Care and Protection of Children Act Amendments– Northern Territory

The ‘Care and Protection of Children Act’ in the Northern Territory in its short life has undergone several amendments. The ramifications of the legislation were far reaching and impacted on the way healthprofessionals, particularly doctor could interact with younger patients. As I wrote at the time:

This meant that doctors had to compulsorily report any child under the age of 16 who they suspected of having sexual intercourse. This would have ruined any patient confidentiality with these kids, probably more with the girls dealing with teenage pregnancy.

Even sillier, it was interpreted that the sale of condoms to anyone under sixteen years also had to be reported to the authorities.

I guess it’s no surprise, but the legislation has been amended yet again. The correspondence explaining the changes states:

The amendments followed extensive consultation with a range of professional groups, including lawyers and medical practitioners, who were concerned that the then-law may have the unintended consequence of discouraging sexually active young people from seeking confidential advice and care on medical, psychological and other issues relating to sexual health matters.

You can read that as health professionals kicked up a stink and pollies were forced to review it yet again.

The correspondence explaining the changes is below. It seems the major change has to do with the type of sexual activity and the age of the child.

Download (PDF, 81KB)

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Care and Protection of Children Act – Northern Territory

Earlier this year the Northern Territory passed the ‘Care and Protection of Children Act’. This meant that doctors had to compulsorily report any child under the age of 16 who they suspected of having sexual intercourse. This would have ruined any patient confidentiality with these kids, probably more with the girls dealing with teenage pregnancy.

Even sillier, it was interpreted that the sale of condoms to anyone under sixteen years also had to be reported to the authorities.

With a lot of pressure from medical and civil rights organisations amongst others the Act has already been amended.

Amendments to the Care and Protection of Children Act

The NT Legislative Assembly passed amendments to the Care and Protection of Children Act on 20 August 2009. This followed a concerted effort by a Coalition of health and legal organisations (Really Caring for Kids Coalition) of which GPNNT was a key contributor.

The amendments to section 26 of the Act, introduced to Parliament as a matter of urgency, addressed health practitioner’ concerns that the mandatory reporting of sexual activity in 14 and 15 years olds had resulted in young people not accessing sexual health advice and treatment through their local general practice or health clinic.

Health Professionals should note the amendments maintain strict mandatory reporting requirements for all Territorians to report harm and exploitation, including sexual abuse, and also recognise the greater responsibility for health practitioners in assessment and notification.

The amendments to section 26 require that:
• all people to report harm and exploitation, including sexual abuse;
• all people to report sexual offences (which includes underage sex) against children aged under 14 years; and
• health practitioners to report sexual offences (which includes underage sex) against children aged 14 or 15 years where there is a greater than 2 year difference between the alleged victim and offender.

A full review of the Act, including section 26, is planned for April 2010, and the Really Caring for Kids Coalition will continue to monitor the progress.

The General Practice Network Northern Territory has produced Recommendations for Health Professionals. If you are an Australian Health Professional please contact them or myself if you require a copy of these recommendations.

SUPPORTS TO HELP YOU ARE:
• NT Families and Children Central Intake on 1800 700 250
• Sexual Assault Referral Service (SARC)
• 89 7156 – Darwin
• 8951 5880 – Alice Springs
• 896 4364 – Tennant Creek
• Employee Assistance Scheme (EAS) – 08 8941 175
• Bush Crisis Line/CRANA – 1800 805 391
• Lifeline – 131 114; DV/SA National Hot Line – 1800 019 116
• Ruby Gaea, Darwin Centre Against Rape – 8945 0155

Indigenous Child Anaemia and the Intervention

The anaemia rate of aboriginal children in the region had nearly trebled in two years according to figures produced by Sunrise Health Service in an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. The last eighteen months of data collection were during the “intervention“.

If this is the case it reflects very poorly on the Intervention (now called the Northern Territory Emergency Response) as it was originally all about saving the kids.

But this may not be the case across all of remote Northern Territory. The ABC has Dr John Boffa from Congress (and an advisor to AMSANT) quoting data from the ‘Growth Assessment and Action Database’ which collects data on Aboriginal children from across the Territory. The data showed that across the Territory until April 2008 the anaemia rates for children had not changed and were remaining steady at 25%. Note this data is six months older than the data produced by Sunrise.

This figure of 25% is disturbing in itself. Even worse is the first year of the intervention was spent collecting all this data again, despite it already existing. They could have actually been helping kids and families. Two years in to the intervention and they are only now realising that they have a snowball’s chance in hell of providing some of the extra services required.

John Boffa says “local data needs to be analysed carefully”. There may well be valid reasons why a large area is suffering. It may be the shops not providing good food or the Basics Card (quarantined money used only for food. Money is obtained using a swipe card in selected stores) not working.

This trebling in anaemia needs to be investigated and extra resources provided long term in most areas to educate and constantly represent and work with families to correct it, and also to set up systems to prevent it. However that requires will. I am unsure that exists at a government level despite the nice words.

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