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New Child Protection CEO reveals priorities

A long-term bureaucrat appointed to lead the state’s Child Protection Department says one of her first priorities will be to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.

May 12, 2023, updated Jan 30, 2024
Child Protection Department CEO Jackie Bray with Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Child Protection Department CEO Jackie Bray with Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The state government this morning announced it had chosen “respected senior public servant” Jackie Bray to helm the Department for Child Protection for next five years.

Bray, who starts as chief executive next month, currently oversees the Education Department’s Office for the Early Years and previously worked in leadership roles at the departments for correctional services, and communities and social inclusion.

She has also held senior roles in the United Kingdom’s health system.

“I have a strong leadership around reform and change,” Bray told reporters this morning.

“In all complex systems, like the child protection system, (we) always have to look for opportunities of where we can make significant change.

“I, like you in the community, have seen the numerous reviews and reports around the child protection system and it is really my challenge to take those reform opportunities and implement those fully in the system.”

Bray said she would immediately focus on the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system.

She said tackling the overrepresentation would require “significant leadership to spearhead changes and reform”.

Of the 4552 South Australian children on care and protection orders on June 30 2022, just over 38 per cent were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. That is despite Aboriginal children only accounting for about five per cent of the state’s child population.

Deputy Premier Susan Close said Bray had “extensive experience” as a senior executive for departments which work with children and young people, including those who are disadvantaged.

“Jackie will be an excellent appointment, coming in with a fresh set of eyes to have a look at the challenges that we all know exist in this very important part of public policy,” she said.

Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard said Bray had “an ability and experience in seeing child protection from many different angles”.

“I know that like the Acting Premier and myself, Jackie will go about her work with children and young people at the front of her heart and mind in everything that she does,” she said.

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“I know that she is an excellent collaborator and I really look forward to working with her again to bring together a cross-government effort that is required to tackle those complex integrated issues.

“I also know that Jackie is really wanting to look to make sure that the department is open and transparent and accountable.”

Bray’s appointment follows the resignation of former child protection chief executive Cathy Taylor in January.

During Taylor’s final months in office, the state’s child protection system was thrust in the spotlight following the deaths of six-year-old Munno Para girl Charlie Nowland and seven-year-old Craigmore boy Makai Wanganeen, with police last month charging two adults with their alleged manslaughter.

Both deaths sparked public outcry, leading to a review by former police commissioner Mal Hyde, and a commitment by Malinauskas to conduct urgent welfare checks on about 500 South Australian children who were identified as living in “extremely vulnerable” situations.

The Child Protection Department was also the subject of a review by child protection expert Kate Alexander, which was commissioned following the April release of a coronial inquest into the murder of siblings Amber Rigney, 6, and Korey Mitchell, 5.

The state government in January launched a global recruitment process to find Taylor’s replacement, with Bray selected from a field of more than 60 applicants – including at least one person from overseas.

Close said six people were interviewed for the role by a five-person panel which included people with child protection experience.

Commissioner for Public Sector Employment Erma Ranieri is currently serving as child protection chief until Bray starts in the role.

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