Moving from Scandals to Solutions in State Care
17 July 2014 at 11:59 am
Victoria does not need another inquiry into State care but a genuine partnership with community service organisations to work together for the benefit of the state’s most vulnerable children writes, the CEO of Berry Street, Sandie de Wolf.
Every time a ‘scandal’ in Victoria’s Care system or Child Protection is exposed by the media, I am both hopeful and anxious. Hopeful that as more people understand the dire reality of some children’s lives, there will be a sustained public outcry demanding that governments provide the resources these children so desperately need. Not another Inquiry, but instead a genuine partnership with community service organisations to work together for the benefit of Victoria’s most vulnerable children.
But I am also anxious because I know the damage sensationalised stories do to the resilience of volunteer foster parents and Child Protection workers, residential staff and case managers who dedicate their lives to these most vulnerable children and families. They struggle on a daily basis helping children and families who are battling mental health issues, substance abuse and family violence in a chronically under-resourced system.
As the Auditor-General reported in March this year, the residential care system is “unable to respond to the level of demand and growing complexity of children’s needs… and operating over capacity since at least 2008”.
I have been working in the social services sector for 40 years. Apart from the increased complexity of the children and families, what’s changed is the knowledge we have about what these children need to heal. Yet all the reform and good initiatives are potentially undermined by the inadequate investment to meet demand.
Berry Street has just written to all Victorian MPs, asking them to make four commitments to vulnerable children and their families for the State election in November.
- First – to ensure that, like school enrolments, if the number of children who require State Care grows, this is matched by a growth in funding and not ‘capped’ as it is now.
- Second – all residential care must be therapeutic and have the capacity to address the children’s needs.
- Third – foster care reimbursements are increased and supported by a professionalised model. This is the only way to prevent more and more young children being placed in inappropriate and more expensive residential care.
- Fourth – dedicated programs in each local area to work intensively with families to prevent children being removed, if at all possible.
We know governments need to make hard choices around how they invest their limited budgets.
These children, harmed by adults who were meant to protect them, have already been betrayed at least once.
Apart from the well-documented economic and social costs of not acting while they are young, we all share a moral responsibility to ensure they are not betrayed again.
About the Author: Sandie de Wolf was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Berry Street 1994 when it merged with Sutherland Homes for Children. Berry Street is now the largest independent child and family welfare organisation in Victoria, providing services across the State, employing more than 750 staff and with an annual turnover of more than $60 million.