NSW child protection reform fails to deliver

Four years after introducing an ambitious program of reform, the NSW government has failed to establish a whole-of government, early intervention approach to protecting vulnerable children and their families.

NSW auditor general Margaret Crawford last Friday (July 24) released her report on the Their Futures Matter (TFM) reforms, which came in response to the 2015 Tune Review of out-of-home care (OOHC).

NSW Auditor General Margaret Crawford.

The Tune review found the existing OOCH system was ineffective, unsustainable, not centred on the client and failing to provide long-term benefits for vulnerable kids.

The TFM Reform, launched by the government in response to the Tune findings in 2016, was meant to direct investment to funding and programs that delivered the greatest social and economic benefits.

The reform was to be driven by a cross-agency board and a special unit within what was then FACS.

But Ms Crawford found that four years on some $380 million of funding meant to be used for new early intervention programs remains tied to existing programs, “with limited evidence of their comparative effectiveness or alignment with Their Futures Matter objectives”.

She also found failures in government and cross-agency partnership arrangements, which led to the program of reform ending in June without having achieved its aims.

“The governance arrangements established for the Their Futures Matter (TFM) reform did not provide sufficient independence, authority and cross-agency clout to deliver on the reform’s intent,” the report says.

“This hindered delivery of the reform’s key elements, particularly the redirection of funding to evidence-based earlier intervention supports, and limited the impact that TFM could have on driving system change.”

Over-ambitious and prescriptive

The mandate and timeframe for the delivery of the four-year reform process was also over-ambitious and prescriptive, the auditor general said.

She stressed the need for cross-portfolio leadership to ensure a whole-of government response and deliver the objectives of the reform.

There are currently 16,800 children in OOC and between 2006-2015 $965 million was spent on OOCH, compared to $300 million for early intervention.

Communities and Justice secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter said TFM had provided a strong foundation for continuing to improve responses to vulnerable children and families, and the recommendations of the report would help build on the results of past four years.

“The independent review that triggered the TFM reform projected that, even if its recommendations were fully implemented, the number of children in OOCH would continue to rise, with 2,500 more children in care within four years,” he said.

“In fact, the number of children in care has fallen – not risen – over that time.”

The government’s Data Analytics Centre would take over management of the expanded and updated TFM human services data set, he said.


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