Responding to child sexual assault in Aboriginal communities

31 January 2013

This report outlines the findings and recommendations from our audit of the implementation of the NSW Interagency Plan to Tackle Child Sexual Assault in Aboriginal Communities.

The Interagency Plan was released in January 2007 and operated for five years. Approximately $60 million was earmarked for implementing Interagency Plan initiatives.

The Plan committed 11 government agencies and a number of non-government organisations to implementing 88 actions. The goals underpinning the Interagency Plan recognise that child sexual assault in Aboriginal communities cannot be tackled in isolation of the broader issues of disadvantage – including poor health, education and employment outcomes, and the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the child protection and criminal justice systems.

In response to recommendation 18.1 of the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services, the Ombudsman was required to audit the implementation of the Interagency Plan. When Justice Wood assessed what the Interagency Plan had achieved in its early years, he found that it had generated significant levels of activity but it was ‘difficult to assess’ the actual impact on Aboriginal communities, or on those children who are experiencing or are at risk of sexual abuse.

Throughout the period of the Plan’s implementation, a range of major initiatives have been introduced. In particular, the reforms to the child protection system arising from the Special Commission of Inquiry and the Government’s response, Keep Them Safe, as well as a range of initiatives linked to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement, settled by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in November 2008.

In August 2011, several months before the Interagency Plan was due to end, the NSW Government established a Ministerial Taskforce in recognition of the need to improve service delivery and accountability in Aboriginal affairs and, in particular, to improve employment and educational outcomes for Aboriginal people in NSW. Although the Ministerial Taskforce has not specifically focused on the issue of child sexual assault, it has recognised the strong alignment between its commitment to building strong accountability across government and what is required to properly address child sexual assault in Aboriginal communities into the future.

Throughout our audit, we have used a series of inquiries to focus agencies’ attention on issues that need to be addressed if specific child protection strategies are to have an impact, especially in high-need locations. Two of these inquiries have culminated in reports to Parliament – Inquiry into service provision to the Bourke and Brewarrina communities (December 2010) and Addressing Aboriginal Disadvantage: the need to do things differently (October 2011). We also issued a confidential report provided directly to lead agencies about our review of a group of schoolaged children in two Western NSW towns (July 2012).

Each report highlights measures needed to create an environment where child wellbeing is paramount and communities can thrive, thereby paving the way for more effective child sexual abuse prevention measures. These reports, collectively, constitute our formal report to the Minister on our audit.

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