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Expenditure on Children in the Northern Territory

Draft report

This draft report was released on 8 November 2019.

You were invited to examine the draft report and to make a written or oral submission by 20 December 2019. Please call us on 9653 2194 to discuss making a late submission.

The final study report is expected to be handed to the Australian Government by April 2020 and publicly released shortly after.

Download the overview

Download the draft report

  • At a glance
  • Contents

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Key points

  • Children in the Northern Territory are four times more likely than Australian children overall to come into contact with the child protection system, and face higher rates of socioeconomic disadvantage. To help address this, the Commonwealth and NT Governments commit significant funds to children and family services. In 2018-19, they collectively spent about $538 million, through 9 funding agencies, more than 700 grants, to over 500 service providers.
  • Despite these significant resources, the Commonwealth and NT Governments continue to make funding decisions in relative isolation. This has led to fragmentation, inefficiencies in service delivery, and significant overlap in expenditure effort.
    • There is inadequate coordination between and within both governments, with each often unaware of what the other is funding and of what is being delivered on the ground.
    • It is unclear how the merits of activities for one place are weighed against the merits of activities in another, with the risk of inequitable funding flows driven by the capacity of service providers to apply for funding, rather than by needs and priorities of communities.
    • The current approach to funding service providers is largely short term and output focused. This creates uncertainty and inhibits the ability of providers to build capacity, develop trust, and design and deliver culturally appropriate services over the long term.
  • There is immense goodwill, positive reforms and pockets of good practice, but a fundamental shift in approach is needed — one that is underpinned by a stronger commitment to transparency and collaboration between governments, service providers and communities. This would help to ensure that governments are collectively accountable for achieving their shared objective — of keeping children and young people safe and well.
  • A formal process — of agreed funding and selected funds pooling — should be established between the Commonwealth and NT Governments. This would involve both governments agreeing on what children and family services each will fund (and where they will pool funds) based on the service needs and priorities identified in community plans.
    • Community plans should be developed that provide a snapshot of the strengths and needs of children and families in the community and give community voice about which children and family services they would like to retain, change or replace.
  • Governments should transition to longer term contracts (a minimum of seven years) that cover the full costs of service provision and take into account the capacity of providers to deliver outcomes, particularly for Aboriginal communities. This should be supported by a relational approach to contracting, where regional government staff and providers engage in regular collaborative reviews with users on service outcomes and continuous improvement.
  • Better use of data and public reporting of progress against outcomes for children and families at the community level is also needed. And both governments need to significantly improve their record keeping for the services they fund, and create and maintain a public services list.
  • Stronger supporting institutions will be required. The role of the Children and Families Tripartite Forum should be strengthened to include the provision of advice to governments on funding arrangements. And both governments should ensure that their regional networks have the skills, capacity and authority to collaborate to develop community plans and undertake relational contracting.
  • Implementing these reforms will be challenging and will require leadership and long term commitment from governments. The development of a joint funding framework between the Commonwealth and NT Governments would formalise and bolster the reforms proposed in this report. External oversight of the reforms by the NT Children’s Commissioner would also help to embed incentives for implementing the reforms.

Media requests

Leonora Nicol, Media Director – 0417 665 443 / 02 6240 3239 /

Media release

A new approach to NT children and family services needed

The number of children in the Northern Territory child protection system remains extremely high despite $500 million per year being spent by the Commonwealth and NT Governments.

Children in the Northern Territory are four times more likely than other Australian children to come into contact with the child protection system.

A draft report released today by the Productivity Commission found that a fundamental change in approach is needed to better coordinate funding decisions between the two governments.

"Governments are operating in isolation. We saw too many examples where one agency didn’t know what others were doing," Productivity Commission Chair Michael Brennan said.

"The system is so fragmented that Governments can’t know where all relevant services are being delivered and whether they’re having an impact on the lives of children and families. There are overlaps, gaps and duplication in services," Chair Michael Brennan said.

The report recommended that local communities work with regional government staff to decide what services they need and want.

"There should be fewer decisions made in Canberra and Darwin."

"Community priorities should form the basis for negotiation and agreement between governments on what each will fund," Chair Michael Brennan said.

The funding process also needs significant reform. The report contains an example of a provider who has 11 different grants from the same funding agency to deliver the same type of service.

"Grants are too short and too uncertain. Longer contracts and more certain funding is needed to deliver children and family services in the Northern Territory," Chair Michael Brennan said.

The Productivity Commission says it has been mindful of the history of abrupt policy changes in this area and has instead sought to build on reform efforts already underway.

The full report can be found at and the closing date for submissions to the draft report is 20 December 2019.

Media requests

Leonora Nicol, Media Director – 0417 665 443 / 02 6240 3239 /

Fact sheet

Draft report

We have released our draft report and are now seeking feedback. The report looks at how the safety and wellbeing of children in the Northern Territory can be improved. The focus is on how the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments can work better together to fund services.

What we have found

To help prevent harm to children in the Northern Territory the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments collectively spent…

About $538 million

Through 9 funding agencies

More than 700 grants

To more than 500 service providers

Despite these significant resources, governments are making short term funding decisions in relative isolation without a good understanding of:

  • the needs and priorities of communities
  • existing services funded by other government agencies
  • There is significant goodwill, positive reforms and pockets of good practice decision making.
  • But the system of children and family services is highly fragmented.
  • There are overlaps, duplication and gaps in expenditure effort between and within governments.
  • Services are poorly targeted and failing to best address the needs of children and families.

What does our draft report propose?

A new approach to funding children and family services in the Northern Territory.

Reform area 1

Governments determine funding by working with communities to develop community plans.

The Commonwealth and NT Governments should establish a formal coordination process in which they:

  • agree on what types of services they will each fund and in which locations
  • agree to pool funds in specific policy areas or locations.

We are proposing a four step process

This figure outlines a four steps process to improve funding decisions. In the first step the NT Chief Minister’s department is responsible for collating available community level data. The second step requires the regional representatives to work with the community to develop a community plan informed by the collated data. In the third step, the Tripartite Forum provides advice on the funding allocation by communities. The final step is for the relevant Ministers to reach, and publish details of agreed funding.
Reform area 2

Longer term, more collaborative contracting of service providers

  • Transition to longer term funding (7+ years) with a relational approach to contracting that focuses on continuous improvement.
  • Ensure funding covers the full cost of service delivery.
  • Take into account providers’ ability to provide physically accessible and culturally appropriate services to children and families.
Reform area 3

Better, more transparent data that is shared at the community level

  • Improve data and reporting on child and family wellbeing outcomes at the community level.
  • Develop a public list of children and family services available in each community.
  • Adopt a continuous improvement approach to monitoring and evaluation.
Reform area 4

Stronger supporting institutions

  • Strengthen the role of the Children and Families Tripartite Forum to provide advice to government on the funding allocation by community.
  • Support regional network staff to work with service providers to improve services and to work with communities to develop community plans.
  • Task the NT Children’s Commissioner to publicly report on the progress of reforms.

We want to hear from you about our findings and recommendations

Visit our website to read the draft report and to make a submission or brief comment by 20th December. or call 1800 020 083

  • Preliminaries: Cover, Copyright and publication detail, Opportunity for further comment, Foreword, Terms of reference, Contents and Abbreviations
  • Overview - including key points
  • Draft recommendations, findings and information requests
  • Chapter 1 About this study
    • 1.1 Background to the study
    • 1.2 What is this study about?
    • 1.3 Our approach to the study
    • 1.4 Consultation for this study
  • Chapter 2 Expenditure on children and family services
    • 2.1 A complex funding landscape
    • 2.2 How much do governments spend?
    • 2.3 Where is money being spent?
    • 2.4 A closer look at grant funding
  • Chapter 3 Linking expenditure to services
    • 3.1 What services are being provided?
    • 3.2 Improving information about services
    • 3.3 What about levels of access to services?
  • Chapter 4 Sharing responsibility
    • 4.1 Roles and responsibilities
    • 4.2 Current arrangements for coordination
    • 4.3 Initiatives to improve coordination
  • Chapter 5 Choosing which services to fund
    • 5.1 How do governments decide which children and family services to fund?
    • 5.2 What assessments of needs are undertaken?
    • 5.3 How are communities involved in selecting and designing services?
    • 5.4 How are governments using evidence to guide the selection of services?
    • 5.5 Overall issues with current processes
  • Chapter 6 Coordinating funding between governments
    • 6.1 Options for coordinating funding decisions
    • 6.2 Choosing between the coordination options
    • 6.3 Putting the preferred option into practice
    • 6.4 Step 1: Collating community level data
    • 6.5 Step 2: Developing community plans
    • 6.6 Step 3: Obtaining advice from the Tripartite Forum
    • 6.7 Step 4: Making funding decisions
    • 6.8 Supporting the coordination and community planning process
  • Chapter 7 Funding and contracting
    • 7.1 The existing funding landscape
    • 7.2 Issues with existing funding approaches
    • 7.3 Reforms to achieve better funding outcomes
  • Chapter 8 Monitoring and evaluation
    • 8.1 Current monitoring of children and family services
    • 8.2 Evaluation of children and family services: an imperfect range of options
  • Chapter 9 The way forward
    • 9.1 An overview of our draft recommendations
    • 9.2 A joint funding framework to support the reforms
    • 9.3 Challenges of implementing reforms
  • Appendix A Public consultation
  • Appendix B Case study: a remote community in the central desert
  • References

Printed copies

Printed copies of this report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.

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