The NSW Ombudsman has tabled this progress report on the response to the 2017 inquiry into the operation of the Joint Investigation Response Team (JIRT), a tri-agency program delivered by the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), the NSW Police Force and NSW Health, which provides a coordinated response to children who are alleged to have suffered sexual abuse, serious physical abuse, or extreme neglect. The program has been operating for just over 20 years.
The original report contained 67 recommendations aimed at improving joint agency practice, and consolidating and enhancing the performance of the individual agencies.
A year later, the agencies were asked to provide a formal response to the recommendations, and advice on the actions taken to implement them. The responses confirm that the agencies support the vast majority of the recommendations and practice suggestions made in the inquiry report, and that they have made significant progress in implementing them.
Key results include:
- Acting immediately to strengthen the program’s governance structure by establishing direct oversight by the heads of each agency via twice yearly meetings, supported by regular meetings of the newly established agency deputies group.
- Negotiating a newly framed agreement to guide the partnership, underpinned by a comprehensive performance monitoring framework for the program.
- Extending the staffing and business hours of the JIRT Referral Unit, which is the single entry point for referrals to the JIRT program.
- Improving systems and governance within FACS and NSW Health, to better enable them to measure their performance in the partnership, in line with past improvements made by Police.
- Increased funding for both FACS and Health, to ensure that they are able to ‘keep up’ with Police, including when a response is required outside of business hours.
- Improving the availability and accessibility of services for young people who engage in sexually harmful behaviour, with the allocation of an additional $1.6 million annually to establish two additional New Street services in regional NSW.
- The roll-out of a new interagency training model, which includes a simulated child protection exercise. Police have also established a dedicated training portfolio within the Child Abuse and Sex Crime’s Squad’s Strategic Coordination Unit to lead the development of a comprehensive training program for police.
- The report stresses the need for the future direction of the program to have an enhanced focus on children whose matters do not end up being the subject of a criminal prosecution, but who nonetheless remain highly vulnerable.