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NT child protection overhauls

There are at least 1000 children at risk of harm in the Northern Territory who have received no support from the government, a new report has said.

Within hours of the report’s release in Darwin on Monday, both the NT and federal governments announced new funding to address the many issues raised by the inquiry.
Said to be the largest inquiry ever undertaken in the NT, the report – entitled Growing Them Strong, Together – detailed at length serious systemic failings in child protection.

The 712-page report made 147 recommendations relating to prevention, Aboriginal inclusion and co-operation with the non-government sector.

Late Monday, federal Minister for Families, Housing, Community services and
Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, announced a commitment of $34 million to boost measures to protect children from neglect and abuse in the NT.

She highlighted work already being done by the federal government to improve parental responsibility, including welfare payment quarantining.

NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson announced, in addition to funds already allocation in the budget, $130 million worth of reforms over five years.

He said the current NT Department of Health and Families would be split into two departments – one for health, the other for child protection.

The report showed the system was overburdened by an enormous and chronic backlog of cases.

Henderson said case workers would be brought in from New Zealand and interstate to immediately address the backlog.

As well as the 76 frontline and support jobs announced in the 2010-11 budget, an additional 42 new positions would be created to achieve national caseload benchmarks, he said.

A cross-agency child protection reform steering committee will be formed to ensure greater transparency and collaboration with non-government agencies and Aboriginal groups.

Both governments, as well as inquiry board members NT paediatrician Rob Roseby, Victorian Aboriginal Care Agency CEO Muriel Bamblett and NT Children’s Commissioner, psychologist Howard Bath, said it was a community-wide responsibility to protect children by tackling entrenched disadvantage and poverty.

“Child protection hasn’t failed because of problems with individuals. It has failed because it is the wrong system,” Roseby said.

“It is expected to do far more than child protection because it is expected to deal with so many individual, family and community problems that no one else is addressing.”

Bamblett called for the development of greater Aboriginal services, particularly in remote parts of the NT.

“We’ve got a real absence of parents in communities, which is alarming, and then we’ve got a government that tries to step in and be the public parent.

“We are calling for much greater focus on upstream support services to families and real investment in addressing contexts and causes, rather than just the effects, of child abuse and neglect,” he said.

Henderson said there were many problems unique to the territory, which resulted in it having one of the worst child protection records in the country.

“Poverty is the root cause, as is grog, gunga and gambling,” he said.
The NT and federal governments said they will more carefully examine the extensive report in coming weeks.

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