those arrangements are for a two-year period. That is not hard and fast, because if we can achieve a transition to foster care or a reunification with family earlier than that, we will do so; and, similarly, if this is a stable arrangement for a longer period, we will not disrupt it. But, optimally, all residential care looks at two years.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Right. That is the answer.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Can I just further add to that? Since 2007–08, funding for the out-of-home care services provided by the community sector has increased from $11.7 million to an anticipated $53.2 million in 2011–12; so, in percentage terms, I have now given you the actual figure, which has increased greatly.
Hon ALISON XAMON: In relation to the final dot point again on page 701, I am interested in some more information on the impact that the lack of affordable accommodation has had on the work of the department. Particularly I would like to know in what percentage of the cases of children coming into the department’s care is housing or lack of housing a factor in the department’s decision to take these children into care.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Certainly lack of housing is one problem. If we can put mums with children into refuges or into housing, that is just one part of it. But I will hand over to the director to answer your question more fully.
Mr Murphy: There is no question that affordability of housing is one pressure on vulnerable households. You may have read the sorts of numbers that I was reading in the newspaper on the weekend, where rents in Perth, and regional Western Australia, have increased at a greater rate than in any other capital city, and vacancy rates are lower. So that does create pressures when households are vulnerable; there is no question of that. I would venture to say that income management is a very important tool there that can at least get the rent paid, whether in a public tenancy or a private. The extent to which homelessness impacts on children coming into care is not possible to quantify without trawling through all our case files and making the calculations. It is not a recorded statistic, because you would not give due weight to that factor relative to any other factors, such as drug and alcohol or domestic violence, that are operating at the time. But there is no doubt that anecdotally, homelessness is cited as a factor affecting families’ capacity to provide safety for their children in a significant number of cases—by no means the majority, and by no means even a large minority, but in a significant number of cases this is one of the factors that is affecting families.
Hon ALISON XAMON: If I can make a comment and ask a further question, I suppose I am concerned to hear that the issue of homelessness is not factored in as data that you attempt to quantify, because I would have imagined that as a matter of public policy it is really important to be able to have an understanding of to what degree the issue of homelessness is impacting on child protection matters. Anecdotally, I have been alarmed to have people contact my office who are deeply distressed because they have had their children removed from them—their children are currently in care—and they are saying that they came to the attention of Child Protection when they effectively became homeless and that the response of Child Protection then was to actually remove the children; and if you can imagine, that then brings along an avalanche of other complicating factors that often happen when someone who is already desperate then has their children removed.
So I would like to hear your comments in relation to that, please, and also whether there is any capacity to start monitoring the numbers around homelessness and child protection intersections into the future.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Look, we do not take people’s children off them lightly. That is the first thing I will say to you. The second thing is homelessness is one issue in a range of factors as to whether children are taken into care. We spend $28 million on 37 refuges; and many people have families that they can go to. I do not think the department is the ogre that some people try and make it out to be. Certainly the social workers and the workers in the Department for Child Protection would firstly try to help the mother who comes in homeless and has children. But first and foremost, they look and see what the situation is, if they can help, if those people can go to relatives, if there is a refuge, or if somebody can help them. Everything has to be assessed, right down to whether the mum is an alcoholic, the mum is on drugs, the mum has a violent partner, the mum is escaping domestic violence. There is a whole raft of social issues and very critical issues that have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. So if a mum were to come in off the street with her children and say “I’m homeless”, they would do—“they” being the departmental workers—a detailed analysis. Sometimes mums are homeless—and people are homeless through no fault of their own in many, many cases. But we have to look at why they are homeless and see if the children are in danger. If the children are not in danger, then the department has a look and sees where it is best to place mum and the children together. So it is not a case of we just look and think, “You’re homeless; we’re taking your children off you”. The days of that have long gone. I would hope, and I believe, that the staff whom we have now in Child Protection are very good people, and they are very detailed in their analysis of who is presenting in front of them.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I refer to page 710. Under “Net Appropriation Determination”, I am asking about the point “Unattached Refugee Children”. I was wanting to get a bit of a breakdown on how this funding is spent. Also, how many unattached refugee children are in WA at the moment? Also, as part of the numbers of unattached children, what it is estimated is likely to be— whether you have actually got some estimated numbers you are working from in the out years.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: I will go through it bit by bit. The department accepts delegated guardianship for some unaccompanied human minors referred to as UHMs. I have said before in this place, I really dislike the term “UHM” —
Hon ALISON XAMON: It is horrible.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: — or “unaccompanied human minor”.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: Is that human minor?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: I will say very clearly and very loudly, this is not my terminology and I dislike it greatly.
Hon ALISON XAMON: As do I.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: That is appalling!
Hon ALISON XAMON: It is appalling.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: Minister, that is appalling, is it not?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: It is appalling and it is what the federal government terms these children. Referred by the commonwealth Department of Immigration and Citizenship, DIAC, under the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946, the department accepts this delegation where a carer has been identified for the—I will call them young person—young person or where there are child protection considerations. The department has been bearing the majority of the costs of caring for these young people but intends to negotiate a new cost-sharing model with DIAC, which currently contributes only $1 300 per child per annum. Currently, each child costs the department an average of approximately $30 000 per year, depending on their age and care needs. These children referred to the department arrive in Australia through the humanitarian program or through Christmas Island as asylum seekers and are granted permanent residence visas by DIAC. DIAC then requests the department to accept delegated guardianship and where this occurs, these young people become children in the CEO’s care under the meaning of the Children and Community Services Act. Other UHMs—other children—reside in Western Australia cared for by Life Without Barriers under the direct guardianship of the commonwealth Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. There are currently 20 young people in the care of the CEO. Of this number, six are from Burma, six are from Afghanistan, five are from Liberia, two are from the Sudan and one is from the Congo. Six are 17 years, four are 16 years, two are 15 years, one is 14 years and two are 13 years. We have some younger children; one is 11, two are nine and two eight-year-olds. The department is currently assessing care arrangements for a further 12 UHM children; seven from the Congo, three from Vietnam, one from Afghanistan and one from Somalia. The department is reviewing its response to these requests and has developed a revised cost-sharing model. Acceptance of that guardianship will be conditional on DIAC agreeing to a 50 per cent cost-sharing model. The Community and Disability Services Ministers’ Advisory Council, which I sit on—no, there is a subcommittee. I sit on the council. The subcommittee on these children has terms of reference which include developing a national model and uniform funding arrangements.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Sorry, is it possible for me to get a breakdown? You said it is $13 000 per child —
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: It is $30 000—approximately $30 000.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I am sorry, minister—is it 30 or 13?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: It is $30 000 a year, depending on their age and care needs, so it is an average cost.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Right, so a $30 000 actual cost and of that $1 300 is supplied by the commonwealth.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes, it is supplied by the federal —
Hon ALISON XAMON: Is it possible to get—I am happy to take it on notice, Madam Chair, if it is easier—a breakdown of how that $30 000 per child is usually allocated?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes, I am happy to do that.
[Supplementary Information No A5.]
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: So we get $30 000?
Hon ALISON XAMON: It costs $30 000 per child per annum and $1 300 of that is supplied by the commonwealth.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: So the rest of that is funded by the state?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes.
The CHAIR: $13 000 is.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: No, $1 300 per child. It is only $1 300. What we are trying to do is a 50 per cent cost share.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Okay, so you are asking for a 50 per cent cost share. The 50 per cent cost share, it is only if that is agreed that is the basis on which you will take more children under that program.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: It is pretty hard when we are paying out all this money when we have our own children in care to care for.
Hon ALISON XAMON: These are now Australian children.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: These are our children too, but what I am saying is the commonwealth needs to meet their responsibility. We certainly accept these children, but we see that it is very unfair that we are paying out $30 000 and the commonwealth is paying $1 300 when it comes through the department of immigration. So there does need to be some basis of equality here and I cannot see any as yet.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: Minister, do you have any figures for the other states as to how many unaccompanied minors in other states are currently being looked after? Because it would seem to me that the majority do seem to come to Western Australia. I am just wondering if we are being roughly done by, as usual, by our friends from the commonwealth.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: I believe we have a smaller proportion of children. I am not sure whether I can get the other states. I could certainly write to them, but whether —
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: No, I just thought you might have had it.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: No.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: I suppose this is a little bit tongue in cheek, but can you just answer for me: this “human minors” terminology that is used by the federal government, are there non-human minors coming here as refugees?
Hon SUE ELLERY: Myna birds—maybe that is what they mean.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: I think that is just an appalling turn of phrase.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: I have always said it is an appalling term. Hon Sue Ellery agrees with me, Hon Alison Xamon agrees with me; most people agree with me.
Hon LIZ BEHJAT: Nobody here I think would —
Hon SUE ELLERY: We are not going to fix it here in a budget hearing.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I refer to page 705, the asset investment program and the second paragraph. I was wondering if I could get some information on when the Midland and Armadale offices will be moving. It says 2012–13, but I was wondering if the minister could give some more detail on that and where the new offices are going to be located.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: I will ask Peter to answer.
Mr Byrne: The Midland one, we are currently negotiating a lease and therefore we are expecting to be in towards the end of the 2012–13 financial year.
Hon ALISON XAMON: But it will be in Midland again, yes?
Mr Byrne: Yes, it certainly will be in Midland. The Armadale one, we are actually negotiating with the council, but there are no decisions made in relation to that one at this stage. We do not have anywhere at this stage.
Hon ALISON XAMON: All right, so do you have any time frames, because you need to? The Midland one, as has been raised for several years, is quite urgent because the current situation is in no way good enough. But with the Armadale one, are you feeling hopeful that that is going to get resolved within the time frame that you have stipulated? The reason I ask that is I also am aware that there is a chronic lack of appropriate facilities out at Armadale, unlike Midland, which is actually expanding the buildings that are available out there quite considerably.
Mr Byrne: There is nothing at this stage. We are talking to the council and hoping the council will be able to assist us. But as soon as we can find something, we will be moving as quickly as we can on Armadale.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Again this is on the asset investment program, and the third paragraph about the reform of residential care services. How many places have yet to be constructed or expanded? Also, why is there the delay? When is it expected that these are going to be completed?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: I will hand it over to the director to answer that while I am having a look!
Mr Murphy: As I indicated earlier, the expansion of residential care is almost complete but in the country towns mentioned in the last paragraph there—Kununurra, Wyndham, Newman, Kalgoorlie and South Hedland—each of those places we have either an old building which we are using or have adapted, or we have rented a building for temporary accommodation, pending building. The delay in building, really, it is not too flip to say that building always takes longer than you planned and hoped for. Issues tend to be thrown up. In Port Hedland, for example, we are engaged in negotiating a land swap with Pilbara Cities because our land is right in the middle of a major residential development and it does not make sense for us to necessarily be there as much as it makes sense to optimise the value of the land through residential development. However, that takes time. We will not be disadvantaged in any way, but it takes time. Kalgoorlie, we have also had negotiation issues there, affected by native title, which have been slower to resolve, so it is a range of factors. The other I would throw in, though, is that, particularly in the country, we perhaps underestimated costs or over-specified for the buildings we wanted, putting in maybe a bit more space and a bit more complementary accommodation than in the final analysis are essential. We have had to have two bites on the specifications and that slowed us down a bit.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Are you able to give me—I am happy to take it on notice if you do not have it here—exactly how many places will be available in Kununurra, Wyndham, Newman, Kalgoorlie and South Hedland?
Mr Murphy: Yes; Kalgoorlie hostel, Kununurra hostel and Port Hedland hostel are called hostels because they will have six beds; whereas Newman group home and Wyndham group home are called group homes because they will have four beds. We want a bit of flexibility around those numbers but they are the numbers we are aiming for.
Hon ALISON XAMON: All the children who are anticipated to go into these places are currently staying within the same townships. I am picking that up from what you said; it is not quite satisfactory accommodation but they are in the same township as they will ultimately be located.
Mr Murphy: It is always fluid with children in care, as kids come in and move to family particularly. But yes, they are all children from that region. By and large, we do not have the problem, for example, they have in the Northern Territory of removing children, particularly Aboriginal children, from their country and bringing them to large towns and cities. We do pretty well keeping kids in their regional centres. The only exceptions to that are when their behaviour has become so extreme that they need the very specialised services that are available only in the city. Even then, we have had some really marked successes, for example, through secure care, stabilising young people and returning them to remote Aboriginal communities with wrap-around family support.
Hon ALISON XAMON: The forth dot point on page 706 refers to the “conclusion of the Commonwealth funded East Kimberley Family and Domestic Violence Hub project in 2011–12.” I am wondering whether there is any intention to continue the program with state or other funding, and was it deemed to be a success?
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: Yes, I think it was deemed to be a success. But all these federally funded programs have a finite ending. They were from 2007 to 2012 and $6.8 million was provided. We put in an application for state government royalties for regions to continue funding but that was unsuccessful. A variation to the MOU with FaHCSIA to extend the project activity end date to 31 December 2012 was requested and granted. That will allow the project manager to prepare and submit the project acquittals. Grant funding for the non-government service providers to work with the communities will cease on 30 June. A final funding allocation for the establishment of the Kalumburu safe house women’s centre project has been made by FaHCSIA. Tenders for this project close on 15 May 2012, with funds needed to be expended by 2012. Support is being provided to funded non-government organisations to explore alternative funding options available to enable continuation of at least some service delivery. The department is also negotiating with the Department of the Attorney General and FaHCSIA to explore possible funding options to continue some components of that hub.
Hon ALISON XAMON: If I might, Madam Chair. I would have thought the answer to a lot of those questions would have been on page 702, under “Outcomes and Key Effectiveness Indicators”, because we are talking about complexity. I did actually have a question pertaining to that, which was basically: why, under “Outcome: Children and young people needing protection are safe from abuse and harm”, the budgeted target is actually lower than the estimated actual for this past year? It seems to me that if you are actually on a trend of getting a better outcome, I would hope that you would want to continue with that, so I had a question about that. I suppose, related to the issue of how you measure success, I am interested as to whether you actually consider percentages of successful reunifications as a measure of success, for example. I know that I would regard that as a success.
Hon ROBYN McSWEENEY: I will answer your last question first, and then hand over to the director. Reunification is what we try to do, and we have put it up from $2 million in 2007 to $7- odd million, so we are working with families. Of course we want children to go back home, but if they cannot, there are other steps that we need to take, but certainly reunification, if it is done and done properly and done well, is wonderful for all concerned. But in some cases that cannot be done because we have sexual abuse, for a start. The children who are badly damaged because of their parents clearly cannot go home, and that is when we go into guardianship and foster care and we look at other alternatives for those children. If it is a mum and children and they need to be reunified, we do that, and we do it quite successfully with the NGOs.
Hon ALISON XAMON: My original question, though, was actually about the outcomes and key effectiveness indicators, and why your budget target for children and young people needing protection to be safe from abuse and harm is lower than even your estimated actual for this year.
Mr Murphy: The main rationale there is that that is more consistent with international benchmarks. The US standard figure for those indicators, they measure it in the obverse and it is 5.7 per cent, so that would have our indicator at 94.3 per cent. We think that 95 per cent is a reasonable target —
Hon ALISON XAMON: It would certainly help to always strive to be better than the US!
Mr Murphy: Yes, it is a curate’s egg in the US; there are good bits and not so good bits. That is consistent with international measurement, though. To be frank, it is a bit like our care planning, where we are coming from a low base and we are aiming for 85 per cent, but internally we aim for 95 per cent. Really, our aspiration for that indicator is far more like 98 per cent. We are not there yet, but we are on a slow increase. I might just throw one more number at you, if I may, because it illustrates the varied ways that we measure our activity. We have talked a lot about reunification being a success, but only when it is safe to do so. Our growth in children in care over recent years has been between four per cent and six per cent, and this year we are much closer to six per cent. The growth in the number of assessments we have been doing in that time is around 90 per cent. Not last year but the year before it was 90 per cent. To have that many more vulnerable families being assessed regarding the safety of their children and holding the increase in children in care down to a much lower figure, we regard as a success, but it is still a high-growth number in the number of children coming into care, because we will not compromise safety where we have to do so. There is a whole range of ways of measuring safety. The sort of life outcomes that children in care that Hon Philip Gardiner referred to tend to be measured in research reports rather than monitoring, simply because it is so difficult to do so. We will dig out some of those for you.
Hearing concluded at 4.34 pm