Ombudsman's Out of Home Care Report
26 May 2010 at 2:46 pm
The Victorian Ombudsman has delivered a damning report into the State’s Out of Home Care System and made recommendations relating to standards for community service organisations, financial support and training for carers, and auditing and reporting of incidents.
In responding to the report tabled in State Parliament, the Minister for Community Services, Lisa Neville said the Government would implement all but one of his recommendations.
Neville says the Government does not support the recommendation for a new independent registration body for community service organisations.
She says the same outcome the Ombudsman is seeking can be achieved without adding another layer of costly bureaucracy.
Instead the Minister says she has directed the Department to separate the regulation of these 40 agencies from the policy area – to provide dedicated and coordinated oversight.
The report comes at a time when over 5000 children are being cared for by foster parents, extended families or in residential care every day.
The Ombudsman, George Brouwer says the consequence of this high level of demand has been the use of undesirable placement options for children who have been removed from their parents.
The deficiencies found in these arrangements include:
• inappropriate physical environments
• unstable care arrangements
• use of carers who lack adequate training and experience
• inefficient use of resources
• vulnerable children being placed with children who have histories of sexually abusive behaviour
• children being sexually abused or used as prostitutes
• children with no history of substance misuse being placed with other who are using drugs and alcohol
• siblings being separated
• non-compliance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle
However, the Ombudsman noted that the majority of carers do not harm or mistreat the children in their care, however, there are some people in the community who betray the trust of our most vulnerable children.
The Ombudsman says the Victorian Government has become increasingly reliant on contracted community service organisations to fulfil its statutory responsibilities in relation to the provision of out of home care services. More recently, he says it has implemented a structured registration and quality assurance process for these agencies.
He says these developments have positioned the department in the conflicting roles of customer, regulator and partner of community service organisations in the provision of out of home care services.
He found the current arrangements are not compatible with ensuring a robust system of regulation and quality assurance in out of home care.
He pointed to the New South Wales as a model of regulation which provides an example of structural separation of these conflicting roles and recommended that the model should be considered in Victoria.
The Minister said the Ombudsman had also raised issues around quality of care in a number of individual cases.
She says that in 10 of those cases the children were removed, in eight cases the carer was either de-registered or sacked – and all allegations of assault were referred to police at the time of the allegations.
The Ombudsman says overall, Victoria allocates significant resources to the provision of out of home care when compared to other states and territories. However he says he is concerned that arrangements for funding of the out of home care system appear to be reactive and therefore contribute to an inefficient reliance on contingency arrangements.
The report makes 21 recommendations designed to improve processes, increase scrutiny and introduce better planning in the out of home care system.
In response to the Ombudsman’s recommendations the Government says it will:
• Extend specialist training to all home-based carers including kinship carers;
• Lift the standard of reporting and analysis of incidents;
• Prioritise access to mental health services;
• Extend carer payments until the child completes secondary school, rather than cutting payments off when they turn 18; and
• Provide additional education support for children.
The full report can be downloaded here.