A national report into child protection in Australia released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare lacks important information about the safety of Tasmanian children.
The number of children who may be in need of care in Tasmania was missing from the Child protection in the time of COVID-19 report due to "a high number of initial assessments in process and delays in recording their outcome in Tasmania", while every other state provided data.
Across the rest of the country the report illustrated national trends signalling a shackled availability of child services during the pandemic coupled with an increase in notifications of children possibly in trouble once pandemic restrictions eased and the possibility the pandemic may have contributed to the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.
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The report showed a trend of a drop in notifications to child protections services when the coronavirus restrictions hit the country about April.
Following the decrease, there were more notifications to child services from every state outside of Tasmania in 2020 than there were in the year prior.
Tasmanian information about notifications received ceased in April, and information about what notifications were deemed to have been made when a child was legitimately abused or neglected were not available at all.
National AIHW reports typically provide information to support government policy decision making and service delivery; the child protection report said the information it contained "can provide insight into how often suspected child abuse and neglect is detected".
The AIHW undertakes a similar report every year and Tasmanian information in the 2019 report was also compromised because of a higher proportion of children with 'Unknown' Indigenous status from the previous years' report.
The 2019 report said Tasmanian data lacked reliability and "may not be comparable".
Some Tasmanian children are not included in data if their carer declines a financial payment.
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A spokesperson for Communities Tasmania said the fact the data was missing from the report was "not indicative of deficiencies".
"It signals more detailed and thorough assessment work is occurring," they said.
"A contact to the Strong Families Safe Kids Advice and Referral Line [part of the Tasmanian government's current response to child safety] is only categorised as a notification following the initial assessment.
"Where appropriate, this involves working with families longer, often engaging other support services to ensure children are safe preferably without seeking a statutory mandate."
The child safety situation in Tasmania
Vulnerable children in Tasmania, and their relationship with Child Safety Services, has drawn the attention of the Tasmanian coroner over the past three years.
The death of 24-day-old Teegan Rose Hayes from East Devonport in 2011 illustrated a child service not well enough equipped to deal with the amount of reports received for children potentially being abused or neglected, and a staff unable to respond.
In the case of baby Teegan, her mother had been subject to 15 other notifications to child services.
Coroner Olivia McTaggart said many of the recommendations she would make regarding how CSS could improve itself were the same as those included in an investigation into the death of 45-day-old baby Bjay Adam Johnstone, also from Devonport, in 2012.
Alongside the comments about that inquest, Ms Mcaggart made two recommendations including specified ongoing training for CSS staff and that the finding be provided.
The death of Baby Bjay prompted Ms McTaggart to make 18 recommendations pertaining to both CSS and Tasmania Police.
More about the fallout from the death of baby Bjay
The recommendations included establishing a system to ensure notifications were acted on and focusing on "the timeframe for appropriate risk assessments ... the optimal procedures for comprehensive provision, sharing and disclosure of documents between organisations ... and ongoing quality assurance".
A government paper titled Tasmanian Government Response to Coroner's Recommendations on the death of: BJay Adam Johnstone said this recommendation was actioned in 2015.
The paper said the coroner recommendation would prompt further review of process and procedure.
A Communities Tasmania spokesperson said all 18 recommendations from the inquest into the death of baby Bjay had been implemented and both recommendations relating to the death of baby Teegan had been adopted.
Just over two years after the inquest into baby Bjay was released, Ms McTaggart began a third coronial inquest, this time into the deaths of six infants and one child in Tasmania between 2014 and 2018.
Each of the six infants and one child was known to CSS at the time of their death.
The inquest was held in August last year and is adjourned for submissions.
A Communities Tasmania spokesperson said, pending the findings, "the Government is committed to the safety and wellbeing of children and will give consideration to all findings handed down by the Coroner".
The spokesperson said a 2015 review of Tasmania's then Child Protection Service proposed an overhaul of the service.
"[The review] developed a proposal for a comprehensive redesign of Child Protection Services called Strong Families, Safe Kids, outlining a number of recommendations for action," they said.
"The first stage of Strong Families Safe Kids was completed in 2020 and the Government is developing the Next Steps Action Plan as the next stage of the Tasmanian Government's long-term commitment to prioritising the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in Tasmania.
"The Reform is about improving our support to families to better support and care for their children and a statutory response being the option of last resort."
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