Women and children deserve dignity, respect, safety and equal opportunity. Anything less fails them, and leads to an unfair society for everybody.
Victoria has lead the world with the Royal Commission into Family Violence providing a blueprint for preventing and responding to family violence. Victoria is also leading in enhancing child protection strategies through its responses to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Child Abuse, and to the subsequent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
However, we need to continue implementing the recommendations of the inquiries to ensure women and children are supported to succeed.
Continue implementing the Royal Commission into Family Violence recommendations
Continue collaboration and funding to sustain momentum to end family violence
The Victorian Government’s response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence has generated an evolving system-wide family violence reform. Having already delivered 90 of the 227 Royal Commission recommendations, focus now turns to longer-term objectives, following the 10-year blueprint to combat family violence.,
Family violence continues to take its toll. By the end of 2018, 69 women were killed, including 20 in Victoria. The Victorian Government needs to sustain momentum for system re-design and evolution, and focus on strengthening collaborative governance, sensible sequencing and building sustainable capacity in its delivery partners.
The Government can heed advice of the Family Violence Implementation Monitor, especially to strengthen coordination in the current reform architecture, and improve implementation and risk management processes. Long-term funding certainty will be key to successfully sustaining the reforms.
Prevent family violence and violence against women
Provide enduring, coordinated resources for family violence prevention
Victoria now has a blueprint to combat the problem of family violence and violence against women: Free From Violence. The Victorian Government can provide leadership and enduring resources for a successful, holistic prevention strategy. This will require recurrent funds, both to extend existing family violence prevention work, like Partners in Prevention, and ensure the Office of Women and Respect Victoria can successfully implement the strategy. Gender Equity Victoria has called for 10 per cent of family violence funding to go towards prevention.
Victoria has a history of successful public campaigns that have reduced deaths and injuries. Smoking rates more than halved between 1987 and 2012. This was achieved through cultural, legislative and organisational changes, public awareness campaigns and research. Victoria’s next successful public campaign should be to reduce family violence deaths and injuries.
Foster strong, nurturing families
Invest in prevention and early intervention services for families
Investing in prevention and early intervention services helps promote the health and wellbeing of children and families. Supporting positive parent-child interactions helps strengthen families and improves children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.
VCOSS welcomes the commitment by the Victorian Government to invest in seven new Early Parenting Centres, baby bundles, first aid training for new parents, a revamped 24-hour phone line, new payroll tax exemption for all parents who access paid parental leave, and expanding first time parent groups.
The Victorian Government can also consider expanding programs that support access to intensive therapeutic support early in life, such as right@home nurse home visits, Aboriginal and mainstream Cradle to Kinder and Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. Investing in outreach perinatal support services and best practice programs for new and expectant parents who may be experiencing or at risk of perinatal depression should also be a priority.
right@home nurse home visiting program
right@home is delivers sustained nurse home visits for families at risk of poorer maternal and child health and development. Beginning during pregnancy and continuing until the child reaches two, parents receive 25 home visits by a specially trained nurse, who builds parents’ ability to create a safe, responsive care and a home environment. All nurse teams are supported by a social worker.
An extensive randomly-controlled trial showed right@home improved parenting and the home learning environment for families experiencing adversity compared with existing services. It found the program could be scaled up and integrated into well-child health care in Australia.
Fund foster and kinship carers fairly
Increase the basic carer allowance and index it to prices
Over 10,000 children in Victoria are living in out-of-home care. Foster and kinship carers provide temporary care to children and young people who are unable to live with their birth parents. Currently, more than a third of foster and kinship carers in Victoria struggle to cover basic costs, such as housing, food, clothing, utilities, furniture, transport, leisure and personal care.
The Victorian Government should immediately increase the level one and level two basic carer allowance by $70 per week and peg it to inflation. This will help Victorian carers cover children’s basic living costs and build a safe, supportive and sustainable home environment.
Daisy’s foster care funding struggles
I have a child who has high psychological and educational needs but is only on the basic level one care allowance. Despite my requests DHHS have not assessed her as needing higher funding. The criteria for determining higher levels of funding are both vague and opaque and no one can give me an adequate explanation of why I have not qualified.
The base care allowance in Victoria is one of the lowest in Australia and does not cover day-to-day living costs. At present I am paying for all allied health care services such as occupational therapy and counselling without any guarantee of reimbursement.
Empower parents with disability to care for their children
Fund dedicated supports for parents with disability
Many people with disability face discriminatory attitudes and beliefs about their parenting capacity,, creating barriers to starting a family and affecting the parenting support they receive.
Like all parents, parents with disability need some important basic supports – including stable housing, adequate income, and a social support network – and may also need specialised supports.
Timely access to appropriate information and services is important, but standard parenting programs are rarely inclusive and providers often lack the experience or resources to adapt their programs. Existing programs like the Strengthening Parenting Support Program, or the federally funded MyTime, are designed for parents of children with disability, but there are no specific programs for parents with disability, whose children may not have disabilities.
The Victorian Government should establish an evidence-based program for parents with disability to help support their parenting across their child’s life – from pregnancy into their child’s adulthood. The program should take into account the needs and wellbeing of individuals and the family as a whole, provide opportunities for parents to connect, and be available for families long-term.
Kristen, foster mother with disability
It turns out actually that everybody needs support to parent… It turns out that maybe the problem is not with women with disabilities wanting to have children. Maybe the problem is… with the society that we live in. People seem to think that it is okay for everybody else to need support to parent, but it is not okay for us to need that support.
Help young people leaving care to thrive
Ensure every young care leaver is supported until they are 21
The Victorian Government has invested $11.6 million over five years to roll out Home Stretch, to allow 250 more young people the chance to stay in care until the age of 21.
VCOSS believes the same opportunity should be extended to the approximately 500 young people leaving out-of-home care each year. Extending the support available to all young care-leavers until they are 21 will help ensure they have the skills and educational opportunities to succeed in life.
In the modern world, young people usually continue to get family support well after their 18th birthday, often living at home for extended periods and getting parents’ help to continue study, find a home and secure a job.
Every child in out-of-home care is supposed to commence transition planning from the age of 15, guided by the Victorian Government’s Looking After Children framework. This framework states transition plans should focus on health, emotional and behavioural development, education, family and social relationships, identity, social presentation, and self-care skills.
But most young people leaving care don’t have a transition plan, and stretched caseloads mean case workers often focus on urgent needs like housing, rather than more holistic planning. Young care leavers are less likely to finish Year 12, but only 19 per cent report having an Individual Education Plan. If all young people leave care with a transition plan, completed long before they leave, they will be more likely to thrive after leaving.
Ensure Aboriginal Children in out-of-home care are strong in culture
Continue supporting the transfer of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care to Aboriginal Controlled Community Organisations
Despite making up only 1 per cent of the population, 22 per cent of Aboriginal children live in out-of-home care. The Victorian Government has committed to resource and support Aboriginal organisations to care for Aboriginal children, families and communities in its landmark agreement with the Aboriginal community and community organisations: Wungurilwil Gapgapduir. Targets have been established to transfer 100 per cent of Aboriginal children to Aboriginal care by 2021.
Wungurilwil Gapgapduir, meaning ‘strong families’ in Latji Latji, outlines strategic directions to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care by building their connection to culture, country and community. It was developed in consultation with the Aboriginal community, as well as with Aboriginal services and key mainstream child service organisations. It is supplemented by a Strategic Action Plan detailing steps to address Aboriginal children and young people’s over-representation in the child protection and out-of-home care systems.
The Victorian Government can continue to transfer guardianship of Aboriginal children to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, with the necessary resources, to better promote connection to family, culture, community and self-determination.
Ensure every young person in residential care has access to high quality, therapeutic programs
Therapeutic care recognises the trauma children have experienced, and uses professionally supported, skilled staff to help children manage their own behaviour. The Victorian Government should make sure every young person in a residential care setting has access to therapeutic programs catering for their specific needs.
Playgroups bring young children, parents, families and communities together through providing informal play activities and social interaction. They help parents and caregivers build important social and support networks and link families into local community, health and support services. The Victorian Government can support children’s early development and health and wellbeing by increasing investment in parent-led community playgroups and supported playgroups for families experiencing disadvantage.
 Family Violence Implementation Monitor, Report of the Family Violence Implementation Monitor, 2017.
 Victorian Government, Free from Violence – Victoria’s prevention strategy.
 Gender Equity Victoria (GEN VIC), Media Release, Priorities for Victorian Government Action 2018-2021, 15 August 2018.
 H Keleher, Prevention and Public Health Strategies to Inform the Primary Prevention of Family Violence and Violence Against Women, Commissioned to VicHealth by Department of Premier and Cabinet, March 2017.
 Victorian Government, Department of Health and Human Services, Families & children, Cradle to Kinder and Aboriginal Cradle to Kinder.
 Victorian Parliament. Family and Community Development Committee, Parliamentary Inquiry into perinatal services, 2018, p. 156; Commission for Children and Young People, Annual report 2017-18, p. 18.
 Goldfeld S, Price A, Bryson H, et al. ‘right@home’: a randomised controlled trial of sustained nurse home visiting from pregnancy to child age 2 years, versus usual care, to improve parent care, parent responsivity and the home learning environment at 2 years. BMJ Open, 2017;7: e013307.
 Australian Institute of Family Studies, Children in care, CFCA Resource Sheet – September 2018.
 J Fergeus, C Humphreys, C Harvey, and H Herrman, ‘Is the concept of a hierarchy of needs applicable to foster and kinship carers?’ Adoption & Fostering, forthcoming 2019.
 Australian Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of people with disabilities in Australia, July 2013.
 Australian Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of people with disabilities in Australia, final report, July 2013.
 New Zealand Families Commission, Disabled Parents: Diversity, Experiences and Support Needs, 2012.
 Victorian Department of Education and Training, Strengthening Parent Support Program: Policy and Funding Guidelines, July 2017.
 Australian Government Department of Social Services, MyTime: supporting parents of children with disabilities.
 Quote from Kristen, a foster mother with disability, in the Australian Senate Community Affairs References Committee’s report into the involuntary or coerced sterilisation of people with disabilities in Australia, 2013, p. 25.
 Victorian Premier, Media Release, Helping Vulnerable Young People on the Home Stretch, 25 September 2018.
 Australian Government, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Beyond 18: The Longitudinal Study on Leaving Care: Wave 1 Research Report: Transition planning and preparation, May 2018.
 Victorian Ombudsman, Investigation into the financial support provided to kinship carers, December 2017, p. 5.
 Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, Wungurilwil Gapgapduir: Aboriginal Children and Families Agreement, April 2018.
 Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, Putting children at the centre: 2018 State Election.