Make child protection work
With the number of child protection reports continuing to rise to record levels in Victoria, the state government’s 2015-16 budget investment measures to help reduce the number of children and young people entering the system is very welcome. Greater support for carers and children in out-of-home care, and continued support for young people to transition from residential care to independent living, are also very welcome steps towards enhancing the lives of vulnerable children and young people in child protection.
Children and young people in the care of the Victorian government are among our most vulnerable people, and despite significant progress in recent years, they remain at risk of harm, and at risk of falling behind their peers in their health, wellbeing and education.
“Today’s state budget contains a number of positive measures aimed at improving education, child protection, employment, public transport and reducing family violence,” VCOSS CEO Emma King said.
Initiatives at a glance
- $21.3m over four years for the extension of the Springboard program, with $5.1m in 2015-16 – this program supports young people to transition from residential out-of-home care to independent living through support to engage in education, training and vocational services, and to address health and other complex issues.
- $20.8m for the expansion of intensive placement prevention and family re-unification services, including $5m in 2015-16– these services provide intensive assistance to vulnerable families whose children are at risk of being placed in out-of-home care, as well as assisting children in out-of-home-care to reunite safely with their families.
- $31.3m over four years to improve financial support for carers, including $7.6m in 2015-16 – the care allowance system will be reviewed, with input from carers, providers and peak bodies, to simplify the system and make it more child-centred.
- $9.2m over four years to extend the family-led decision making program – that engages with the families of children involved in child protection, to devise strategies to ensure the child’s safety and avoid the need for further statutory intervention.
- $48.1m over four years to expand the Child FIRST and family services system, with $12m in 2015-16 – to increase access to early intervention services to support vulnerable families. Under this initiative about 70 positions will be created in the non-government sector and flexible funding will be available to support the implementation of individualised plans.
- $11.8m over four years to improve support for children to transition to permanent care – in cases where they cannot return to their parents. Access to flexible funding for permanent carers will also be introduced.
- $1.8m in 2015-16 to support Aboriginal community controlled organisations to respond to the findings of Taskforce 1000 – regarding the overrepresentation of Victorian Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care, and to help address some complex safety and wellbeing issues identified.
- Initiatives to help meet increased demand for child protection services including:
- $47.8m over four years for an additional 88 child protection workers
- $58.6m to increase number of out-of-home care placements available
- $15.7m for expanding and reforming after-hours child protection intake and crisis response – including employing close to 20 more child protection workers.
Future policy directions
- Young people transitioning from out-of-home care to independent living continue to experience poorer health, wellbeing, employment and education levels than their peers and are also over-represented in the youth justice system. The extension of the Springboard program, which assists young people aged 16 to 21, is therefore welcome to help support these vulnerable young people. The government can build on this investment by extending this support where required, to young people aged 21-25 who have previously left care, and by providing a housing guarantee for care leavers, as called for by the Council of Homeless Persons, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency and Berry Street. The guarantee could be used for a range of supports including a rent guarantee, to encourage more landlords to rent to young people, and a rent supplement, to assist the young persons if they are studying and/or unable to work.
- VCOSS looks forward to working with the government to build on the findings of Taskforce 1000 to improve the safety, wellbeing and connection to culture of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, and to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care. The findings of the taskforce could inform the development of an out-of-home care plan for Aboriginal children and young people. Enabling Aboriginal community controlled organisations to provide more early intervention and intensive family support, participate in decision-making about care and placement options, and work with the Department of Health and Human Services would also help to reduce the numbers of children coming into out-of-home care.
- The state government’s review of carer allowances and client expense policies is a positive step towards better supporting carers and children in foster and kinship care. This is also supported by the announcement earlier this year of $1.5m to attract, recruit and retain more foster carers. VCOSS looks forward to continuing to work with the government and community sector organisations to build on these initiatives and reduce the financial pressures faced by carers. Foster care allowances have not increased in Victoria for more than a decade and there is a growing gap between the foster care allowance and the actual cost of caring for a child. In addition, the government could help to reduce the financial stress faced by kinship carers, through increasing their reimbursement rates to the same levels as those provided to foster carers.
- Expanding therapeutic care to all children and young people in out-of-home care, in line with the goals of the former Department of Human Services’ Out-of-Home Care Five Year Plan is key to helping enhance these vulnerable young people’s health, wellbeing and school attendance levels. Therapeutic care provides a more intensive support model, with specialised staff helping to address the complex challenges that children and young people in out-of-home care have experienced and continue to face.
 Department of Premier and Cabinet, Better Care for Our Vulnerable Kids, Victoria, 9 February 2015, http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/better-care-for-our-vulnerable-kids