Legislative Council Tuesday 21 November
Ms FORREST (Murchison ) - Mr President, I would like to add to some of the comments made by the members on this committee. I commend the member for Elwick chairing his first committee. He did a good job. It is always a new experience when you are chairing for the first time and seeing how everything works, so I congratulate you on that. Also, I acknowledge the hard work of the staff as well. They worked very hard with the committees, particularly over these last few weeks, with sickness and a range of other things that have challenged the committee secretariat in this place, and they have done an incredible job. I say that for all the committee reports we are noting at the moment. It has been a huge task for all of them. We thank them for their dedication and commitment because it is huge.
People have had to pick up where someone has been sick or away or on maternity leave - a whole range of challenges we have had over this last period to try to cover. I hope these comments are noted by our secretariat because it does provide an astounding job for us.
Members - Hear, hear.
Ms FORREST - The key questions regarding this inquiry were: Do the child and family centres achieve the outcomes they are intended for in our community? Do they provide services to families that may not have accessed services otherwise? Are families generally able to access them? I think the answer to all of those questions is yes, they do. One of the challenges we recognised quite clearly in the committee is that we need more of them. There are many areas in the state that could clearly benefit from a child and family centre. That does not mean we have to build a physical facility everywhere to achieve that. Then there are some areas where there is clearly a need and some of those regions, towns, suburbs or whatever it is, could be well served by outreach services from an existing CFC.
It is very important here that we do not think there is one model that fits all as current CFCs are all different. They are different in the services they provide. Because they have had their local enabling groups and now their local group is guiding the service delivery within those centres, that is the way it should be. They are different communities; even though we are in a small state, we still have different challenges in different parts of our state. If the community can have ownership of what service is provided and then some flexibility and adaptability around that, you are much more likely to engage the families that need to be there and they will come.
There are always going to be those really difficult-to-reach families and I wish I had the answer for that. We have, 99.9 per cent of the time, at least one point of contact. It may only be one point because most women will come to a birthing facility to give birth to their babies. There are very few people in Tasmania who freebirth. They will nearly always come to a health facility. They may not even receive antenatal care; they may just turn up in labour. It is always a difficult situation when that happens, but if that is the only opportunity we get, we have to make sure we maximise that contact. If that is the only contact we are getting, these are vulnerable families and they are families at risk, unless they have just moved from another part of the country or something like that and have had care in other parts of the country or world - wherever it might be. Generally, if they are just rocking up for the birth, these families are at risk.
We need to really focus on how to engage and make sure these people are not let slip through the gaps. These, generally, will be the difficult families to reach: the families who may not want to engage. One of the reasons they may not have gone to access antenatal care is because they have had bad experiences with government organisations in the past, and they do not want to front up. They fear if they turn up, someone will tag their file and they will be on a child safety notification and there is a risk their baby will be taken off them when it is born. They are people who are genuinely fearful about that. We have to make it a safe place for them to come. First of all, it has to be a safe place for them to come to birth their babies. We need to somehow wrap services around these people that help these families to have the best possible outcomes for the child, the family, the unit.
Child and family centres play a really important part in this, but we cannot just think we have done it all by investing in child and family centres. I have a very strong view that governments past and present have failed to adequately look at the perinatal care and support that we provide.
If you look at some of the Scandinavian countries like Finland, they wrap services around things, they identify problems that are in every family regardless of income. There is no means testing. They all get a baby box with a whole heap of useful educational information, clothing, basic baby care items and a place for the baby to sleep that they use for the first several months. They are engaged right from the start. We see much better engagement and education all the way through in countries where that is the case.
This is something I think that needs to happen nationwide, but in Tasmania we could take the lead on this. We could actually invest far more in that perinatal period. If it happens at the time of the labour and birth, that is when it has to start. Hopefully it will happen before that - women will access antenatal care and you could start it then. Hopefully these families will then be able to transition to the child and family centres.
If they have an issue or a concern about accessing the service because they see it as government, or they see it as potentially a threat because of that, we need to make sure that the promotional material these centres put out - and I will come back to the member for Elwick's point about the marketing of these centres - helps people understand that they are a non threatening place and a safe place to go. They are not a place where you are going to have your child taken off you if that is what you are fearful of. It is a place where you will get help to look after your child, to make the most of the opportunities for your child.
The findings and recommendations contained within the report make the case that we need to maintain the current existing child and family centres and look at outreach opportunities. How can we maximise the benefits for those? How can we get families to engage with the services that are provided? We need to do the mapping to see whether other services are needed and, importantly, where the services are needed.
Yes, we need to look at where other centres may need to be built, that may not be able to be serviced easily from outreach services, and that could be a function of distance to the closest child and family centre or other factors. I am sure the honourable Leader will not be able to give a definitive response to the committee report today and no-one expects that.
I hope it does become part of the pre-election portfolio that both parties put forward. What will they do in this space? Not just with CFCs but in that perinatal area and time frame because that is where we need to invest; that is where we will make a difference. That is where it will make the biggest difference to our health outcomes, that is where it will make the biggest impact on our educational outcomes and that is where it will make the biggest impact on the future of our state.
I hope we do see a clear indication in the policy areas around this aspect of government activity over the next couple of months. The Government will have time to respond; they will not do it here and they probably will not have time before the election to get a formal response tabled. I am hopeful comments, contributions and policy positions will be put forward as part of their election platform.
The member for Elwick talked about some of the barriers to people accessing these centres and it is really important that we take those seriously because people think that because there is a centre there, everyone can just use it. That is not the case. Clearly the committee found that, and the member for Elwick went through a lot of those. Some people have a real resistance to going into a centre; they need someone going out to them and gently bringing them towards the centre, and that can take time. It could be a lack of transport. They may have a car but it might not have any fuel in it, or they might not have a licence and sometimes people do choose not to drive without a licence. Someone thought he would take the other choice, but they still have to have fuel in the car.
Mr Gaffney - It might be too difficult to get on a bus, too.
Ms FORREST - You could have a child with special needs or you could find it difficult anyway. The bus route may be too far away from your house, or you may have no public bus transport. Welcome to my electorate. There are lots of reasons why. I tend to think about cars because people have to rely on them. There is community transport and other opportunities and we need to link in with those and work with them.
There are social circumstances, and again it is very broad, but there are many reasons why their social circumstances make them believe, or feel, or be unable and unwilling to access these services.
We talked about the hours of operation. We might think that most families who access these services are non-working families perhaps. That is not the case. Sometimes there are many families who want to, and would benefit from, access to these services at centres who are working, but they are working during the hours these centres are open. Those things all need to be looked at in designing new services from current facilities and new facilities with additional services.
I hear what the member for Windermere talked about in terms of the children not being able to access the centres unless they have a parent or guardian with them. I tend to have a slightly different view on that. These are child and family centres. If we are going to make a difference for the family, you have to have the family or carers there, otherwise it becomes a childcare centre.
Ideally, childcare centres will be co-located with them. We saw some examples of that. Beaconsfield was a classic one where we saw that. The community believe it is all part of the same. They do not separate it out and say, 'That is the childcare centre and this is the child and family centre and that is the neighbourhood house over there and there is the school'. It is ideal to have it like that.
If you could start with a clean slate, that is what you would do. Unfortunately in many places we are not starting with a clean slate so you have to adapt what you have and make it work as best you can.
If you could co-locate the child and family centres with a childcare arrangement, if a parent or guardian is dropping a child off at childcare, they are more likely to feel they are welcome to access those services and they may do so. That way you get the family getting the services and benefits of the centre, which is the overall aim. We are talking about two slightly different things, but each is entitled to their own view on that.
It is important these centres continue to be able to be adaptive and responsive to their community needs. It is important we encourage engagement through the local groups that provide that advice.
When they were first being talked about - quite a while ago now, possibly 10 or 12 years ago I was part of the local enabling group for the Queenstown service. That was interesting - I was not a member of the Queenstown community as such; I was the elected member. I did not live down there, but I certainly spent a fair bit of time there. It is the people who live there that understand the real fundamental challenges that go with living in such an isolated community. That was before the mine disasters. Things have changed since then.
Overall, the evidence is very clear about the benefit of our child and family centres, about the need to look at other ways of extending the reach of those services both through outreach and through new centres. I hope that both parties - or three parties if you talk about the Greens as well - will make genuine and real commitments to how they are going to enhance the benefit that does clearly flow from child and family centres.
While it was confirming what I certainly already believed, it is important to have that evidence when you are really wanting to make policy positions. It was a very worthwhile exercise and I note the report.