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CREATE’s new patron: ‘We need to listen to those most affected’

Written on January 3, 2019

CREATE is delighted to have Former Justice Margaret White come on board as co-patron for our organisation.  With a distinguished career that includes being appointed as the first woman to the Queensland Supreme Court, Mrs White brings a wealth of expertise to CREATE.  Her public profile will help CREATE to reach a wide audience with our mission to create a better life for children and young people in care. We recently sat with Mrs White for discussion about her passionate for CREATE and improving the care system.

  • Can you tell us about how you were first introduced to CREATE? 

I first became aware of CREATE when I was involved with Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH now LawRight) and their Legal Pod project which included input from CREATE.  I  became aware of the target group Legal Pod was trying to help – many of the clients were clients transitioning from care to independence.  What was troubling was the statistical likelihood of these people becoming homeless and entering the criminal justice systems was increased because they had been in the care of the state. 

The next step in getting to know CREATE was through my involvement with the Churchill Trust. I met Jacqui and Joseph from CREATE at a Churchill Trust event for returning Churchill Fellows and was  excited to hear about her project overseas on her Fellowship. This fed into what I knew already about CREATE from QPILCH.

  • What led you to take on the position of CREATE co-patron?

I knew the work CREATE did and was impressed with its evidence based approach – you can bring about change if you can produce data to policy makers.  CREATE’s Executive Director of Research, Dr Mcdowall, gave extensive evidence during the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory and the various reports produced by CREATE were very useful for me and my Co- Commissioner, Mick Gooda, when we looked at transition from care issues.  I  wasn’t sure what I could contribute to CREATE but I wanted to support it.

  • Why are you passionate about CREATE and the work we do?

I think it is one of the few, if only, structured organisation that routinely listens to what children and young people have to say about their needs and feelings  – I can’t think of any other organisation that does that systemically, except for perhaps the National Children’s Commissioner.  My impression is that the realisation that children might have something to say and that it might be very useful has come quite late in terms of public debate.

  • What’s your message to the community about CREATE?

I think it is to recognise the importance of the work that CREATE does – the voices of these young people should resound across the whole of our community so that young people who are or have been in care can be assisted to lead productive and rewarding lives.

  • Not that long ago you were the joint chair of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory with Mick Gooda – can you tell us about what insights you gained about the care system from that experience?

It’s overwhelmed – that comes from reading and hearing from those who work in the Northern Territory- with its particular challenges across 1000 communities.

Just after the Commission had started the South Australian Royal Commission into child protection handed down its report. It found many similar problems. The system was overwhelmed by notifications and the capacity to carry out investigations was quite compromised.  A system that had been developed for what were thought to be occasional acts of physical violence against children is unable and will never be able to handle the sheer numbers of notifications once neglect is introduced into the picture as a notifiable concern.

Using the primary health care model is crucial – everyone gets the kind of support they need for prenatal care and anti-natal care, keeping children and families on track and watching out for any signs of things going awry  – so that the resources of the child protection system we know today can be refocused on to the high needs group

In terms of what happens when children and young people come into care – during the Commission we had roundtables with foster carers, caseworkers and police and a big forum with children and young people which were closed to the public.  Some of the children who spoke to us said they resented the carers who they saw as just in it for the money – of course those who had good experiences in the care system were less likely to come forward although one young woman gave evidence of a dedicated foster mother who never gave up on her despite many challenges 

One suggestion we heard was for high needs young people  to have foster carers with professional skills such as social workers or health professionals who are happy to have a change of position  and  be paid at a commensurate rate to look after these young people.  This may be one way of dealing with the fact that some foster carers, no matter how well intentioned, will not be able to provide enough support for this group of children and young people.  From what we heard I also think there should be in an increase in foster care pay rates and a limit on the numbers a foster care household can have. 

Another thing that stands out for me was how residential care was hated by the children and most who were introduced to crime were introduced during their time in residential care.

The whole process really did emphasise how essential it is to listen to those who are affected by decisions – we don’t always know what’s best for other people!

  • You were the first woman to be appointed to the Queensland Supreme Court.  What’s your advice for young women today?

Take every opportunity that’s offered to you and embrace it with enthusiasm –  if it doesn’t work out then that’s okay you’ve given it your best shot and try something else that may work out better for you.

Watch the short video below to hear directly from Mrs White about her passion for CREATE and the work we do