letter to cps inquiry by 3649Kc


									Special Commission of Inquiry into
Child Protective Services in NSW
PO Box K1026
Haymarket NSW 1240

17 March 2008

To Whom It May Concern:

Re: Submission relating to mandatory reporting in NSW

The Australian Lawyers Alliance is pleased to make a submission to the Special Commission of
Inquiry into Child Protective Services in NSW, and appreciates the acceptance of this letter after
the due date.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance is an association of lawyers and other professionals dedicated
to protecting and promoting justice, freedom and the rights of the individual. The Lawyers
Alliance is primarily concerned with the issue of mandatory reporting of child abuse in NSW, and
therefore limits its views to that issue alone.

Mandatory reporting is a compulsion prescribed by law to report suspected child abuse. NSW
significantly expanded its mandatory reporting laws with the Children and Young Persons (Care
and Protection) Act 1998, which replaced the provisions of the Children and Young Persons
(Care and Protection) Act 1987. The new legislation has significantly widened the scope of
mandatory reporting to include any person in paid employment in the field of health, welfare,
children’s and residential services, education and law enforcement. Mandatory reporters are
obliged to report any suspicion (not belief, as some other jurisdictions require) of sexual,
physical, psychological abuse, as well as any suspicion of neglect and domestic violence.
Failure to do so carries a 200 penalty unit, or $22,000 fine.

The amendments aimed to clarify the law relating to mandatory reporting to ensure greater
protection of children at risk of harm. In the second reading speech to the Bill, the Minister for
Community Services, Mrs Lo Po, spoke of “…the tragic consequences which can flow when
members of the community fail to report to the department circumstances when children,
particularly very young children, are at risk of serious harm”.

Since the amendments came into force in 2000, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
reports that the number of notifications of child abuse in NSW has increased by 463%, with
40,937 notifications recorded in 2000-01 compared with 189,928 notifications in the 2006-07
period. While factors such as better education and training on the recognition of child abuse
have contributed to this spike, the introduction of the broader mandatory reporting scheme is
clearly a significant factor. Of the 189,928 notifications, only 92,729 investigations have been
finalised. Of these finalised investigations, only 40% of reports warranted further attention. While
statistics from Australia’s other jurisdictions are not directly comparable, due to varying reporting
criteria and methods, it is worth noting that NSW statistics are significantly inflated compared
with Victoria and Queensland, which had 38,675 and 28,580 notifications in total respectively.

These statistics indicate that not only is a significant portion of notifications not being
investigated, or their investigations have been delayed, but also that many reports are
unsubstantiated. The Lawyers Alliance believes that the low threshold of ‘suspicion’, combined
with a significant penalty for failure to report it, have led to significant over-reporting and the
resources of the Department of Community Services being unnecessarily tied up investigating
unsupported reports. The inevitable result is that resources are being diverted from where they
are needed most: investigating and intervening in cases of serious abuse where children are in
immediate risk of harm.

There have been many tragic cases over the past year that have illustrated the consequences
of child protection resources being misdirected, with children who were known to child protective
services not receiving adequate attention or intervention, leading to death or serious injury. The
Lawyers Alliance believes that it is crucial that DOCS be adequately staffed and resourced, but
also that such resources are allocated in a targeted manner to ensure maximum efficacy and
protection of vulnerable children.

Therefore, the Australian Lawyers Alliance believes that the word ‘suspicion’ in the legislation
should be changed to ‘reasonably held belief’. This would, over time,
greatly reduce the extent of over-reporting of ill-founded suspicions, and allow DOCS to focus
on cases where there is real reason for concern.

Please feel free to contact me if further information is necessary.

Yours faithfully,

Mr Maurie Stack
NSW Branch President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance
GPO Box 7052
Sydney NSW 2000

To top