[ Contents Vol 16, 2000 ] [ QJER Home ]
Protecting and promoting the wellbeing of all children and young people in Queensland
Queensland Commission for Children and Young People
The Children's Commission of Queensland was set up in 1996. It was the first independent commission for children established anywhere in Australia, although South Australia has had the Children's Interests Bureau since 1984. The establishment of the Children's Commission was a formal recognition by the Parliament of Queensland that adults' and children's interests are not always the same. Since 1979, the International Year of the Child, and the year in which work on the Convention on the Rights of the Child began, children's rights have been receiving more attention throughout the world. There has been greater recognition that:
The greater recognition of children as a separate entity, their need for special consideration and their vulnerability has resulted in dedicated 'Offices for Children' in a number of locations. Norway was the first to establish such an office, setting up a children's ombudsman in 1981. Sweden, Israel, Germany, Guatemala, Austria, British Columbia and Alberta in Canada, London in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia, have also established a children's commission or a specialised office to deal with children's issues. Although we still have a way to go, Queensland is in the forefront of promoting an awareness of the issues affecting its children and young people, protecting their rights and providing them with an opportunity to be heard.
- children and young people are wholly dependent upon the goodwill of adults;
- they must generally rely on adults to voice their concerns; and
- they are without political impact.
In 2000, the Parliament of Queensland passed legislation establishing the Queensland Commission for Children and Young People, replacing the previous Commission and giving it additional functions. This paper explains those functions.
THE QUEENSLAND CONTEXT: A STATISTICAL OVERVIEW
There are approximately 870 000 Queensland residents under 18 years of age. This number constitutes 26.2 per cent, or just over a quarter, of the total population of the State. Unfortunately, the lack of uniform definitions, age groupings and data collection systems across a range of Queensland agencies makes it difficult to quantify or compare matters affecting children and young people. Understandably, the Commission for Children and Young People would like to see this issue addressed.
The proportion of children within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population stands at 46.9 per cent, much higher than the overall proportion of children in the State. This disproportionate number of children to adults has implications in many areas such as housing and the amount of adult support, guidance and supervision children receive which can negatively impact on educational outcomes and social behaviours.
The proportion of children in the national population is decreasing. The average number of children in Australian families now stands at 1.7. This low birth rate, combined with the ageing of the post-World-War-II cohort and an increased life expectancy, means that children will constitute a smaller proportion of the population in the future. It is predicted to fall to 21.8 per cent by 2025. This decrease will have implications for social services and introduce a new range of social issues and pressures over time for both adults and children.
Although children as a proportion of the State's population will fall, the actual number of children in Queensland is predicted to increase by 30.5 per cent due to the projected increase in the State's overall population from interstate and overseas migration as well as increasing birth rates. This is the highest projected percentage change in the number of children for any state.
Projected Percentage Change in the Number of Children by State, 1995-2025
Source: ABS, Australian Social Trends. 4102.0 cited in Edgar, D. Learning to Live With Complexity: Social trends and their impact on Queensland education, a paper prepared in response to the 2010 State Education Disc ussion Paper, RMIT, Melbourne, 1999, p.39.
THE ROLE AND FUNCTIONS OF THE QUEENSLAND COMMISSION FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
The Queensland Commission for Children and Young People is charged with - amongst other things - fostering a community culture that focuses on children and young people's interests, needs, rights and responsibilities. Under the Commission for Children and Young People Act 2000, the Commission became an independent statutory body. Portfolio responsibility was transferred from the Minister for Families, Youth and Community Care to the Premier. The Commission's extended scope, functions and powers include:
- an express advocacy function;
- a state-wide community visitors program;
- complaints handling and investigation;
- employment screening for child related employment not regulated by existing legislation;
- research into issues affecting children and young people;
- monitoring and reviewing laws, policies and practices relating to the delivery of children's services or that otherwise impact on children and young people; and
- an ability to establish advisory councils to advise the Commissioner about specific issues related to children and young people.
Express advocacy function
The Commission's express advocacy role enables it to seek assistance from advocacy organisations, service providers and other agencies as appropriate, to meet the needs of a particular child or young person. Any child or young person is entitled to express their concerns or grievances to the Commission which advocate on their behalf to the relevant service provider.
A state-wide community visitor program
An expanded state-wide Community Visitor program replaces the previous Official Visitor program. The new program will include visits to:
Community Visitors are required to provide support to children and young people at these facilities and advocate on their behalf, by giving voice to, and working to resolve, their concerns and grievances. Community Visitors have powers to:
- children and young people receiving treatment at authorised mental health services;
- government-funded residential facilities, including those for children and young people with a disability; and
- youth detention centres.
- enter and inspect a facility;
- talk to a child or young person who wishes to speak to them; and
- access documents held at the facility relating to the residents or the operation of the facility.
The Commission has powers to attend to complaints relating to services provided to children who are subject to orders or certain programs under the Juvenile Justice Act 1992 or subject to intervention or orders under the Child Protection Act 1999. Complaints may be made by:
Under certain circumstances, complaints may also be initiated in the Commissioner's own name. Complaints may be made about services provided to these children by:
- the child or young person; or
- a person acting on behalf of, and in the interests of, the child or young person.
Complaints may relate to a service being provided, or not provided, in a way which is contrary to the rights, interests or wellbeing of the child or young person.
- State Government departments; and
- non-government bodies in receipt of government funding.
The Commission has the authority to access all information that is considered to be reasonably necessary for the investigation of a complaint and makes it an offence for a person to provide false or misleading information, obstruct an investigation, or to withhold documents and information requested. At the conclusion of an investigation, the Commissioner can recommend that a service provider take specific action. If the recommended action is not carried out within the specified time frame, the Commissioner may provide a report to the Minister and also request that the Minister table the report in Parliament.
The Commission for Children and Young People is not obligated to deal with all complaints. The grounds for not dealing with complaints include where the complaint:
- is frivolous or lacks substance;
- is unnecessary or unjustified;
- has already been adequately dealt with;
- has been heard by the Tribunal or is the subject of a legal proceeding or inquest; or
- is not related to the interests of the child or children on whose behalf it is made.
Employment screening for child related employment not regulated by existing legislation
The Commission for Children and Young People Act 2000 requires that all prospective employees in child related fields not covered by current legislation consent to criminal history checks prior to their employment. The Commissioner will conduct a criminal history check and assess the person's suitability for employment. A notice stating whether the person is suitable or not suitable for child related employment will be issued. People required to undertake criminal history checks by the Commission include those seeking paid employment or voluntary work:
Self-employed people will also be required to have a criminal history check if they conduct a business where the usual activities include:
- in out-of-home residential facilities providing accommodation for children;
- at schools and school boarding facilities;
- with community groups, for example churches, clubs or associations, which provide services or activities directed mainly at children;
- as private teachers, coaches or tutors on a commercial basis;
- as child counsellors or a similar support service.
Criminal history checks for volunteers and self employed people will not commence until about 12 months after the commencement for paid employees. Volunteers do not include parents of children participating in those activities. The cost of a criminal history check will be $40 for applicants for paid employment and self employed people. This can be paid by the employer or passed onto the employee. For volunteers, the checks will be free.
- providing counselling or a similar support service to children; or
- teaching, coaching or tutoring children, individually, on a commercial basis.
A person can appeal the Commissioner's decision about employment suitability through the Children Services Tribunal within 28 days of receiving a notice of unsuitability. A mechanism is also available for a person to have their suitability reassessed two years from the time the notice was issued. Penalties apply if:
There will be a staged implementation of this function, commencing with employment screening for new paid employees from 1 May 2001.
- an employer in a relevant field fails to screen a prospective employee;
- a person who has been issued with a certificate of unsuitability applies, accepts or continues a job in a child-related field; or
- a non-government organisation employs or engages a person issued with an unsuitability certificate.
The ability to conduct and coordinate research into issues impacting on children and young people
The importance of the Commission's research function was identified in the Forde Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions. It was recommended that the Commission's research capacity be enhanced to enable it to conduct comprehensive research into all matters relating to the rights, interests and wellbeing of children and young people in residential facilities and juvenile justice centres.
The Research Unit currently develops and coordinates many of the Commission's submissions relating to children's issues. For example, in 1999, the Research Unit was responsible for drafting a submission to the Queensland Law Reform Commission on The Evidence of Children which was exploring ways in which child witnesses could be treated more appropriately by the judicial system without unfairly prejudicing the accused. More recently, the Research Unit reviewed the draft Mental Health Bill from the perspective of its effect on young people and has been responsible for the Commission's submission on Strategic Directions: Investing in Queensland's Community Services.
The Research Unit is currently participating in research projects and collaborative consultations with government and non-government agencies and tertiary institutions in a number of areas, as well as conducting projects of its own. The Commission's Focus on Fathering Project, conducted throughout 2000, provides an example of the range of activities carried out by the Research Unit. One activity for this project involved forming a partnership between the Research Unit and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Advisory Board in order to produce a discussion paper on the issues impacting on the Indigenous child when the father is incarcerated. Other activities included conducting a survey of a sample of men in order to determine their perceptions of the role of fathers and impediments to successful fathering, and analysing more than 1400 descriptions by Queensland children of their father or male carer. This project will provide interesting insights into Queensland fathers. Proposed future projects include exploring the potential for working with young people as researchers, and collating information across a range of indicators to gain insight into the wellbeing of Queensland's children and young people.
The ability to monitor and review laws, policies and practices relating to the delivery of children's services
The Commission for Children and Young People Act 2000 provides for the Commission to have an enhanced and more pro-active role in assessing the impact of laws, policies and practices on children and young people in any area that delivers services to children and young people. This will be a key element of the Commission's systemic advocacy function.
The ability to establish advisory committees to advise the Commissioner about specific issues related to children and young people
In any organisation, having access to advice from people who have expert knowledge in the area is crucial for the successful operation of the organisation. The Commission recognises the value of clients, that is, children and young people, as a source of expert advice. Under the new legislation, the Commission may establish youth and other advisory committees. The formation of Youth Advisory Committees will enable the Commission to consult with young people from across the state and promote their participation in decision making processes.
Commission work practices involve the participation of young people wherever possible. For example, children and young people were consulted in the compilation of the agency's responses to several systemic reviews including The Forde Inquiry; the provision of evidence to Queensland courts by children and young people; and the 2010 Queensland State Education consultation process. On each of these occasions consultation was sought from those individuals who had direct experience of the matter in question and were unlikely to be considered in a systemic review due to their marginal status. The Commission has a strong commitment to consulting with young people and providing them with opportunities to be heard.
PRIORITIES FOR THE COMMISSION
While any child or young person is entitled to express their concerns or grievances to the Commission, the Commission for Children and Young People Act 2000 requires the Commission give priority to the needs and interests of children or young people who:
The needs, interests and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are of particular interest to the Commission.
- are in, or may enter, out-of-home care or detention;
- have no appropriate person to act on their behalf;
- are not able to protect their rights, interests or wellbeing; or
- are disadvantaged because of a disability, geographic isolation, homelessness or poverty.
Due to the geographic diversity of Queensland, any child may potentially be disadvantaged by their location. The Commission for Children and Young People has a commitment to children right throughout the State. There is also a recognition that Queensland communities are not homogenous. For this reason, Commission personnel can frequently be found attending functions, forums and consultations across Queensland. This enables them to hear directly from individual communities their priorities and concerns.
Implementation of the new Community Visitor program will build on the Commission's commitment to state-wide coverage. Community Visitors will generally be drawn from local communities with a view to recruiting personnel with an understanding of the local needs, issues and resources. It will also allow for more frequent and consistent visiting, and hopefully, limited staff turnover. This may add a measure of constancy to the lives of young people, many of whom have experienced significant change and uncertainty. This structure will also improve the capacity for Community Visitors to advocate for a particular young person or group of persons on a specific issue and to follow through with the issue to its resolution.
While many young people have a level of social and political awareness, the Commission for Children and Young People recognises that some young people require encouragement, support, skills development and the provision of opportunities to participate in community life. By providing young people with an opportunity to participate in community and political processes, not only do we benefit from listening to what they have to say, we send them a message that they can influence change and play a part in the social and political life of their community. Through its range of functions and activities, the Commission attempts to advance the philosophy that by facilitating the voice of children and young people we empower them to engage in the life of the community and in turn enrich our collective quality of life.
Children and young people have much to offer. The challenge to parents, teachers, administrators and other adults is to listen, to hear what they have to say, to be aware that their experiences are not the same as ours, either now or when we were their age, and to acknowledge that their issues need special care and consideration.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RESEARCH
The Commission for Children and Young People has a strong commitment to ensuring that the agency's advocacy and monitoring roles are grounded in relevant quality research findings. National and international issues and trends are important, but so too are our State and local issues. It is critical that policies and practices with children and young people are not based on myths or outdated understandings, but are firmly founded on the latest rigorous research findings.
Working towards the wellbeing of children and young people, especially those who are most vulnerable, is difficult - and becoming even more so in times of rapid and unpredictable changes. Our programs need to be flexible and responsive and so does our research agenda. To address issues effectively at the local level, the policy and research communities are expanding to include many new and diverse players, including organised lobby groups, think tanks, research institutes, private sector interests and citizens - including children and young people. This in turn increases the complexity of interactions within the research community and highlights the need for inter-agency and cross sectional models for research.
If we really want to make a difference to the lives of Queensland children and young people, we must acknowledge that none of us has a monopoly on the information and skills required to address the range of issues impacting on their development. Yet collectively we represent an invaluable resource.
There is a great deal of research activity occurring around Queensland which provides insight into the lives of our children and young people. Research Forums organised by the Commission in Brisbane in 1999 and Townsville and Rockhampton in 2000 represent a strategy to tap into some of this wealth of knowledge and to encourage cross-sectoral collaboration.
At the Commission's Research Forums, researchers, policy analysts and practitioners from a range of disciplines - including law, health, education, psychology and social work and from the tertiary, public, private and community sectors - came together with a single focus, an interest in and commitment to the wellbeing and best interests of children and young people. Participants were challenged to contribute to the resolution of the following key questions:
We all know that there are no easy, simple answers. However, the level of flexibility, responsiveness and robustness of Queensland's policy and research infrastructure will be determined by the answers we collectively develop to questions such as these.
- How can we maximise communication and information sharing across sectors and across disciplines so that our efforts can be integrated and aligned in the best interests of the health and wellbeing of children?
- What new partnership arrangements and management mechanisms will facilitate productive partnerships between public sector researchers and policy analysts and the external research community?
- How can data be made more accessible to all sectors of the community to support informed decision making and improved practice?
- How can we utilise data to effectively address the frequently sensationalised and distorted representation of children and young people by the media?
The moves towards holistic approaches, to models of integrated service delivery and to concepts of community capacity-building raise important questions for those, both within and outside government, who genuinely wish to promote the health and wellbeing of children and young people. There is a need to make communication and understanding across groups a priority and to work collaboratively with the wellbeing of children and young people our prime consideration. This process will involve negotiation, active listening and respect for differences of opinion, culture and experience. It requires creating space for collaboration - making the time to talk to each other and to create shared understandings.
Inter-agency coordination promotes an integrated response to the needs of the whole child or young person and thus empowers subject, researcher and the wider community. This approach has been shown to enhance and enrich outcomes at a range of levels be they individual, familial, social-cultural, physical, psychological, economic or academic. It also represents a tangible pathway to protecting and promoting the wellbeing of all children and young people in Queensland.
- Further information on the Queensland Commission for Children and Young People is located at http://www.childcomm.qld.gov.au/
- Western Australian Children's Advisory Council, Towards a Children's Commissioner,
http://www.acwa.asn.au/acwa/publications/issuepapers/Paper_07.html (accessed 22/06/2000).
- Calculated from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 1996 Census of Population and Housing (unpublished data) cited in http://www.statistics.qld.gov.au/stab/multi/ml-14html (accessed 22/02/2000, not found 26 Dec 2004, see
- From Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.
- From Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, 1997, 41002.0 and Australian Demographic Trends, 3101.0.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, 4102.0. Cited in D. Edgar (1999), Learning to live with complexity: Social trends and their impact on Queensland education (A paper prepared in response to the 2010 State Education Discussion Paper). Melbourne: RMIT (p. 39).
- Quoted from Ministerial Press Release, Minister for Families, Youth and Community Care, Queensland, 22/06/2000.
- Recommendation 26, Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions, 1999.
|Please cite as: Sullivan, R. (2000). Protecting and promoting the wellbeing of all children and young people in Queensland. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 16(2), 117-129. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer16/sullivan.html
[ Contents Vol 16, 2000 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 26 Dec 2004. Last revision: 26 Dec 2004.