Tasmania's child protection services lets vulnerable children as young as 10 choose where to live, data shows

The Greens have accused Tasmania's child protection service of leaving vulnerable young people "high and dry" as new data reveals children as young as 10, who are known to the system, are allowed to choose where they live.

Data released to the party under right to information laws shows an increasing number of children over the past three years have been identified by the Child Safety Service as on "self-selected placement", meaning they had effectively vetoed the living arrangements put in place by child protection officers.

The figure rose from 46 children aged between 10 and 17 in 2017 to 58 in 2020.

"There are no formal assessment criteria, procedures or policies in relation to this," Communities Tasmania told the party in its response to a request for information.

"The young person's age, development stage, capacity and functioning, and safety assessment of the placement they are selecting are all considered by the child's child safety officer and care team in decision-making around what is in their best interests."

Greens leader Cassy O'Connor said child protection staff had told her that children identified as self-selecting did not always get the same support as those in other forms of out-of-home care, such as foster care.

"Far too often they're being left high and dry," Ms O'Connor said.

"Many of these children have very complicated backgrounds, and may be dealing with trauma or highly complex family relationships.

Communities Tasmania also told the Greens that allowing for self-selected placements allowed teenagers agency.

A study by Anglicare expert Catherine Robinson released in 2017 revealed service providers' frustrations with the self-selection process.

"It is used to describe those young people 'choosing' to escape home environments — through couch-surfing or staying with partners, for example, and also those 'choosing' to leave out-of-home care placements," Dr Robinson wrote.

"[What's] lacking is the vital contextualisation of the trauma-impacted behaviour of teens and the apparent absence of placement options appropriately designed to meet their high and complex needs."

In a statement, a spokesman for Communities Tasmania said young people who "self-select" are "often exercising their independent choices and may be declining other placement options provided to them".

"In these situations, Child Safety Service staff endeavour to work with young people's choices while still helping them stay safe and connected to adults who care for them," the statement said.

"Other 'self-selecting' arrangements may be placements with relatives where a kinship placement assessment is not yet complete."

'An abysmal failure'

The data on self-selecting placements was released to the Greens in December as part of a wide-ranging request for information on the Child Safety Service.

The documents also revealed that:

  • 46 children known to child protection were without a case worker as of the end of September;
  • It took an average of 34 days for Child Safety Service team leaders to allocate a case worker to children with an open case;
  • There were up to 240 foster and kinship homes that had not been assessed for their suitability since 2017.

"This information exposes an under-resourced, disjointed child safety system that is far too reliant on assuming 'everything is going to be fine'," Ms O'Connor said.

"Where vulnerable children and young people are involved, this approach is fraught with risk. We can't rely on chance to protect at-risk children."

People Protecting Children president Allison Ritchie said she had "grave concerns" about children in out-of-home care.

"We know there's more resources coming in but there's a long way to go, and what we've seen coming out of the right to information releases is clearly showing that."

Ms Ritchie said her advocacy group wanted greater independent oversight of the state's child protection system.

The state's dedicated child advocate sits within the Department of Communities Tasmania.

"With what we hear coming out of foster care, and of course we hear of some children not having case workers at all, poor placements, all that sort of thing, there definitely needs to be a greater voice for the children," Ms Ritchie said.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published