- Living somewhere safe and affordable
- Being free from violence
- Affording the basics
- A healthy and resilient community
- Supporting children and families
- Getting a world class education
- Finding a good job
- Strong community services
- Fair laws and equal justice
- Aboriginal Treaty and self-determination
- People with disability and older Victorians
- Responding to a changing climate
This year has been challenging for many children, young people and families, who have had to contend with loss and with changes to the way they connect, socialise, learn, work and reach out for help. The Commission for Children and Young People’s research with young people and support services found young people experienced a range of mental health, safety and education impacts from the pandemic, which heightened uncertainty and isolation, and also reduced the visibility of vulnerable children and young people.
Thousands of families have been impacted by unemployment, underemployment and insecure work; burdened with increased caring; and faced heightened exposure to family violence and alcohol and drug use. Additionally, for children in the care system and their families, efforts to achieve reunification have been impacted by COVID restrictions, even with the extraordinary work of child and family services to make COVID-safe adaptations and keep families connected.
Additional funding for child and family services in the 2020-21 Budget means Victorian children and young people will be able to get the support they need, including early intervention before things hit crisis point. The permanent extension to the Home Stretch program is extremely welcome. In an Australian-first, every young person in the Victorian out-of-home care system will now be entitled to receive extended care to age 21, instead of being left to fend for themselves at age 18. Aboriginal children are removed from family and kin at higher rates than non-Aboriginal children, and are over-represented in out-of-home care. The Victorian Government has continued its commitment to self-determination by progressing the transition of responsibility for Aboriginal children in care to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, funding Aboriginal-led family support teams and continuing funding for Aboriginal Cradle to Kinder.
The Budget also includes commitments for youth mental health, support for new parents, and programs to improve the experiences and outcomes of children in out-of-home care.
The focus on job creation, employment support, training and skills in this Budget recognises the significant burden young people are facing as they enter the workforce post-COVID, and the need for targeted strategies to provide hope and pathways for young people.
A permanent extension to the Home Stretch program
$3.5m in 2020-21 ($75.1m/4yrs) for the Better Futures initiative, which includes $64.7m for Home Stretch. Home Stretch enables young people to stay with their existing kinship or foster carer families, or be supported in their transition to an independent living arrangement. This builds on targeted funding announced earlier this year to ensure young people in out-of-home care who turn 18 before December 2020 are supported by the Home Stretch program.
Intensive family preservation and reunification
$51m in 2020-21 ($335.3m/4yrs) for evidence-based early intervention programs to improve outcomes for Victorian children and reduce entries into out-of-home care, including funding for:
- the continued delivery of Integrated Family Services, Cradle to Kinder, Aboriginal Cradle to Kinder and other evidence-based programs in 2020-21, and
- the development of an outcomes-focused investment and commissioning approach to support the delivery of targeted, intensive family preservation and programs.
Reforming care services
$86.7m in 2020-21 ($363.6m/4yrs) to progress implementation of the reform agenda for child, youth and family services to improve outcomes and experiences for children and young people in residential care. Key initiatives over four years include:
- the development of 21 two- and three-bedroom residential facilities
- $16m to continue and expand the Keep Embracing Your Success (KEYS) program
- $90.2m for Targeted Care Packages to provide tailored, individual support for children and their carers, with the aim of preventing entry into residential care
- $9m to establish Care Hubs to provide intensive, wrap-around support to children, young people and sibling groups entering residential care.
Funding is also provided to reduce representation of Aboriginal children in care and continue to support self-determination for Aboriginal Victorians. This will include the transition of case management and expanded child protection functions of Aboriginal children in care to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, as well as implementation of family support teams.
Maintaining the capacity of the children and families system
$91.2m 2020-21 ($365.4m/4yrs) to continue and expand support for vulnerable children and families, including:
- More home-based care placements for children who are unable to live safely with their families, and additional financial assistance to meet the individual needs of children in home-based care
- Child FIRST services to assist families to connect to the services and supports they need
- Early parenting and cultural supports to improve child wellbeing
- An ongoing program to recruit foster carers
- Good Money stores in Collingwood, Geelong, Dandenong and Morwell to help Victorians experiencing financial hardship to build their financial capacity and security
- the sustainability of community service organisations at risk of financial stress.
Funding is also allocated to support Victorians who were in institutional care as children.
Child protection workforce
$106.7m/4yrs to recruit 239 new child protection practitioners, which will include graduates and experienced professionals who will be placed around Victoria to protect our young people.
Supporting carers to pursue employment opportunities
From a $4.2m in 2020-21 ($16.6m/3yrs) investment in building pathways to employment in growth sectors, $4.6m has been allocated to help carers to pursue a career in community services. Funding will enable carers to gain assistance with their caring responsibilities while they study and during their placements, and will assist with the costs of study materials, mentoring and additional supervision and support.
Programs and support for new parents
$2.7m 2020-21 (20.6m/4yrs) to support new parents across Victoria, through the expansion of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program to rural and regional areas. Maternal and child health services are also funded to provide a wide range of programs, including both universal consultations for all families and targeted support for Victorian families in need.
$35.2m in 2020-21 in service and capital funding to progress the establishment of a digital platform for Child Link, to enable information-sharing to bolster child wellbeing and safety outcomes.
Child safety reforms implementation
$1m in 2020-21 ($5m/4yrs) to support the transition of the education and training sector to the new National Principles for Child Safe Organisations
Further policy directions
Victoria’s first strategy to support kinship, foster and permanent carers, launched in October 2019, sets out six goals to improve the experiences of Victoria’s dedicated carers, as well as the lives and futures of the children and young people they care for. The Victorian Carer Strategy 2018-2022 also outlines a whole-of-government strategy to recognise and assist the important role of Victorian carers of people with a disability, mental illness or chronic illness, or of older people with care needs. Both these strategies require targeted investment and rolling action plans to realise their promise and potential.
The Victorian Ombudsman released a harrowing report in October 2020 into the experiences of five children living in Child Protection residential care units who experienced assaults. The report recommended four-bed residential units be converted into therapeutic two-bed units, an independent children’s advocacy function be established, regulation for the administration of chemical restraints, and changes to processes to ensure all assaults are reported to police. The recommendations were supported in principle by the Victorian Government, and the investment in 21 two- and three-bedroom residential facilities is welcome; however, further measures from the report should be explored, funded and implemented by the Victorian Government.