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Improving safety for young people in residential care

8 September 2020 at 5:14 pm
Luke Michael
Young people living in residential care are at significant risk of experiencing sexual abuse 

Luke Michael | 8 September 2020 at 5:14 pm


Improving safety for young people in residential care
8 September 2020 at 5:14 pm

Young people living in residential care are at significant risk of experiencing sexual abuse 

A charity-led pilot program has successfully decreased the risk of sexual abuse for children and young people living in residential out-of-home care, while also improving the relationship between kids and carers.   

MacKillop Family Services, in partnership with the University of Melbourne, released an evaluation of its prevention and early intervention program ­– Power to Kids: Respecting Sexual Safety – on Tuesday. 

This program was developed following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which found that those living in residential out-of-home care (OOHC) were at an elevated risk of being harmed. 

Despite only six per cent of young Australians in OOHC living in residential care settings, the royal commission found that 33 per cent of child sexual abuse reports in statutory child protection were related to residential care.   

MacKillop CEO Dr Robyn Miller said this pilot program has identified strategies to recognise and intervene early when children are the targets of harmful sexual behaviour, sexual exploitation or dating violence. 

She said Power to Kids was built on the work she led in her former role as chief practitioner within the Department of Human Services. 

“As a consultant to the royal commission, I was only too familiar with the vulnerability of young people living in residential care to sexual exploitation across every state and territory,” Miller said.

“We know many of our young people in residential care have experienced horrific family violence, abuse and neglect, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation, and that many carers have not been equipped with the skills to identify and respond effectively. 

“Our program set out to address this by coaching carers to have ‘brave conversations’ about sexual safety and educating them about strategies to intervene early when they see warning signs that abuse is occurring.”

The evaluation found that those who participated in the pilot were at decreased risk of sexual abuse and had improved knowledge, skills and attitudes about sexual health and safety.

Participants were more informed on what behaviour to look out for and were introduced to strategies on how to respond if they encounter dangerous behaviours.

Researchers also found that staff were much more confident that they could help young people be more aware of and vigilant of the risks, and this resulted in improved relationships between carers and young people. 

Miller told Pro Bono News the program has helped reduce the amount of time kids were missing from home – a key red flag for sexual exploitation.       

She said the program – initially implemented in four homes – was now being rolled out to all MacKillop’s residential care houses and had the scope for national impact.

“We think it should be rolled out to every residential out-of-home care agency nationally and we want funding to continue the research and build on it,” she said.

“This program has national significance because there’s no prevention program designed particularly for children in out-of-home care. Even though they are the most vulnerable group.”

The full evaluation report can be seen here.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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