Bill: Children's Protection (Guardianship) Amendment Bill

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (10:34): I am not going to detain the house for an enormously lengthy period of time on this. I realise there are some other legislative instruments that are contemplating some of the same harms that were brought to the house's attention by the member for Bragg and the member for Adelaide in raising this matter in November and December last year.

However, before any other activities are undertaken with this particular piece of legislation, I want to state for the record my strong support for it, whether the purposes that are sought to be achieved come about through this legislation or through other means. It was an area that I had particular concerns about when I was the shadow minister for families and communities, which is a little while ago now. At that stage, this was a problem, and Commissioner Nyland addressed a number of these issues in her royal commission.

To put some of this in context, the Department for Child Protection—and I feel that we will probably be talking a little bit about child protection this morning as I see there is also a motion listed on the Notice Paper for later on—is a substantial agency. It has nearly half a billion dollars in expenditure in 2017-18. There are more than 2,000 full-time equivalent staff working in this area.

One of the challenges, of course, is that, in managing children who are not able to be left with their families because of the nature of that family situation being a substantial risk to the child obviously, it is preferable if a family environment guardianship can be a long-term solution than for them to be in an institutionalised care setting. We know that the outcomes for children who are in institutionalised care present greater challenges for them going forward than if a family arrangement can be made, and if guardianship can be with that kinship carer, or Other Person Guardianship can be with that kinship carer, then that is a preferable outcome.

I note that, in relation to the royal commission, the budget papers this year in Agency Statement 1 to do with child protection say that a highlight of last year was the establishment of the Child Protection Reform Implementation Team to lead the implementation of recommendations from the child protection system's royal commission report. It said that, of the 256 recommendations accepted by the government, 34 have been completed, 63 are currently being implemented, 86 are in the planning phase and 73 have not yet commenced. I encourage any member who is further interested in this detail to look at the Hansard of the estimates committee last Friday where the member for Adelaide and the minister spoke at length about these issues.

A highlight listed was the number of foster care placements, which had increased by 4.1 per cent from 30 June 2016 to 30 April 2017, and the number of kinship-care placements, which had increased by 3.4 per cent for the same period. Increases are good. The following page identifies that is an increase from 1,478 to 1,504, but the target was 1,584—a much more substantial increase than actually took place. The target for the current year is for children in out-of-home care placed with relatives (kin) at 30 June to become 1,594. That is the sort of increase that was not possible last year. We need to remove barriers where we can to Other Person Guardianship.

In relation to the recommendations of the Nyland royal commission that this bill seeks to enact, recommendation 153 is to:

Amend the Children's Protection Act 1993 to enable carers to apply to be appointed an Other Person Guardian where children who are subject to long-term orders have been in their care for a minimum period of two years, or such lesser period as the court in its absolute discretion determines is appropriate in the circumstances.

Then there are two other recommendations. Recommendation 154 is:

Amend the Children's Protection Act 1993 to provide that biological parents who oppose an application for the appointment of an Other Person Guardian bear the onus of proving to the court on the balance of probabilities why the order should not be made.

This is really important because they are complex and challenging situations. Often we are talking about a situation where a grandparent is applying to the court to have, effectively, the custody of the child who is their grandchild, which means that it is them against their own child.

This is a tremendously difficult situation and we have to be on the side of the child. We have to make it easier, therefore, for the right outcome to take place, so the onus should be on the parent who has been identified as being unsuitable to prove to the court on the balance of probabilities why the order should not be made. I think that is why Commissioner Nyland included that recommendation in her report. The other recommendation the bill seeks to deal with is recommendation 155:

Establish an independent assessment panel to consider applications for Other Person Guardianship, in accordance with certain procedures.

Currently, under section 38(1)(d) of the act, the Youth Court can appoint up to two people under the minister to be the legal guardian or guardians of a child. The bill would make it easier for foster or kinship carers of the child to become the other person guardian.

This is a challenge that is substantial. Nobody pretends that managing a child protection system is an easy task. It is some of the hardest work there is to do, and this government has, unfortunately, found it very, very difficult to restore confidence in the system and to encourage people to work in the child protection system, and that is a real problem for South Australia. One of the key things that will reduce the intense pressure in the child protection system, at least a little bit, is if we can get more foster carers and if we can get more Other Person Guardianship orders made.

Reducing the administrative burden and reducing the legal challenge of having those undertaken is not just a worthy goal but it is a critically important goal. This bill from the member for Bragg, working very closely with the member for Adelaide, whether through the mechanism of the bill itself or through other legislation, is going to produce outcomes that will make it easier to establish those goals, which I am sure everyone in this parliament is absolutely signed up to. Therefore, I endorse the bill.