Estimates Committee B: Friday, June 30, 2023

Department for Child Protection $795,684,000


Ms Pratt substituted for Mr Telfer.

Mr Teague substituted for Hon. V.A. Tarzia.


Hon. K.A. Hildyard, Minister for Child Protection, Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing.

Departmental Advisers:

Ms J. Bray, Chief Executive, Department for Child Protection.

Ms F. Ward, Deputy Chief Executive, Department for Child Protection.

Ms J. Male, Chief Financial Officer, Department for Child Protection.

Ms B. Barbara, Chief Human Resources Officer, Department for Child Protection.

Mr T. Rich, Parliament and Cabinet Coordinator, Department for Child Protection.

The CHAIR: Welcome, everybody. The portfolio is the Department for Child Protection. The minister appearing is the Minister for Child Protection. I declare the proposed payments open for examination. I call on the minister to make a statement, if she so wishes.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Yes, thank you, Mr Chair, and thank you very much to all of the committee members for taking part in this really important process. I want to first of all introduce the excellent DCP staff who are here with me today: Jackie Bray, Chief Executive; Fiona Ward, Deputy Chief Executive; Joanne Male, Chief Financial Officer; Billie-Jo Barbara, Chief Human Resources Officer; and Tom Rich, Parliament and Cabinet Coordinator. Thank you to each of them and their teams for their work towards the budget and the estimates process and also for their steadfast commitment and tireless work to improve the safety, wellbeing and care for the most vulnerable children and young people in our state.

We have both profound challenges and profound opportunities ahead of us as a state as we contemplate what families across communities face and how we best respond through making improvements to the child protection and family support system. Every single moment of every day, I have those most vulnerable children and young people in my heart and in my mind, as with utter determination to help advance change that improves the lives of children and young people I undertake my responsibilities as minister.

The continued targeted investment the Malinauskas Labor government is making and the careful, deeply thought through plan for reform we are undertaking, we hope will begin to make improvements to the child protection and family support system in ways that make a lasting difference in the lives of children.

We must collectively make a difference across government, across our parliament, across the sector and across communities because one in three South Australian children come into contact with the child protection system, because the numbers of Aboriginal children in the system and in out-of-home care remain disproportionately high, and because families are grappling with deeply complex and interconnected issues, intergenerational trauma, mental ill health, domestic violence, poverty, and substance misuse.

I am really proud that this budget recognises the crucial task ahead and the deep complexity inherent in what people are experiencing and how we best shape the child protection and family support system to respond through the investment of an additional $216.6 million in child protection and effective intervention, $216.6 million that is part of an additional $372 million investment since coming to government.

The $216 million rightly includes investments in supports for children in residential care, support for carers, and programs and approaches to strengthen families. This is a budget that demonstrates our understanding of the need to balance the system, to appropriately support children in care, and to effectively intervene when families are struggling.

As minister, I have a strong vision to work towards ensuring children and young people in South Australia grow up safe, loved and cared for, and a visceral determination to advance change toward that vision. However, in working tirelessly to progress that vision, I also know that change in this space is not something one person, nor indeed one department, can advance on their own. To make significant inroads we need a whole-of-government, whole-of-community, whole-of-sector approach, and for everyone to feel confident to take responsibility.

Working collectively and collaboratively is the only way we will improve outcomes for children and young people, making it critical that there is a collaborative approach across government with key stakeholders and service providers—and, most importantly, with carers, families, children and young people themselves—to ensure that we provide the right kind of support and resourcing to effectively intervene with at-risk families at crucial times.

Key themes have emerged from reviews and inquiries in recent years. They include calls for increased funding for the child protection and family support system; establishment and support for expert advisory and advocacy bodies; improved across-government collaboration and system integration; enhanced support for carers; strategies to reduce Aboriginal over-representation in the system; improved cultural appropriateness of services; and closer adherence to, and more active implementation of, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principle.

We are committed to a reform agenda that incorporates the feedback from experts, that amplifies the voices of children, carers and families, that is driven by that long-term vision for child protection, as well as a methodical and structured approach to our responses to recommendations. Alongside this, we are acting to change focus to ensure that we shift from a community and broader system attitude of reporting as the first and sometimes only response, to reporting and supporting vulnerable families, children and young people.

We do so with an acute understanding that there is inherent risk in child protection and family support: a risk that workers, and all involved in the system, carry every day through every interaction and every decision they make. It is really important to acknowledge that, as a whole community, we are facing challenges that have a direct impact on the safety of children.

Whilst we are very gradually beginning to slow the growth rate of Aboriginal children in care, we have so much more to do. That is why our government is working with Aboriginal people in a really dedicated way to tackle this over-representation. We are investing an additional $13.4 million into family group conferencing, which has a strong focus on working with Aboriginal families to develop solutions for keeping children safely at home and strong in family, community and culture.

We have committed funding of $3.2 million to establish an independent Aboriginal community controlled peak body to empower community and to ensure measures are in place to improve the care and protection of Aboriginal children. We recognise that the first priority for the provision of a child's or young person's long-term care is their birth family. The government is acknowledging this and is investing in reunification.

This budget invests an additional $2.1 million to increase our capacity in this. Alongside other services like family group conferencing and intensive family support, which also fall under my statutory responsibilities, reunification services play an integral role in the child protection and family support system and in our work to keep families safely together.

The measures in this budget are complemented by a range of other activities that seek to collaboratively develop solutions using evidence and expert advice, and through developing a robust strong foundation with stakeholders including children, young people and carers themselves. A cross-government child protection CE governance group and a child protection expert group have been established. A carer council and a direct experience group have been funded and are being established.

These new groups will assist as we continue to build the foundations for child protection system reform. We have committed funding to amplify the voices of children and young people in care and those leaving care, including providing $800,000 to the CREATE Foundation and $1.87 million for the Child and Young Person Visitor. There are around 2,600 extraordinary foster and kinship carers supporting, caring for, opening their hearts and homes to vulnerable children. We want to better support them and we want to recruit more people to provide family-based care to children.

Our government has committed $800,000 to carer advocacy and $32 million to increase carer payments to assist meeting cost-of-living pressures. The budget provides for a 4.8 per cent increase to carer rates and it increases the carer payment for general foster and kinship carers so that an additional $50 is paid per fortnight for each child being cared for who is under the age of 16.

Mr TEAGUE: There is a point of order.

The CHAIR: We are at about 10 minutes now, so if you want to wind up so the opposition get an opportunity to ask questions.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: That is no problem. I cannot see the clock in here. I am really sorry. We can leave it there.

The CHAIR: Thank you, minister. Do you have an opening statement, or straight into questions?

Mr TEAGUE: A chug of time has gone already. I will jump straight into questions and might just indicate, for the benefit of the committee, that some short and direct answers would be helpful. There is a lot to get through. Can I start first with Budget Paper 3, page 23. If it would assist the minister, it might be helpful just to have a look at the Budget Measures Statement from last year at page 16 alongside that, because we see there the provision for funding over the forward estimates as a budget measure in 2022-23. The minister will be well familiar with that. At the third line of the table, the table being operating expenses for Child Protection—can you see that?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Yes, I am able to read that paper.

Mr TEAGUE: On the third line, we see the budget for 2022-23 at $717 million and the estimated result for 2022-23 at $769 million. Do you agree that that is a $52 million excess to budget?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: What is your question?

Mr TEAGUE: Do you agree that that is an excess of $52 million to budget?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: What I would like to say, Mr Chair, is I just want to reassure the shadow minister that I absolutely understand how to read budget statements and I can understand the variations and the difference between each year in the figures. I can assure him of that in a general sense.

Mr TEAGUE: Does the minister take responsibility for that $52 million excess to budget?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: That gives me, I think, a really good opportunity to speak further about the $216 million investment that is part of our additional $372 million investment since coming to government. What is really important to understand about our investment is that what is reflected in the components of that investment is a deep understanding of the need as a government, across government, if we are to tackle those complex issues that families are facing and to ensure that we have appropriate services and supports available across the system, that we need to balance investment so that we are appropriately resourcing the care and support for children already in residential care.

That is not something that has been a feature—it certainly has been a feature since we have come to government, but it was not a feature over those previous four years. It is really important that we resource caring with appropriate resource levels for children in care and that we also balance that with providing support to those carers who, as I said, generously open their hearts, their homes and their lives to children and young people, providing them with the support that they need, and that we also invest in programs that are focused on effective intervention for families that give families the best opportunity to be strengthened and the best opportunity to keep their children safely at home, hence the investment in family group conferencing and intensive family support in reunification and in the Aboriginal peak body.

What is really important, which I would really love the shadow minister to turn his mind to, is that investing in the child protection and family support system requires careful thinking about each of those elements being properly resourced. In terms of that expenditure, I am incredibly proud that we are investing significantly across each of those areas and incredibly proud that this $216 million sits as part of our $372 million investment since coming to government. I will argue and advocate every single day for those resources to be expended and to be expended in the way that they are.

I think this may be where the shadow minister is going: I was in the chamber on Wednesday night when he gave his appropriation speech. I know that, with the budget in his hand, he spoke about 'profligate spending'. When we are talking about the child protection and family support system—as he was, as I understand it, that evening—this is about appropriate spending that supports vulnerable children and their families and a system to be properly resourced to, again, make sure that we are appropriately providing support and resources to children in care and to carers and for effective intervention and strengthening of families.

If that is where the shadow minister is going, I can absolutely say I am really proud of this spending. It is really complex. We are doing the best that we can to make improvements, and this investment is a really important part of that.

Mr TEAGUE: Given those are scarce resources, as you look further across the same line—again, I appreciate staying on the point because a lot of people are interested in the management of these scarce resources. Given the overspend of $52 million from what was budgeted, you see there that going forward—2024-25, 2025-26, 2026-27—there is only room for increases of expenditure year on year of $4 million, then $12 million, then $14 million respectively as the result of the blowout in the last year's spend. You see that in black and white.

There is less room for growth of expenditure, less room for all of those extraordinary priorities that are important to spend and so on, compared with the $30 million that was set out as a measure year on year in last year's budget. Is the minister's—again, I do not want to overly characterise it—rather lengthy answer directed to somehow making the proposition that the $52 million blowout last year somehow did all the work that was going to be done over those three years going forward, or otherwise do we accept that we are just going to see continuing blowouts in the budget to achieve these things?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I think there are a few questions in there. I will try to answer it by speaking first of all to your language. You refer to a 'blowout' of spending.

Mr TEAGUE: $769 million over $717 million. Call it what you like.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I am just repeating your words. You refer to it as a blowout. It is a priority for us to make sure we resource supports and services for the most vulnerable children and young people in our state. We will continue to make sure that we support and provide resources for children who are in residential care, for those carers who, with such incredible commitment and love, provide family-based care, and we will continue to provide support for effective intervention supports and services, whether that is family group conferencing or reunification. We will do that, because that is the right thing to do—that is absolutely the right thing to do. I would say also, because again I was not quite sure exactly what the questions were in the statement, other than some of the phrases that you used—

Mr TEAGUE: You have limited the room for the growth of expenditure in years going forward; that is the proposition.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —but what I would also say is that one of the things that is very clear at a national level is that, right across the country, every single jurisdiction is contemplating the mix of placement types for children and young people who, sadly, are required to come into care.

One thing that each jurisdiction is grappling with is the need for more family-based carers. It is a matter on which I will continue to engage in discussions at a national level. I can say that, rightly, in terms of our budget, because we know the benefits of family-based care, very carefully there is investment in improving payments and support for family-based carers, because that is the right thing to do—

Mr TEAGUE: Let's go there, minister.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —but also, thinking about the placement mix in terms of where children go is really important. I would also say that very proactively, as well as the investments we have made to improve payments for carers, just yesterday there was the beginning of a think tank that we are going to conduct and that we will continue to grow around how we can attract more family-based carers.

When I say that, certainly from some of the conversations I have had with carers—and I have had multiple round tables, forums, conversations, meetings with carers right across the state—one of the questions I ask them is: 'What is it that would improve your experience? What would help to engage more people to undertake family-based caring?' We know, in terms of the placement mix and the budget, that this is really important, because we know that is such an important and crucial type of care for children and young people. What they say to me when I have those conversations, amongst a range of things—I was just going to choose one—is that a really big issue for them is access to respite care.

Mr TEAGUE: Chair, the minister seems dedicated to avoiding answering questions on the budget.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: This is about the placement mix, which goes straight to the budget.

The CHAIR: I think the minister is providing some context, but if she can move towards—

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Just to be really clear, so that the shadow minister understands, the placement mix absolutely has an impact on the budget. There is national discussion about that. It is a well-known fact across the globe that the placement mix has an impact on budget settings. So it goes to the core of the question that the shadow minister is raising. If he wants some more explanation about that, I am really happy to give it to him at another time, if that would be helpful to him.

What I would say is that, in terms of attracting respite carers, that is one of the things that has been identified in almost every conversation I have had, and I mean right across the state. We need and we are turning our minds to how we can attract more carers of every type, because if attracting respite carers—and I think there are a number of people who would take on this role, whether that is once a fortnight, once a month, or whatever it might be—means that we have those people in the system providing love, care and support to children and young people, that also means it has the benefit of ensuring that we sustain those full-time foster and kinship carers, and that is a great thing, so we will be focusing on that.

Going back to the series of questions in the shadow minister's statement, this investment is a priority for us. I know the shadow minister characterises that investment into support for children and young people as a blowout. I absolutely and fundamentally believe that this is a priority. Of course, we are also looking at, in that investment, how we provide balance across the system. Again, just to summarise, one of those ways is to think about that placement mix.

In our budget, in our investment, we are doing that because we are absolutely appropriately funding supports and resources for children in residential care. We are funding improvements to payments for carers, we are engaging in strategies to attract more carers, family-based carers, and we are doing the work in a very comprehensive and well thought through way to begin to effectively intervene to strengthen families and keep children safe at home. This is absolutely a direct answer to that question.

Mr TEAGUE: I take you to Budget Paper 5: Budget Measures Statement. On those points there are a couple of measures that are there summarised.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Sorry, what page?

Mr TEAGUE: Firstly, at page 18 we see the really rather significant investment of additional resource and out-of-home care. It is there described in the second paragraph as follows:

This sits alongside the commitment that the department will continue to actively support all family-based carers and endeavour to increase the number of carers available to provide care for children and young people in a family-based environment.

As has been addressed at length in a variety of forums, we see on the previous page that there is funding to increase payments to certain foster carers. The question is: what portion of funding for out-of-home care here is for residential care—that is, for state care—as opposed to foster caring?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: $109 million. It is set out there.

Mr TEAGUE: All of it?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Yes, $109 million.

Mr TEAGUE: So when we talk about out-of-home care for these purposes, we are talking about residential care state care?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Yes. Can I just say, for the first time over the last six years since we came to government, finally there is actually, rightly, an appropriate amount of resourcing for staff, for services, for those most vulnerable children in residential care, as there should have been. Unfortunately, it was horrific to see that not only was that funding not there over those four years of the former Liberal government, which infuriates me, but also during their period of government they imposed on the Department for Child Protection efficiency measures so that there were further changes and cuts to that department. That is absolutely outrageous. That is the past. What we are doing is making sure that we appropriately and rightly fund it.

Mr TEAGUE: I promise the minister that these are questions designed to interrogate the budget. We are here as a budget committee. What is the trajectory—this follows on from similar questions last year—therefore, of growth for the number of children and young people in care? In the specific context of this investment, how is the investment going to contribute to reducing the number of children in residential care, or at least reducing what I recall the deputy chief executive describing last year as an objective to reduce the rate of growth of children in care?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: What I can tell the shadow minister, and I am really pleased to have an opportunity to do so—and I am just going to look to my left to make sure I have the figures right in my mind—is that, in terms of that question, there are two things. There is the placement mix, which I will come back to, which is that desire, commitment and clear strategy to begin to recruit more family-based carers, which is incredibly important, and I hope that point is now understood. That is crucial, in terms of our efforts going forward.

Also, though, what I can say—and I am sure the shadow minister will be really pleased to hear this—is that over those four years of the former Liberal government, around 950 additional children came into care and the growth rate increased during the period. I can go through every single figure, if you would like me to, but it increased and it increased and it increased. What I can tell the shadow minister, which I am sure he will be pleased to hear, is that there is a lot more work to go, but we are finally starting to see that percentage just slightly starting to turn—

Mr TEAGUE: Just an answer to the question.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —and that is incredibly important because it shows us that, whilst we would never say there is not a significant amount of complex—

Mr TEAGUE: I think it is just a number, minister.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —work to do, we are starting to see the signs. Your question was: what are you doing in terms of the projections about the number of children in care and in out-of-home care? I am really pleased that we are just starting to see that turn, as compared to the previous financial years ending June 2018—

Mr TEAGUE: Perhaps, can I repeat the question?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —June 2019, June 2020 and June 2021.

Mr TEAGUE: How will the investment—

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Those strategies are working well, bearing in mind, I would absolutely stress, that there is a long way to go. This is complex work that will take some time, but as I said in my opening statement—or I do not think I got to it—I am utterly determined that we stay the course in terms of the settings that we have, given we are just starting to see that. Also—

Mr TEAGUE: If the figure is not to hand, I am happy for the minister to take some time—

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Another thing we will continue to do with utter determination is our work to increase the number of family-based carers and also the other work that we are doing to effectively intervene to strengthen families, to do all that we can when it is possible, when it is safe to do so, to keep families safe and strong together.

Mr TEAGUE: So there is no figure forthcoming. I would be pleased to have that figure just as soon as it is available. I will repeat the question: how is the investment in out-of-home care going to contribute to reducing the number of children in state care?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I think I have answered this question at length. I am trying to think of the best way to explain it, so it is understood. Tackling child protection is incredibly complex. There are deeply interconnected issues, as I have spoken about often in the other house, that families are facing. There is also a complexity in terms of how the system is balanced.

We could never, ever say, 'Okay. We're going to stop having this resource over here to support children who are already in care.' Why on earth would we ever do that? We would never do that. We need to support those children. Similarly, we would never say that we are going to stop implementing really well thought through measures to make sure that we are also effectively intervening in ways that, over time, we would hope—bearing in mind the context we are in, with those complex challenges for families—begin to achieve change.

What I would also say to the shadow minister is that when those incredible workers are out working with families, those workers who carry that risk every single day and make those often heartbreaking decisions to potentially remove a child, that is supported, because when we need to do that, we will do so. So we are never going to stop resourcing the fact that those decisions will be made where it is necessary to do so.

Mr TEAGUE: Do you have that figure now?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: What I would also say—just to speak more broadly to answer your question, because, as I have said to you many times, these issues are complex and multifaceted and it is about balancing the system—in terms of looking at funding for children who are at risk—

Mr TEAGUE: They are not trick questions, minister.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I just want to—no, I am giving you really good answers. I am giving you comprehensive answers—

Mr TEAGUE: Just straightforward, short answers will permit covering a range of important topics.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —that I hope you are hearing—

Mr TEAGUE: We are all interested in the substance.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —because child protection—

Ms Stinson interjecting:

The CHAIR: No interjections.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Shadow minister, child protection is not about gotcha moments or this bit here or this bit here—

Mr TEAGUE: No, nor is it about obfuscating and filibustering.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —it is about understanding the complexity of issues that families in our state are facing and how you invest across the system to make change. The other point I wanted to make, when you talk about the 109 and 'why are you investing it in this way', is that the other thing I would really love you to understand—

Mr TEAGUE: That was not a question.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —is that, actually, child protection and family support is a whole-of-government, whole-of-community, whole-of-sector effort. What that means is that there are also funds in the domestic violence space, there are funds in the drug and alcohol space, there are funds in education, there are funds in mental health, in SA Health, in family support services, in DHS, because we want to make sure we are resourcing interactions that vulnerable children and young people have at particular moments when they present with vulnerability.

That does mean that we want support through Health when particular matters arise for children. We want support, as we are providing and as is absolutely articulated in the national plan around domestic violence, for children through that funding stream. We want support for children through education. I am sure Minister Boyer will talk about the mental health professional funding for schools. All of that investment also contributes to the safety, the wellbeing, the interventions with children.

I would love for the shadow minister to engage in that broader debate about what is needed. I cannot remember the date off the top of my head, but I do remember the Leader of the Opposition speaking about the need for bipartisanship on these complex issues. That is what I want to hear. I want to hear that there is a willingness to engage in the complexity of child protection and the complexity of the investments that we need to make and the fact that it requires change across the whole system and change that will take a long time, because the issues of disadvantage, of poverty, of domestic violence are entrenched issues.

There is not an easy solution, but we are up for working our way strategically through, and towards, a vision for change that actually begins to make a difference for children and young people, and their families.

Mr TEAGUE: Time is short. We might move to the next topic, the question of the challenge of recruiting staff and staff turnover, and so on. We have seen a year in which the department has lost a CE and we have a new chief executive. I have indicated along the way, and I take the opportunity to do so again, I welcome the appointment of the new chief executive. We are soon to see the departure of the deputy chief executive, and I note that by reports. So there is a leadership change that is underway at the department. The focus of my questions in this regard are about ongoing challenges to achieve staff recruitment, as has been advertised.

On 16 November, there was indicated, for example, the objective immediately—notwithstanding the 100 FTEs that have been set out in the budget—to recruit 42 new social workers and 10 additional principal Aboriginal consultants. How has that proceeded? Is that complete? To what extent does that contribute to the 100 FTEs in the 2023-24 budget? I am at Volume 1, page 92, of course.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I think there are a few comments in there around the CE and deputy CE, and then recruitment of staff and, particularly, the 42 additional social workers and the 10 principal Aboriginal consultants, so I will start first of all by saying, yes, the recruitment of the 42 additional social workers is complete. In relation to the 10 principal Aboriginal consultants, I understand there are interviews—on 10 July we will have interviews—so that recruitment process is well underway.

I will also take the opportunity, as you have, to mention our new CE and our deputy CE. I think the member for Frome also had an opportunity to provide thanks in that regard as well. I do take the opportunity to welcome and to thank Jackie Bray for taking on the significant role of Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection, and I note in Jackie's comments on coming into the role at a media conference that she talked about how determined she is in the challenge ahead, and how, I guess, up for that challenge she is.

Our conversations since that time absolutely cement my belief that we have a shared intense determination to stay the course, knowing that things are really hard and really difficult but to stay that course to advance change and to do all that we can to make sure that we do advance meaningful change, so I welcome Jackie. I also wanted to have that opportunity because I have not had an opportunity publicly yet. I am sure I will get other opportunities, perhaps at a Port Power game or in some other format.

I want to thank Fiona Ward. I have said this when we were with the Aboriginal staff members a couple of weeks ago, but I really want to thank Fiona for her remarkable and enduring service as the deputy chief executive. Anybody who has worked closely with Fiona—I am sure the member for Frome would know this—Fiona's every action, her heart, her words, her commitment, the hours that she does, her incredible strategic thinking, have made an extraordinary contribution to child protection in this state, and when I say child protection in this state both through being in the Department for Child Protection but also in a number of other departments over 30 years as well.

I want to say to Fiona on the record that I am so grateful for her extraordinary contribution, and I am really grateful also for the wise advice that she has shared with me—I am very grateful. So I just wanted to take the chance of you raising those issues to say that publicly, and again I am sure we will have a chance to do more.

Mr TEAGUE: Minister, what is the DCP staff turnover rate for 2022-23?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: In relation to staffing and DCP, as you have rightly identified and as you can see in the budget papers, we are actually growing staff numbers, which I am really pleased to say. The April 2023 paid FTE count was 103.3 FTE higher than the FTE count as at April 2022, so as you can see there has been significant growth over that period.

As you can see from the budget measures and our investment and as I have spoken about before, we are going to continue our work to recruit and to retain staff. One thing that we are working on—and I am going to try to remember the date off the top of my head; I think it was 27 April, and please tell me if I am wrong, somebody—is that we held a significant gathering of stakeholders with input from carers, with people across government, including the Office of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment, and right across learning institutions.

We held a summit to begin to develop our South Australian child protection sector workforce strategy. We heard from a number of thought leaders, from academics, from workers themselves, again, with input from carers and young people, to work through our process to develop a holistic, sustainable child protection workforce strategy for the future that is focused, again, on working to ensure the best possible outcomes for children and young people. One thing that I did want to mention also—

Mr TEAGUE: Is there an answer to the question in there anywhere?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I just said we have actually grown it by 103 staff. I literally just gave you that number.

Mr TEAGUE: The turnover rate was the question.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I literally just gave you that number.

Mr TEAGUE: The turnover rate was the question.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: The other thing that I wanted to speak about that is really important and related to that question is that, as the member would be aware, we are funding and developing a social worker registration scheme, which certainly lifts the profession and provides particular resources to the profession. Also, we are in discussions with universities about opportunities to really tailor education, particularly social work education but also other education, to child protection needs.

Mr TEAGUE: Are you going to implement the act anytime soon?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: When courses are undertaken, we want people to turn their minds to working in child protection. When they are in their particular classes, whether it be social work at Flinders or wherever they may be studying, we want them to see child protection as their preferred option.

We are working with universities about how we make sure that child protection is articulated in their learning as a pathway and we are also—and I think I have spoken about this in the other house before and I know it has been in the media—making sure that other professions have trauma training as part of their curriculum so that they can also assist in the most productive way alongside child protection workers. For instance, in teacher education, we are implementing trauma training so that those workers who work so closely alongside child protection workers also have those skills.

I actually think that over time, across a range of professions, we should be making sure that we deepen understanding of trauma-related behaviours so that we can make sure in recognition that protecting and nurturing children is a whole-of-government effort, that every profession understands their role in keeping children safe in protecting and nurturing children, connecting them with services. Whenever I am asked about those staff numbers, and I have given you that 103 increase figure—

Mr TEAGUE: The turnover rate, was the question.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Whenever I speak about our effort in child protection—and again I would love more conversations about this with the shadow minister—child protection workers do child protection work, but actually there are multiple workers who do child protection work, and we want all of them—

Mr TEAGUE: A couple of things arising from that, if there is—

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —to feel strong and safe and supported and confident in that.

Mr TEAGUE: I will move along. There are a couple of questions there now. On the social workers registration side, in a parliamentary committee on 27 February 2023, earlier this year, the former chief executive, when asked about the registration scheme, said, and I am at page 91, 'I am delighted to say that social worker registration—the bill has previously passed the former house and it will be rolled out in terms of a board and process this year.' Ms Taylor went on to explain that, two weeks prior, the department had advertised a position for the person who would lead the work. That was in February. We are now at the end of June.

Can the minister advise whether these positions are filled? Given the bill passed in 2021—the Social Workers Registration Bill, that is—can the minister provide any overall indication about when the social worker registration scheme will be established, and can you give an update as to the progress of implementing the act?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Absolutely. As you rightly said, the bill was progressed late in 2021—I think on 9 December 2021.

Mr TEAGUE: Passed.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Are you correcting my language again?

Mr TEAGUE: It was passed.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Thank you for that explanation. I really appreciate your explanation around my language. The Social Workers Registration Bill 2021 was progressed on 9 December 2021. As part of the December 2022 Mid-Year Budget Review, DCP was allocated $4.7 million over four years to establish the registration scheme under that act. We have developed a really strong implementation plan for the scheme, which is obviously being used to inform us on decisions around funding, governance and staffing. Once we have the director in place, of course, that will be a further opportunity for them to work through that implementation plan, etc.

I met—I cannot remember the date off the top of my head, but I can give you more information about that meeting. There have been conversations with the Australian Association of Social Workers about the progress. That was in April, I think. I have certainly met with them. The department has met with the Australian Association of Social Workers about the social worker registration scheme, and rightly so because their members affiliate to their association and they are in discussions with them also about what the scheme will look like.

I think the member has already spoken about the dates for advertising the position, etc. My understanding is that interviews are being held next Wednesday. There has been an extensive search for candidates. As I understand it, the interviews are being held next Wednesday. Obviously, I am not part of that process, so I imagine I will probably make a statement in the house at some point about the person who is successful in that particular position.

Also, and this is something I have actually talked about over probably the last 25 years through previous roles, I think that, alongside our state-based social worker registration scheme, in the long term—and this is something that I will certainly raise at ministerial councils; it is something I have been very interested in for a long time, having represented the industrial interests of social workers over a very long period of time—given that social workers are engaged or employed pursuant to the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Award, which is a federal award, it is really important that we also progress discussions about a national scheme.

I actually do think that there is merit in that. It is the right thing that we are moving ahead and establishing a state-based scheme and, as I said, those interviews will happen next week. I will certainly keep the other house informed about progress with that, but I can tell the committee today that I will absolutely continue to have those discussions that have been around for a number of years about a national scheme, which I think has merit to be explored for a number of reasons including the industrial arrangements that social workers are employed pursuant to where they are in the community sector.

I guess the challenge is when they are employed in state sectors, they can be employed pursuant to different industrial instruments. I think that is the challenge going forward as that national discussion continues.

Mr TEAGUE: While we are on legislation, I am still on Volume 1, page 91. There is a target for 2023-24 to introduce amendments to support changes to the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017. When can we expect a draft bill to be released and will the minister be addressing or responding to those carers who are calling for an independent investigations unit and similarly responding to those carers who are calling for an independent children and young person guardianship board?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I am sorry, I did not hear the last bit of your statement.

Mr TEAGUE: There are two things: there have been calls from carers for an independent investigations unit and, secondly—

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: The legislation?

Mr TEAGUE: —yes—carers have called for an independent children and young person guardianship board.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I think the first part of your question was about the legislation?

Mr TEAGUE: Yes. When can we see a draft bill?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: That is an excellent question. As you are aware and as I have briefed you on, and as various personnel from the department have briefed you on at length, on coming to government—just to give you some background about the legislation—there are a range of reasons I am really determined that this be a comprehensive review of that legislation. The most important one of those is that we absolutely need to make sure that our legislation sets the foundations for the right support, the right levers to support the most vulnerable children and young people, that reflects legislation, that reflects our focus on effective intervention on the desire for child protection and family support to be contemplated right across government and to be contemplated as a public health issue.

I see the legislation as an incredible opportunity to advance those correct foundations for the system. Getting that right for children and young people is the most important reason for that determination. What I would also draw the member's attention to is, I am not going to frame this in a partisan way but I do think it was very much a lost opportunity when the former minister moved a bill and reviewed legislation in the last term of government.

There were a number of amendments that I moved and indeed other members moved, including members in this chamber in the Legislative Council, that were not taken up. I think that if they had been, we may have advanced some change at that point in time. Nonetheless, we are where we are now. I think this was included in the briefing to the shadow minister, but what I can inform the shadow minister is that we have undertaken a very deep consultation process around changes to the legislation.

The review commenced in September 2022, and the final review report was provided to me at the end of February or the beginning of March, from memory. There were a range of ways that people could input into that first part of the consultation process. That was through written submissions, consultations, etc., but also we conducted—I am trying to get a number; I will check the number for you—multiple consultation sessions right across the state. Some of those were more general consultation sessions and some were with carers.

Also, really importantly, there were sessions held with children and young people themselves, which I think is a crucial part of the work that we do both in relation to legislation but also in relation to every aspect of child protection and family support. We had consultation sessions specifically with and for Aboriginal community members. We had them with the heads of industry groups, leaders right across the sector. We had them with workers in DCP, with young people and regionally. Really importantly, we had these consultation sessions.

All the reports from those consultation sessions were collated into one report that was tabled in parliament on 23 March and is also available online. I find that report really interesting because I think it shows both the deep passion and the deep thinking by so many people but also the breadth of views that exist about the changes that should be made. One of the issues, as you know, shadow minister, that you and I have had a conversation about in our briefing, is the issue around thresholds and mandatory notifications, and there was a breadth of views about where we land in relation to that particular issue.

There is a considerable degree of thinking that needs to happen very carefully around a range of those issues, and I look forward to that. I am really grateful to the many people who contributed. It was such a rich set of views and contributions that informed that report. What I can say, the same as I said to you in the briefing that we had, is that we intend to introduce legislation in the second half of this year, and we are very close to having the draft bill out for a further round of consultation, which is exactly what I promised anybody who engaged with the consultation and those who decided they had to have another opportunity to contribute to it.

There will be another round of consultation, and we are very close to having that draft bill out. If the shadow minister is amenable to it, I am sure that we can provide a briefing to him with that draft bill to take him through the various elements. I suspect and it is my hope that we will again receive significant feedback about that draft bill, and then we will of course make decisions and introduce the bill into parliament. From where we are up to with getting the draft bill out for that second round of consultation, I think that we are likely to have the draft bill introduced very shortly after parliament resumes after the winter break. I think that hopefully fulsomely answers your question about the timing around the legislation.

To go to the second part of your question, I think your question is about legislation but also just as much about outcomes from the Independent Inquiry into Foster and Kinship Care, where particular issues were traversed and particular recommendations made, if I am hearing your question correctly because the language you used comes from some of the matters raised in that inquiry. I think that is the question you were asking.

What I would say, to give you a little bit of background about the inquiry, is that, when I referred to the previous minister's introduction of amendments to the Children and Young People (Safety) Act, during the course of that bill being debated both myself as shadow minister at that time and the minister were approached individually by advocates wanting us to connect foster, kinship and other carers.

It is my understanding that the former minister was approached—that is what I was advised; I can say that I certainly was—about making sure that in that piece of legislation a clause was included about carers being afforded procedural fairness in relation to a range of issues. I took that suggestion on board and moved amendments. Unfortunately, it was not supported.

I think, and we can check the Hansard together on this, a similar amendment may have been moved in this house. Wherever that amendment went, what then happened was that a bill was put forward to establish the inquiry. As the shadow minister is aware, the inquiry was handed down and there were 29 recommendations from the inquiry. However, it is 28 because unfortunately two recommendations were duplicated, so it is 29 but it is actually 28.

Since receiving those recommendations that the shadow minister speaks of, or the themes raised in the inquiry, I have committed myself. I was conducting forums, round tables, conversations with carers around the state before the handing down of the inquiry, but I have conducted and continued to regularly conduct forums, round tables and conversations with carers right across the state. That is something I did as a shadow minister, and it is something I have continued to do as a minister, because it is the right thing to do.

In all that I do in child protection, I seek to amplify, listen to and act on the voices of children and young people, carers, workers, sector leaders, everybody right across the system. What I can tell you in relation to your questions about those two themes that came out of the inquiry is that I have conducted all of those conversations, round tables and forums, and I have received so much feedback from carers—some really positive feedback—about the commitments we have already made on particular matters, in fact that we immediately made.

I can tell you what the commitments were that we made straight away: one was to establish the Carer Council to make sure that we have a sustainable ongoing way to hear directly from carers about all the matters they are interested in. I imagine those matters that you raised—

Mr TEAGUE: How are you going to nominate the carers for the council?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I will come back to that, thank you. I will add to my answer with that. The three things we committed to immediately—and there have been many others in terms of the inquiry since then—was establishing the Carer Council, changing the deficit in care grounds in relation to care concerns and improving the model of respite support. We also, alongside that, agreed that where there were suggestions about legislative change that we would consider those suggestions as part of our legislative review.

I will not go into all the detail about each of the recommendations because we have made other commitments since that time. I went out and let carers know about those initial commitments and I really listened to them on their views about the inquiry. What I can say to the shadow minister is that I have received a really broad range of feedback. There are definitely themes that are consistent across all carers, but there are some issues where particular carers have a slightly different view to other carers.

We will continue down the path around the various commitments that we have made publicly to carers, and through the media release into those initial commitments, but I just want to say that a really important mechanism in terms of ongoing feedback will be that Carer Council. I will rely on that council to provide robust advice to me about how they would like to tackle particular issues, including issues that are in that report.

What I would also say to the shadow minister is that the Carer Council will exist and, thankfully, I am very grateful for the advice that will be provided to me from them, but that will not in any way stop me from continuing, as I have done since being a shadow minister and as a minister, to get out and hear from carers about what is important to them and how we can help improve their experience as carers, and how we can best support them, so we will continue that.

In terms of the additional question that you added, as I said, in accordance with the recommendation from Dr Fiona Arney in the report of the independent inquiry, we have committed to establish a Carer Council. That is being funded by the state government and it is Connecting Foster and Kinship Carers SA that will begin to make the arrangements to establish that Carer Council.

Mr TEAGUE: I am at Volume 1, page 94, activity indicators. There we see, 'Notifications of child abuse or neglect assessed as requiring further action'. What is the latest figure the minister can provide to the committee on how many cases are being, to use the old term, 'closed, no action' or the current one 'not proceeding'? As I understand it the terminology has been changed. What is the latest figure on how many cases are classified in that way? While we are at it, on the same point, are there any e-CARL notifications—that is, the written reports of children at risk who are currently waiting to be checked?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I am sorry, I just did not hear the second part of your question, so please ask me after, if you would like to. What I can say is that in 2017-18, 55 per cent in that case were 'closed, no action' or 'not proceeding', as the terminology is now. As at 30 April 2022-23, that figure is now down to 23.3 per cent. What I can say is that I am pleased that there is an ongoing decline in that number, in turn, which means that we are getting to more and more and more cases, and rightly so.

I can also say that that reduction, in terms of the percentage, also comes at a time when in that same period there has been an enormous increase in the number of cases, or number of concerns, that are notified. So there is that reduction, at the same time as the numbers have been exponentially growing over that period. What I would say to the shadow minister—

Mr TEAGUE: Sorry, I might have also misheard—

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: If I can just finish my answer.

Mr TEAGUE: It just helps to understand the answer.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: What I would also say to the shadow minister is that every single notification, every single issue of concern, we treat incredibly seriously, and we will continue our work to make sure that we consider how we can continue that trajectory of reducing that number. When the commentary in Nyland was made about that particular issue, there were around 20,000 screened-in notifications. That number is at least double, I think, if not more than that now, so we do have significant—

Mr TEAGUE: The projected number is exactly that.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —work ahead. As I have spoken about at length today and on other occasions, we will not stop in our relentless efforts to continue to reduce that number. It is incredibly important.

What I would also say to the shadow minister is that three other things also need to be considered here. First of all, I think the commentary I have provided about child protection and family support being a whole-of-government, whole-of-community, whole-of-sector effort is really important because when we have that volume of notifications—and we know that some of those notifications are made by professionals across government who have contact with children—we really want to work to make sure that people in every department who work with at-risk children feel confident and have the capacity to respond to any concerns.

One of the most opportune times, of course, to effectively intervene when there are concerns about a child is when that child is right in front of you, such as if a teacher or a SSO or a doctor is seeing a child. Yes, of course, they need to make those notifications, but we also need to make sure they feel confident to do what they can to provide that support. That is the first thing that is important about this effort. The screened-in increase is closer to 50 per cent, not doubled, in the year to date.

Another thing I would say that is really important in terms of our earlier discussion about the legislation is that there is this challenge we have in considering the legislation. You and I have had a conversation about this, and others have including Simon Schrapel and other leaders in the sector—certainly, our expert group that Simon Schrapel is part of will have discussions, I am sure, about this—which is: what is the threshold for notifications?

On the one hand, there is absolutely an argument to capture every incident of concern, to receive all those notifications. Then there is also a valid argument about what will enable us to most quickly respond to those issues of most risk and most concern, so there is that discussion. I think it is an issue for our whole community, not just for you and me in the chamber across the sides of parliament. What is the appetite that our community—that our state—has around that threshold?

Currently, South Australia has the lowest threshold, which means that we have a significant number of notifications. What is the appetite in our community to change that? What is the approach we want to have as a state around that? What are the conversations we should be having in our state about that appetite to balance that desire rightly, which I absolutely understand, to capture every notification with the desire, which I understand, to make sure we focus on those children who are most at risk? There is this really important debate for our state to have around that particular issue.

The third thing I wanted to touch on, again, a really big issue that I think we need to contemplate as a state, is that our entire child protection system decades ago—I do not just mean in recent times—as is the case in other states, was built on an understanding of harm to children coming via an incident of serious physical or sexual abuse, an incident.

That is right and that always needs to be included in the system; however, our system was not built at a time when we were seeing increasing emerging issues around patterns of neglect and cumulative harm. It was built at a time when there was not necessarily this deep interconnection of issues that families are experiencing, that terrible nexus between poverty, intergenerational trauma, mental ill health, substance misuse, domestic violence. We know that in 80 per cent of child protection cases domestic violence is an element.

So we also have to think about: what is it that we are seeing now, and what is the best way to respond right across government? What is the appetite to respond in a different way and to contemplate those other patterns of neglect and cumulative harm that we are seeing? I think there is a really important moment coming towards us when we introduce legislation to have those debates about: what is the appetite? What is the context? What are the changes we want to make to those foundations in the child protection and family support system? I really look forward to those discussions with you, but really with our whole community.

Mr TEAGUE: In that context, minister, you have talked about the engagement with the whole community and also with other departments in a complementary way, including education. Are the minister and the department continuing to work with Catholic Education and independent schools to provide scholarships to children under guardianship?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Yes.

Mr TEAGUE: I note that under the former government the then minister negotiated with both Catholic Education and also a number of independent schools to offer scholarships as well as free uniforms.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Yes.

Mr TEAGUE: Those were provided to several children under guardianship, getting on towards numbers in the hundreds.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Yes.

Mr TEAGUE: Good. Back to a question that was asked, I understand in the course of your other answer you mentioned a date early on. Just for clarification and the assistance of the committee, I heard that as 30 April 22-23. Did the minister mean to indicate 30 April 2023?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Do you mean in relation to—

Mr TEAGUE: The 30.3 per cent figure you mentioned some time ago now.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: Do you mean the figures in relation to the—

Mr TEAGUE: Not proceeding. I was asking you for the latest figure. You mentioned a date. You said 30 April 22-23, as I heard it.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: There was no figure, though, that was 30.3. I am not sure what you are referring to. There was no 30.3 figure mentioned so, I am sorry, I do not know what you are referring to.

Mr TEAGUE: It is just the date that I am interested in.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: But I do not know what the 30.3 figure is that you are referring to, so it is quite hard to establish what date you are speaking of.

Mr TEAGUE: Perhaps, without inviting another lengthy discussion, what is the latest figure the department can provide for the number of cases not proceeding and what is the date associated with it?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I have provided that data, but what is actually disappointing, I guess, about your questions is that I have really clearly articulated and on several occasions invited you into discussions about the core of the issues that we contemplate. What it seems, at both the beginning of this session and now as this session concludes—I had actually hoped for something different—is that there is not this desire to be part of this discussion acknowledging the complexity in child protection and what we actually need to do together to move forward.

As I said, I was really pleased to hear the Leader of the Opposition say—and I will check the date; I think he said it on ABC 891 and elsewhere as well—that if we can actually grapple as a state with these issues together I think we have not the only but an improved chance of appropriately responding to these issues.

I note as well that Simon Schrapel, the CEO of Uniting Communities, who I am very pleased has agreed to be on our Child Protection Expert Group and is an incredible contributor there, as he has been for many years in this space, when he came out publicly about a number of things, I cannot remember the words he used but I think it was words around a compact, or words to that effect, that we try to work together because these issues are issues that are intergenerational. These are issues that require very long-term thinking, the driving of a vision for change that will span decades, and to do that, to drive that change, we actually need everyone as part of that.

You will note that in the targets for 2023-24 we have very clearly said that we are working with the Child Protection Expert Group, of which Simon Schrapel is a member, and various other esteemed people are part of that group. We are working with them to make sure that we have a child protection and family support summit in the second half of this year, where we absolutely traverse in a very open, very honest way, the complexity of the problems that we are facing, and also invite the community to be part of those discussions and to play their part in those discussions.

Alongside that summit, and I think I have mentioned that in the highlights and also in the targets, we are developing a very robust and strong foundation to be part of that conversation, to be part of those actions for change. So we have established, as I spoke about before, the Carer Council, the Direct Experience—

Mr TEAGUE: I think the minister indicated that the minister would give an answer to the question about how many e-CARL notifications there are.


Mr TEAGUE: Yes, that are currently waiting to be checked.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I do not think you have even asked the e-CARL question.

Mr TEAGUE: I asked earlier, and you indicated you would answer.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: About e-CARL? Sorry, I did not hear you ask about e-CARL at all.

Mr TEAGUE: Are there any and, if so, how many?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: I did actually. So we have the Direct Experience Group, the Carer Council, the Child Protection Expert Group. We will continue our work with the No Capes for Change Group, and we have funded the CREATE Foundation to also amplify the voices of children and young people in care. Also, we will make sure that we continue to listen to the heads of industry group, which represents the sector.

I know perhaps the shadow minister is not satisfied with the comprehensive answers that I have given, but I am really trying to invite him into this conversation, into this journey for change, into being part of driving a vision together here in South Australia that sees us, amongst some really difficult circumstances, begin to make—

Mr TEAGUE: How many children were reported missing from state care in 2022-23?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —sure that we actually begin to make improvements for children, young people and families, and also that we begin to make improvements across the child protection and family support system. When I say that, that we contemplate that system as sitting right—

Mr TEAGUE: Is that number available?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —across government and right across the sector and right across our community and that we truly bring to life that oft-repeated mantra that child protection and family support is everybody's business and everybody has a role to play, including you, shadow minister, so I again—

Mr TEAGUE: How long are children spending in emergency accommodation?

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —invite you to be part of the conversation, to be part of our work going forward, as the sector is urging you to do. I have provided several briefings to you. I am absolutely open to conducting more of those briefings, but what I really hope, what I fervently hope, is that you make that decision—

The CHAIR: If the minister can wrap up, we have not much time.

The Hon. K.A. HILDYARD: —to be part of that work, part of driving the vision going forward.

Mr TEAGUE: Will the minister take on notice the answers to each of those three questions?

The CHAIR: The time allotted having expired, I declare the examination of the portfolio of the Department for Child Protection completed. The examination of the proposed payments for the Department for Child Protection are now complete.