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Report finds at risk children have been faile -

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LISA MILLAR: A new report by the Law Reform Commission paints a dismal picture of authorities
failing the nation's children.

In 10 years the number of young people who may need protection being reported to authorities has
tripled to more than 300,000.

One of the authors of the report says the problem's slipped from the agenda because the Australian
Government's been preoccupied with terrorism and the economy.

Annie Guest reports.

ANNIE GUEST: It's a dismal picture of failure.

JAMES MCDOUGALL: What we've missed out on doing is ensuring that children are actually protected.

ANNIE GUEST: James McDougall is the director of the advocacy organisation - the National Children's
and Youth Law Centre. He says 15 years ago there was a push to focus on the role of children in

JAMES MCDOUGALL: In the last 10 years in particular, children have slipped off the agenda in terms
of good public policy development, you know, for a range of, for political reasons. We have become
much more insecure. We have to deal with the threats of terrorism and economy. It's now time to get
that back on the agenda.

ANNIE GUEST: And as a co-author on the Law Reform Commission's latest report, James McDougall says
there's evidence to back his claims.

JAMES MCDOUGALL: We've looked at the research that was in fact done by the Australia Law Reform
Commission and the Human Rights Commission jointly in 1997 on children and the legal process and
discovered that there's actually been very little progress made in following the recommendations.

ANNIE GUEST: And the result he says - in 10 years the number of notifications to authorities about
vulnerable children has tripled to more than 300,000.

JAMES MCDOUGALL: So we haven't set up systems that are about early intervention and addressing the
root causes of the child protection issues in the first place.

ANNIE GUEST: Neglect and sexual abuse are the basis of a quarter to a half of the notifications.

The report also found only five per cent of accused child sex offenders are convicted.

James McDougall blames State Governments, with the exception being Western Australia, for failing
to carry out recommendations surrounding children giving evidence.

JAMES MCDOUGALL: Ensuring that a child can give evidence in a situation that's still acceptable to
the court and the rigours of the rule of evidence, but in a place that is safe and comfortable for

ANNIE GUEST: He says there's one clear way of improving children's policy.

JAMES MCDOUGALL: We now have a commissioner in almost every State and Territory and that position
is able to draw attention to these areas of deficiency in terms of public policy. That's clearly
needed at a national level as well.

ANNIE GUEST: The Federal Government says it will consider creating a Federal Commissioner for

The Minister for Families is Jenny Macklin.

JENNY MACKLIN: As part of our child protection framework, negotiations and discussions that we're
having both with the States and Territories and with the non-government agencies will be
considering that issue.

ANNIE GUEST: Jenny Macklin describes the figures on notifications and convictions contained in the
Law Reform Commission's report as shocking. But she says the Commonwealth is already acting to
improve the situation such as enabling better information sharing between Centrelink and Child
Protection agencies.

JENNY MACKLIN: We recognise that the States and Territories will continue to have the statutory
child protection authority and they of course need our support. We are demonstrating today that
Centrelink is one of the agencies that really can help in this battle to really make sure that
children are safe.

LISA MILLAR: The Federal Minister for Families Jenny Macklin ending that report from Annie Guest.