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Department of Communities and Justice

The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) commenced on 1 July 2019. It brings together the former departments of Family and Community Services and Justice. The new department enables services to better work together to support everyone's right to access justice and other help for families. It also delivers services with a more unified and collaborative approach.

DCJ is the NSW Government department with statutory responsibility for assessing whether or not a child or young person is in need of care and protection. The primary law in this regard is the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (the Care Act).

DCJ’s commitment to improving the safety and wellbeing of children is achieved in collaboration with other government agencies, non-government agencies (NGOs) and the community. This builds the capacity and strength of families and communities and provides preventative and early intervention measures. By preventing harm or intervening early, child and family services can prevent the escalation of risk and the need for statutory intervention by DCJ.

DCJ and the Office of the Children’s Guardian work collaboratively to provide a framework to support children in care to access the best possible services. This is supported by a number of Memoranda of Understanding between DCJ and other agencies.

DCJ manages and responds to child protection reports when professionals and members of the general public suspect a risk of significant harm. Anyone can make a suspected risk of significant harm report about a child by calling the Child Protection Helpline or presenting to a local Community Service Centre. Mandatory reporters also have the option to make an eReport through the ChildStory Reporter website.

The Joint Child Protection Response Program (JCPRP) is a tri-agency partnership among DCJ, the NSW Police Force (NSW Police) and NSW Health. It delivers a coordinated multidisciplinary response to reports of sexual abuse, serious physical abuse and serious neglect. The program fosters cooperation to prioritise the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children. The partners have mutual respect for each agency’s expertise and responsibilities, share information and coordinate their responses. This ensures that the processes surrounding safety, care and protection, health and wellbeing, and criminal investigations, are as seamless as possible. For more on information on the JCPRP see Assessing wellbeing, safety and risk

The NSW Practice Framework shows how DCJ works with children and families and includes the principles, values, mandates, approaches and systems that underpin DCJ’s work. The Framework places children at the centre of decisions and practice. This video shows DCJ’s commitment to upholding and promoting the NSW Practice Framework: Our collective commitment.

ChildStory

ChildStory is a NSW Government shared information technology system for child wellbeing and protection. It is the single point for a DCJ child protection practitioner to view, create and update information about a child they are working with. The system is built to provide a holistic view for informed decision-making and ensures a child is placed at the centre of their story.

ChildStory encourages collaboration among a child’s network of family, carers, practitioners and service providers to ensure their wellbeing and safety. Information about a child is accessible to a child’s network via the following ChildStory platforms:

  • ChildStory Casework – the single point for DCJ practitioners, and key child protection practitioners in NSW Police, Health and Education to view and/or update information about a child.
  • ChildStory Partner – allows non-government agencies to interact with DCJ by being able to securely send and receive information about the children they work with.

Child Wellbeing Units (CWUs) in NSW Health, the Department of Education and NSW Police also document child protection and wellbeing concerns raised by their sectors directly into ChildStory. This generates a cumulative picture of risk and harm and actions across agencies can be formed in response.

ChildStory is also used by mandatory reporters to access the Mandatory Reporter Guide, to submit eReports to the Child Protection Helpline or CWU, and to receive feedback on the status of the reports they have made.

Permanency Support Program

The Permanency Support Program (PSP) aims to help more children stay safely at home, minimise entries and re-entries of children into out-of-home care (OOHC), to improve permanency outcomes for children, and provide them with better quality care. PSP services may be provided by DCJ or NGOs.

Under the PSP, child protection practitioners work with a child and their family to identify the best permanency goal. This can be returning to their family with restoration, guardianship, adoption, or parental responsibility to the Minister. The aim is to attain that goal within two years. In NSW, there is an order of preference for how a child in the OOHC system can achieve permanency.

Components

There are four key components of PSP which support children and families to achieve permanency:

  1. Permanency and early intervention principles built into casework
  2. Working intensively with birth parents and families to support change
  3. Recruitment, development and support of carers, guardians and adoptive parents
  4. Intensive Therapeutic Care system reform (replacing residential care).
PSP and non-government partners

The PSP introduced significant changes to the way DCJ funds service providers. The changed funding processes define the expectations for the sector, which include:

  • Working towards permanency from the time a child enters care
  • Collaborating more closely with DCJ and other services to achieve the best possible outcomes for children.

The Permanency Case Management Policy includes a policy statement, practice guidance and resources. These are designed to explain the way DCJ and NGOs work together to achieve safety, permanency and wellbeing for children.

The policy clarifies the different roles and responsibilities of DCJ and NGOs in responding to child protection reports, assessing safety, and case planning for permanency.

Services provided by the PSP

Family preservation involves working with parents as early as possible and providing them with intensive support to help keep children at home safely. PSP Family Preservation Packages are designed to embed a continuum of care within service providers as a first step in implementing an investment approach. That is, as the number of children in care reduce, PSP funds will be reinvested into additional preservation activities. As explained in this video, NGOs have a key role in delivering preservation packages.

The importance of and need to support the principle of Aboriginal self-determination is a central theme of the PSP Family Preservation Packages.

DCJ may also refer families to evidence-based services and programs such as:

Other child protection programs such as Brighter Futures, Youth Hope, Intensive Family Preservation and Intensive Family Based Services also support vulnerable parents to care for their children and keep them at home safely.

Supporting Aboriginal children and families through the PSP

Through the PSP, DCJ in partnership with AbSec is committed to strengthening the capacity of Aboriginal service providers. This ensures that they are better equipped to keep Aboriginal children safe and cared for, in their families or with kin. All service providers must work with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal family and kin to support family preservation in the first instance, using culturally safe evidence-based tools like Family Group Conferencing.

In consultation with AbSec, the Aboriginal Case Management Policy (ACMP) has been developed as a framework for Aboriginal-led and culturally embedded case management practice to safeguard the best interests of Aboriginal children. NSW Government has a strong focus on improving practice through the cornerstones of the ACMP, including: Aboriginal family-led assessment and decision making, Aboriginal community controlled mechanisms and proactive efforts.

The ACMP provides specialised guidance on achieving safety, stability and cultural continuity for Aboriginal children. It does so across early intervention and prevention supports, child protection services and the PSP. It also aims to empower Aboriginal families and communities to take on a significantly greater role in the decisions affecting Aboriginal children and families and the services provided to them.

Youth Justice

DCJ Youth Justice supervises and cares for young offenders in the community and in Youth Justice centres. It provides youth justice conferences for young offenders referred by police or the courts.

There are six Youth Justice centres across the state that accommodate young offenders and offer health, educational and spiritual services. These services include individual case management, specialised counselling, and training in job and living skills. There are also 35 Youth Justice community offices that provide community-based intervention for young offenders.

Youth Justice is committed to being a child safe organisation and continuously improving its systems to protect children and meet the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

See http://www.juvenile.justice.nsw.gov.au/ for more information on Youth Justice.

Corrective Services NSW

Corrective Services NSW, a Division of DCJ, runs the state’s correctional centres, supervises offenders in the community, and delivers programs to reduce reoffending, support reintegration, and build safer communities.

Corrective Services NSW’s primary child protection responsibilities relate to ensuring children and young people in Corrective Services NSW’s care are safe from harm. When a child is identified as being at significant risk of harm, it is reported to the Child Protection Helpline. Corrective Services NSW also has policies to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children under 18 years of age who visit correctional centres.

For more information see https://correctiveservices.dcj.nsw.gov.au/csnsw-home/support/child-protection.html

NSW Police Force

The NSW Police also play a key role in the care and protection of children. NSW Police identify, report and investigate child abuse and neglect, and initiate legal proceedings for child abuse and neglect offences. Police Officers of the NSW Police are also mandatory reporters and are required to report to the Child Protection Helpline or Police CWU if they suspect a child is at risk of significant harm (ROSH). Under section 43 of the Care Act, Police also have the power to take immediate action to remove a child from a place of risk if the child is at immediate risk of serious harm.

The NSW Police has established the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad to ensure provision of a specialist response to support Police Area Commands across NSW. This includes the investigation of sexual abuse, serious physical abuse and serious neglect of children. The Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad are the policing component of the JCPRP. Under the program’s Statement of Intent, they work in cooperation with DCJ and NSW Health to provide the best outcomes for children and young people, their families, carers, and the community.

Department of Education

The Department of Education ensures young children get the best start in life by supporting and regulating the early childhood education and care sector. The Education Act 1990 seeks to mitigate educational disadvantages arising from the child’s gender or from geographic, economic, social, cultural, lingual or other causes.

Regulation in early childhood education falls under different legislation- Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010and the Education and Care Services National Regulations.

The Out of Home Care in Government Schools Policy sets out the requirements relating to children and young people in statutory OOHC who are attending government schools, including preschools. It sets out the roles and responsibilities of principals, teachers, and OOHC coordinators. It ensures that children in OOHC have access to the full range of school activities and programs.

Education staff in government and non-government schools and childcare workers are mandatory reporters. They are required to recognise and respond when a child is suspected to be at ROSH. In the education context, principals and workplace managers are responsible for reporting suspected ROSH concerns to the Child Protection Helpline or Education CWU.

All staff of the Department of Education and early childhood educators participate in child protection awareness training and annual mandatory child protection training. These reinforce staff roles and responsibilities in supporting students, as well as responding to, and reporting, suspected risk of harm concerns. Department of Education staff can access their CWU for help and advice in responding to child wellbeing or protection matters.

Child Protection Education is taught to all students as a mandatory component of the Personal Development, Health and Physical Education syllabus in every stage from Kindergarten to Year 10.

The Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW) is the peak body for independent schooling in NSW. AISNSW advocates for and represents the interests and needs of all independent schools across the state. AISNSW assists schools with a range of child protection matters including investigations, reporting and compliance with various government regulations.

Catholic Schools NSW is the peak body for Catholic Schools in NSW.

NSW Health

NSW Health services promote and protect the health, safety, welfare and wellbeing of children. NSW Health works with government agencies and NGOs to prevent and mitigate the effects of violence, abuse and neglect on children. NSW Health does this by implementing child wellbeing and protection programs, contributing to child protection policies, and working with children that are at ROSH.

NSW Health also delivers a range of programs that support parents with health and wellbeing issues that may impact on their parenting capacity. These include adult drug and alcohol and mental health services.

Frontline NSW Health workers and managers are mandatory reporters. They are required to report children suspected to be at ROSH to the Child Protection Helpline or to the Health CWU. The NSW Health Policies and Procedures for Child Wellbeing and Child Protection provides resources and guidance for Health workers to meet their legal, practice and policy responsibilities in protecting children.

NSW Health’s role in JCPRP, the tri-agency partnership among DCJ, NSW Police and NSW Health, is to provide forensic medical and therapeutic services for children, young people and their families/carers.

Health support services for children and young people

NSW Health delivers a continuum of services across primary, secondary and tertiary care. These offer many opportunities to identify children at risk and assist vulnerable parents/carers to access appropriate support to provide safe and nurturing environments for their children.

Working at the frontline of the public health system, health workers are uniquely placed to identify and respond to family risk factors for child abuse and neglect. They can do so early in a child’s early life and for young people in order to reduce these risks and improve health outcomes.

Key health services for vulnerable children include:

  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
  • Youth Health Services
  • Child and Family Health Services
  • New Street Services
  • Sexual Assault Services
  • Child Protection Counselling Services (CPCS)
  • Out of Home Care Health Pathway Program

For more information regarding NSW Health services see the NSW Health website.

Further information about the role of NSW Health in protecting children can be found in the NSW Health resource: About child protection and wellbeing.

CASE STUDY - Collaboration of government services in practice

Successful collaboration of government agencies and services can lead to better outcomes for people experiencing vulnerability. For example, having a positive learning experience in education can act as a powerful predictor of lifelong wellbeing, including academic achievements, transition to tertiary education, employment, and life opportunities. Poor educational outcomes have costly lifelong and intergenerational impacts on children in OOHC and the wider community. Schools and early childhood education are also a crucial part of the support system that can keep children connected to adults who can help keep them safe.

The OOHC Health Pathway Program is a program which sees government agencies working together to achieve better outcomes for children. The program includes DCJ, NSW Health and NGOs working collaboratively to provide support to children who have high and unmet health needs. NSW Health leads the program which provides coordinated health assessments and intervention for children entering statutory OOHC. A guide is available to assist DCJ and NGO staff through the health pathway process.

Read Harry’s story which sees his caseworker, Belinda and school teacher, Mrs Chaulk work together to help him build resilience and achieve better outcomes.

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Last updated: 03 May 2021