Community groups say investment needed to fix Victoria’s ‘broken’ out-of-home care system
22 November 2019 at 3:23 pm
New research says the state government could save $1.6 billion over the next decade through targeted investment in the child protection system
The number of Victorian children in out-of-home care will more than double by 2026 unless the state government urgently invests in vital early intervention programs, a new report warns.
With around 80 children entering out-of-home care in Victoria every week, child and family services organisations are calling for an approach that focuses on preventing children from entering the child protection system in the first place.
These groups cite new economic modelling – commissioned by Berry Street – which found sustained investment in targeted early intervention programs would stop 1,200 children from entering out-of-home-care every year, and save the $1.6 billion over the next decade.
Berry Street CEO Michael Perusco told Pro Bono News that Victoria’s child protection and out-of-home care system was “broken”.
“We’ve got 12,000 children living in out-of-home care at the moment. And if nothing changes, then we will have 26,000 children by 2026 at the cost of $2.2 billion,” Perusco said.
“That’s more than any other state. And it’s a clear indication that the system is not working effectively.”
The report, compiled by Social Ventures Australia, said the state government should invest around $150 million into early-intervention programs every year.
It said over 10 years, every dollar invested would save the government $2, by ensuring kids were able to stay safely at home.
This would also deliver major savings further downstream, including in the justice, health and homelessness service systems.
The report uses five programs – which are all currently being delivered in some form in Australia – as examples of the benefits additional investment in early intervention could bring.
These programs have a diverse range of focuses, from helping children with chronic antisocial behavior, to supporting parents of young children at risk of abuse and addressing problems resulting from kids entering out-of-home care.
This research follows a recent report from the Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People that examined the plight of 35 Victorian kids who died from suicide after losing contact with the child protection system.
Perusco said the commissioner’s report highlighted the need for early intervention.
“That was one of the key recommendations… And I think it’s also fair to say we’ve struggled to find anyone within the system who would say that it’s not broken and that there is no need to intervene earlier,” he said.
“We don’t want to wait until the crisis occurs. We don’t want to wait until kids are harmed. We want to work with families prior to that and ensure they remain safe.
The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare collaborated with Berry Street for the report.
CEO Deb Tsorbaris told Pro Bono News that with one in four children likely to have contact with the child protection system in their lifetime, it was clearly an issue all governments in Australia needed to consider.
“Lots of children today will be going to school with children in care and then sitting at the next desk. It isn’t a marginal issue anymore. This is a mainstream issue,” Tsorbaris said.
“And this investment [recommended in the report] would have an immediate impact. In year one, it will mean that 1,200 children don’t enter care. That’s bigger than a lot of Victorian high schools.”
The Victorian government already has a child protection strategy, launched in April 2016, aimed at delivering early support to children and families at risk.
But the report said the strategy needed to be matched with concrete action.
“While this is a welcome statement of policy intent, decisive action and investment in early intervention within the child and family services system has to date fallen short,” the report said.