Implementation Underway in Australia’s Northern Territory

Article by Terry Murphy, Pene Turnell and Andrew Turnell

Elia is embracing the challenge of implementation in the geographically vast Northern Territory, one of Australia’s eight jurisdictions of States and Territories. Aboriginal people make up around a quarter of the population but the most of child protection and youth justice cases at Territory Families, the statutory agency for the Northern Territory. There is a strong group of Aboriginal staff who make up 20% of all staff at Territory Families and a commitment for this group to grow.

Implementation of Signs of Safety began with a solid preparation period from late in 2018 to April 2019. During this time, Elia and Territory Families have worked through and made good progress on:

  • establishing leadership and governance arrangements including Aboriginal staff being at the centre of the implementation
  • learning cases commencing
  • detailed consultation and planning
  • targeted introductions to the practice for leadership and in each regional centre
  • identifying and working out immediate solutions to blockages to the practice including the fit with Structured Decision Making, adjustments to assessment and planning forms, and workarounds for case recording IT

Staff report a palpable sense of excitement as implementation gathers pace and is actually possible on the ground.

This progress has placed Territory Families in a strong position as training for all staff commenced in April and will continue over the coming months. Staff report a palpable sense of excitement as implementation gathers pace and is actually possible on the ground.

Territory Families’ decision to implement was made cautiously and carefully by the agency’s senior management and the responsible Minister of the government. The geographical vastness of the region and its relatively sparse population, the large number of small remote Aboriginal communities, the gross over-representation of Aboriginal children, young people and families in the child protection and justice systems reflecting entrenched disadvantage and a tragic loss of hope and direction, right across the Territory, has made the jurisdiction the most challenging in Australia.

Elia was similarly cautious; making it clear that Aboriginal staff and communities had to be at the forefront of the implementation and that Signs of Safety would adapt to the Territorian context. Elia’s first presentation to senior management at the start of 2018 came only months after the Report of the Royal Commission and Board of Enquiry into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, making this a time of both immense challenge and opportunity.

There is much to be done! Elia’s emphasis on leadership, continuous learning, formally in the training room and deliberately everyday in the workplace, realigning the organisation’s systems and processes to fit with the practice and making measurement meaningful and timely for workers and families, stand to guide us and Territory Families.  Our commitment is twofold: both to bring our best existing knowledge from around the world, and to be led by the community to make Signs of Safety for child protection and Signs of Success for youth justice work for the Aboriginal people and all the people of the Northern Territory.