This is a study about government expenditure on children and family services in the Northern Territory. It will focus on funding arrangements for services and programs that are relevant to the prevention of harm to children, and will examine ways to improve those funding arrangements to support better outcomes for children, families and the community.

The terms of reference for this study (appendix A) originated from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (‘the Royal Commission’). The Royal Commission was established in the days following the airing of an episode of the ABC’s Four Corners, ‘Australia’s Shame’, in July 2016, which included footage of the mistreatment of children in detention in the Northern Territory. The scope of the Royal Commission encompassed both the youth detention and child protection systems.

The terms of reference indicate that this study will support the development of a joint funding framework, which the Royal Commission recommended the Australian and Northern Territory governments develop. As such, we intend to provide guidance on what a funding framework should look like. The way the Northern Territory’s expenditure is assessed for the purposes of distributing Goods and Services Tax revenue (and how its actual expenditure compares to that assessment) is not within the scope of this study.

In undertaking this study, we will seek to build on the work of the Royal Commission and reform efforts that are already underway — specifically, by looking at how funding arrangements can be changed to better align with the public health approach to child protection and place-based decision making. Our focus will be on improving decision making about how money is spent, rather than how much is provided.

This study complements other Productivity Commission work currently underway, and we will seek to coordinate our consultation across projects. This includes work we are undertaking in our role as the Secretariat for the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, to investigate ‘what works’ for systems that enable a public health approach to protecting children (PC 2019). In April 2019, the Australian Government asked us to develop a whole-of-government evaluation strategy for policies and programs affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (Indigenous Australians), to be used by all Australian Government agencies. This work is to be provided to the Government by July 2020.

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