ANZSOG alumni profile: Janet Schorer’s career protecting children and ensuring dignity for all
11 October 2022● News and media
Since ANZSOG was founded in 2002, thousands of public servants have benefited from our programs and courses. Many have gone on to senior and highly influential positions in public services across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. To celebrate ANZSOG’s 20 years of working with our owner governments to strengthen the quality of public sector leadership in Australia, this series of profiles looks at the achievement of our alumni, why they chose the public sector as a career, their views on how to lead and the importance of having a high-quality values-driven public service.
It could be argued that ANZSOG alumni Janet Schorer holds one of the most important roles in the NSW Government. As New South Wales Children’s Guardian, her office oversees a myriad of organisations to uphold the right of children and young people to be safe.
The responsibilities are far-reaching and critical. They include managing the vital Working with Children Check and the Reportable Conduct Scheme, implementing a new Child Safe Scheme, and overseeing accreditation and child-safe practices in out-of-home care and adoption and children’s employment.
Janet became NSW Children’s Guardian in 2017 after holding senior roles within the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Department of Family and Community Services and being part of the 2009 class of ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration.
But she began her working life as a nurse.
“During high school I thought I wanted to be a journalist but I got glandular fever in my final year of school and so my HSC didn’t go quite the way I hoped. I liked working with people and a friend suggested I consider nursing. Mum had always wanted to be a nurse too, so I thought I’d try that and I loved it,” recalls Janet.
Janet became a paediatric nurse and worked in emergency departments and theatre. She also studied a Graduate Diploma in Child and Adolescent Psychology and transitioned into community nursing and working with people with disabilities.
“People can have health problems alongside complex needs in their daily life. Sometimes people had significant behavioural issues and helping them to have a good life was challenging,” she says.
“But my work and experience as a nurse is the bedrock of how I operate today. Nursing showed me how to organise my time and how to cope with crisis. As a nurse, people look to you to remain calm and steady. Nursing gave me that ability to say ‘there is something big in front of me, how do we get through it? How do we see beyond it?’
“I also learned a lot about people, the importance of dignity for all people and how challenging their life can be. You might have a small window in a particular time in someone’s life to have positive impact. You’re not changing the world, but you can have a positive impact with the part you play today. That’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
Her mother, a minister and chaplain who has worked with emergency services and spent her life in service, has been an important role model.
“My mother is very compassionate and people feel safe with her. I can walk down the street with her and people will approach her and ask for help. They could be very unwell but Mum never bats an eyelid. She sees the dignity of the person and wants to help them and there is something profound about that,” says Janet.
Moving from nursing to public service was a natural progression. A desire to see better outcomes for Aboriginal people saw Janet work in policy and program management roles, including taking a lead role in the development and implementation of Aboriginal Child and Family Centres across NSW.
Continuing her commitment to supporting vulnerable community members, Janet led negotiations with the Australian Government as Executive Director, NDIS Reform in the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet. With her team, she ensured the NSW transition to the NDIS was successful and kept people with disability front of mind.
“I’ve learned from many senior people along the way who’ve showed a depth of compassion and courage. I have ambition to challenge myself and grow and I’ve taken on roles with a purpose that resonates with me,” says Janet.
“Stepping into leadership roles brings professional challenges. In my first role as a people manager, I led a team of 20 people who were all older and more experienced than me. I remember feeling a sense of terror but I focused on getting different perspectives from those people, rather than telling them what to do. I was there to deal with stuff they didn’t want to deal with and enabled them to do their jobs. The more senior the role, the more risk and challenges you take on and you have to unpack and deal with those in a sensitive and constructive way.”
While the responsibilities of the NSW Children’s Guardian role are many, Janet has been driven by a determination to do the best she can for the children and young people of NSW.
“As an organisation we’ve had a big role in responding to the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. We are responsible for overseeing that organisations are safe for children and we are proud of that. We are also proud of our work with the scheme that oversees reportable allegations made against people who work with children,” says Janet.
“We oversee the regulation of out-of-home care in NSW and have a team that has been innovative and responsive and developed new systems and processes and reformed old ones. We developed a new workers screening unit to support NDIS and re-shaped the operation of the Working with Children Check that does about 350,000 checks each year.”
Janet believes integrity, courage and trust are essential values to anchor an effective public service.
“People want to trust that public servants will deliver the services they need – that is public value. When society is more cynical about governments, the public service must be resilient and courageous and have integrity,” she says.
“As a leader in the public service I think you must always challenge your perspective, learn about yourself and connect with diverse people in your professional life who give you different perspectives.
“I hope people would regard me as an engaged leader and as someone who valued and built up my staff and who got things done. I like to think I’m pragmatic, driven and have done things that had a positive impact for people.
“Initiatives I’ve worked on don’t have my name on them and other people own them now and that certainly doesn’t bother me, but to look back at what I’ve worked on and see that things have stood the test of time is rewarding. I hope what I’ve done leaves a legacy within our system that is benefiting citizens.”
Find out more about ANZSOG’s other Foundation Programs
A program that challenges senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting.
A unique program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the ability to reflect and learn continuously.
A program designed for new Deputies in the public sector with a focus on frank conversations with practitioners and helping participants to grow their understanding of their leadership styles, their drivers and their aspirations – and building resilience to lead with integrity.