My matter, for the Minister for Child Protection, relates to child reunification issues.
As everyone here will know, we debated a Bill a few weeks ago that included some very worthwhile changes – in a COVID-related context – to the normal two-year limits on the arrangements for re-unifying parents with children in out-of-home care.
As I said in my speech at the time, those changes from the Government represented very important recognition of the interests of many families and other stakeholders in the child protection field.
However, my constituents, and in fact stakeholders from across the State, are continuing to raise what they see as some other, ongoing problems with the reunification regime, especially amid the COVID restrictions.
These range very widely, so I won’t be able to cover anything like all of them now.
However, I’ll try to raise some of the higher profile ones – with the hope I may be able to talk more directly to the Government soon about these and the other issues, too.
Firstly, and particularly with more COVID restrictions now being eased, there is the matter of how quickly the Government intends to allow the return of direct, in-person contact between parents and children in out-of-home care.
There is also much interest in whether there might be any changes afoot for those parents who have been unable during the COVID period so far to access services (like drug and alcohol or counselling services). Obviously, this access is often crucial to improving their ability, ultimately, to safely and effectively care for their children.
A substantial number of former staff in the child protection area inside DHHS have also been reportedly transferred away this year to work on the broader COVID response. Accordingly, there is widespread interest in whether, when and what percentage of those staff are being returned to child protection, including specifically to help administer the child reunification arrangements.
Finally, for now, it’s my impression there were a number of cases in early 2020 where safe reunification of families had been approved and/or was being planned, but was then prevented because of the advent of the COVID restrictions in Victoria. It would therefore be valuable to know if any or all of the families in those particular cases have since been reunited or, alternatively, will be in the near future.
In closing, let me, therefore specify the action I seek – which is clarification of whether the Government will be making any changes in the foreseeable future in any or all of these child reunification policy areas.