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The Commission for Children and Young People Bill 1998 and other child protection initiatives

The Commission for Children and Young People Bill 1998 and other child protection initiatives

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 14/1998 by Rachel Simpson
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  • One of the recommendations made by Commissioner Wood in the Final Report of Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service: the Paedophile Inquiry aimed at curbing paedophilia and protecting children from abuse was to create a "new body called the Children's Commission, to be the focal point for co-ordinating the effort to protect children". The Royal Commission put forward three suggestions for how this organisation could be structured. It's preferred option was option three, which was for a separate Children's Commission to be established, with responsibility for co-ordinating child protection activities, and with investigative functions being vested in other agencies. The Royal Commission's recommendations are discussed at pages 2-5.
  • As a response to the Royal Commission recommendations, the Government released a Green Paper in December 1997, the purpose of which was to "obtain the views of interested organisations, agencies, and individuals on the creation of the Children's Commission and the role and functions it should fulfil." The Green Paper also identified a number of options for configuring a Children's Commission and favoured an option whereby existing child protection arrangements are maintained and their inter-relationship streamlined. The Green Paper's proposals are discussed at pages 5-8. A number of overseas and Australian jurisdictions currently have a children's commission or children's ombudsman in place. The position in other Australian jurisdictions with similar organisations (South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland) and overseas is discussed at pages 34-41.
  • A series of draft bills were introduced into the Legislative Assembly in June 1998 - the Child Protection (Prohibited Employment) Bill 1998 (No 2), the Ombudsman Amendment (Child Protection and Community Services) Bill 1998 (No 2) and the Commission for Children and Young People Bill 1998. The first two bills are the subject ofBriefing Paper No 8/98 and are discussed here only insofar as they differ from the discussion in that paper (see pages 41-44). The objects of the Commission for Children and Young People Bill 1998 are: to establish a Commission for Children and Young People and to provide for its functions, and to provide for employment screening for child-related employment (pages 9-11).
  • The Green Paper posed a number of questions related to a possible Children's Commission which can be broken into the following broad areas: structure and focus of the Children's Commission; core functions; advocacy; employment screening; a children's guardian and complaints handling. The recommendations of the Royal Commission are examined, along with the provisions of the draft bill and the opinions of interested community groups, including the Council of Social Service of NSW, the Child Protection Council, and the Community Services Commission.
  • Generally, the focus of the Children's Commission contained within the draft bill is much broader than that recommended by the Royal Commission, whose focus was, understandably, on child protection. Community organisations also supported a broadening of focus for the Children's Commission (pages 11-18). However, individual advocacy and a children's guardian are not included in the draft bill, functions which the Royal Commission and the community groups considered essential in a Children's Commission (pages 18-23). Community organisations also recommended the Children's Commission play a role in ensuring NSW's compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is not referred to in the draft bill.
  • Employment screening was unanimously supported by the Royal Commission, the Green Paper, the draft bill and community organisations. The debate focuses around where that function is to be located. The Royal Commission report and the draft bill place the employment screening function within the Children's Commission. The community organisations, however, believe that this function should not be located within the Children's Commission, as it is inconsistent with and a distraction from the other core functions proposed for the Children's Commission. Employment screening is discussed at pages 23-30.
  • The main questions with regard to complaints handling is whether or not the Children's Commission should handle complaints as well as being an advocate for children, and whether or not complaints are best handled on the basis of population groups or service groups. The Royal Commission saw no reason why the Children's Commission could not handle both complaints and advocacy, and recommended a complaints handling system based on population, in the form of the Investigation and Review Unit. The draft bill and the Green Paper take the view that complaints would be best handled on the basis of service systems and therefore do not allocate this function to the Children's Commission but leave it with specialist bodies with the Ombudsman being given an oversight function. Generally, community organisations supported this option. However, NCOSS in particular rejected the idea that the Community Services Commission be made accountable to the Ombudsman for all complaints (pages 30-33).