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Strong and resilient children and families

Strong and resilient children and families banner image Families and relationships come in many forms. They are central to everyone’s life, providing support, comfort and enjoyment. Enriching and strengthening families and relationships will have broad and positive social impacts, including better health and educational outcomes for children.

But some families and parents can be affected by mental illness, alcohol and other drug misuse, family violence and gambling. Sometimes it’s hard for families to get the help they need to overcome these problems. Access can be blocked by cultural factors, distance and siloed service delivery.

Children and families in difficulty need support earlier. Providing advice and help for all families can prevent problems escalating and support the creation of happy and healthy home environments where fathers, mothers and children thrive.

Keeping children safe within their families should be the goal of early intervention. When the community needs to step in, support and stability must be key elements of the out-of-home care response.

Help new parents create positive, nurturing homes

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  • Broaden access to parenting support programs to include all families experiencing vulnerability, not just those who have previously interacted with child protection.
  • Employ more perinatal and parenting support workers.


We need a stronger focus on the first 1000 days of a child’s life, when a child’s brain has the most capacity for learning, and foundations for positive growth and development are laid. In infancy, social and developmental experiences become embedded, and have lifelong impacts. By the time a child gets to school, their brain is more than 90 per cent developed.

When family life is violent or chaotic, or when parents have addiction issues or mental illness, children can be at risk of developmental difficulties. The influence of environment in the first 1000 days is profound.

The human brain develops sequentially. Like placing building blocks from bottom to top in sequence, the first blocks set the foundation for those placed on top. If a baby or toddler experiences hardship, the foundation blocks don’t form properly. When brain development is disrupted in this way, it is hard for children to learn and have positive relationships in the future.

This makes the first 1000 days the best time to teach parents the skills they need to put children on the right track for life.

Sometimes families find help too late, when child protection has become involved and there is a risk of removal. Greater and earlier access to parenting help for all parents can reduce this problem. Sadly, often only families at risk of child removal can get intensive parenting help.

We need:

  • investment in perinatal services, especially perinatal mental health services, to meet the needs of expectant and new mothers and their babies
  • investment in parenting support programs provided by Early Parenting Centres, including those that support new fathers.

PlaySteps: “Kids don’t come with a manual”

“We were finding it hard to capture and hold our son’s attention. Jonah would buzz about the place, never sitting still for long. Parenting books gave different advice and didn’t work for us. We felt lost, that we’d failed as parents. The QEC PlaySteps program was our lifeline. It showed us how to enjoy playtime and use it to teach our children. Before then we’d never known playtime could have a purpose and could change behaviour.

“Our children are happy because they want to play with us and know we enjoy doing it. Dad normally misses out, but when he comes home, the kids say ‘let’s play!’ With support, we’re relaxed and we know we can have fun with our kids. There are ways of coping and we don’t have to be perfect parents – whatever that means. We got to test different approaches until we found what worked for us.

“We found praising our children for what they do makes a difference. They’re listening to us more and are confident to try new things. You don’t need a Nintendo to play. It’s our imagination that gives us the enjoyment—even a cardboard box makes a great toy.”

Adapted from QEC Stories.

A better deal for kinship and foster carers

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  • Increase foster and kinship carer payments to $88 per week.
  • Streamline and align payments with children’s needs.
  • Improve training for carers who look after children with challenging behaviour.


When a child is unable to stay safely at home, statutory child protection services may become involved. Children who have experienced trauma need safety, stability and a sense of security. The out-of-home care system cannot always provide this.

A stable placement is key for good outcomes for children and young people in out-of-home care. The key to placement stability is kinship and foster carers who feel supported, and are properly remunerated and resourced. The Carer Allowance is insufficient and carers often cover the shortfall between the real costs of caring for children and the confusing array of DHHS reimbursements.

Kinship care preserves family, reduces separation trauma, and helps children maintain a sense of belonging and being loved, security, stability and cultural identity. Currently, however, kinship carers cannot access many of the supports provided to foster carers, despite their role being virtually identical.

Eighty-five per cent of foster carers need support in managing challenging behaviours and 80 per cent have specifically requested information on trauma-informed therapeutic approaches to caring. To provide the best possible support to Victoria’s most vulnerable children and enhance their opportunities for a positive future, their carers need to be better supported, receive training and be better compensated for the work they do.

Carer perspectives: additional costs

Adelaide is a foster mum to two children, both at the local state primary school. Adelaide wants their lives to be just like their school mates, so she provides the correct school uniform and often replaces lost items, pays and does administration for excursions and camps, and enrols them in music and sports programs. She helps their social development by encouraging attendance at friends’ birthday parties, making sure they take a gift. She also celebrates the children’s birthdays with a party each year with their classmates.
As with all children who come into care, they have experienced some degree of trauma and also have additional therapeutic needs which Adelaide fits into her schedule, pays for and provides transport to. To try to make their lives as ‘normal’ as possible, Adelaide estimates she pays an extra $1500 per child each year, beyond the help she gets from DHHS.

Case study provided by Foster Carers Association Victoria.


Keep supporting young people after they leave state care

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  • Help young people leaving care develop independence by providing housing assistance and ongoing support after age 18.


In modern families, it is rare for young people to leave home at age 18 and become fully independent immediately. Between ages 20 and 34, a quarter of young adults still live at home and a third return home after a period away.

It is unfair to expect some of our most vulnerable young people to achieve independence earlier and faster than their peers. In contrast to most other young people, the Victorian Government stops supporting those leaving care when they are forced to leave home at age 18.

This is a time when young adults develop reasoning, impulse control, understand compliance with social conventions and develop the ability to establish intimacy in personal relationships. During this stage, most young adults have the support of family and community.

But young people who have been in out-of-home care are often unprepared; they aren’t developmentally ready, they lack independent life skills, and they don’t have family or social supports to turn to if things go wrong. They are disadvantaged through the experience of forced independence as well as the experience of trauma and abuse that led them into state care in the first place.

The leaving care experience for many young people results in homelessness or housing instability, higher rates of mental illness, unemployment or underemployment, substance abuse, contact with the justice system, early parenthood and low educational attainment.

Young people who have ‘timed out’ of out-of-home care need:

  • safe and secure accommodation, including the option to stay in out-of-home care
  • trauma-informed counselling
  • opportunities to stay engaged with education and training
  • help finding work
  • guidance to build independent living skills.

Extending the care-leaving age to 21 would return $1.84 for each $1 spent.

Young people’s views on leaving care

“Money would be a big concern. I have tried really hard to get a part-time job but I haven’t been successful as of yet.” (Female, 16 years)

“Just feel kind of scared, because it’s a first time and it’s another step for me moving into the real world.” (Male, 17 years)

“[I’m worried about] being on my own and being able to financially support myself. Don’t want to go downhill in school.” (Female, 17 years)



Keep Aboriginal children safe in their family and community

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  • Increase funding for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to undertake guardianship for Aboriginal children and provide cultural activities for children and young people in care, including Return to Country programs.
  • Fund programs that help Aboriginal children and families connect; for example, the Family Finding program.


In Victoria, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are removed from their families at an alarming rate. Aboriginal child removal undermines self-determination and perpetuates disadvantage in the Aboriginal community. Nearly 10 per cent of Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care, compared with less than one per cent of non-Aboriginal children. The drivers behind this trend are many, and not helped by a child protection system that prioritises child removal over family strengthening.

Aboriginal children in out-of-home care struggle to stay connected with their culture. According to Taskforce 1000, less than 60 per cent of children whose cases were managed in the community sector had contact with their Aboriginal extended family members and less than 50 per cent had contact with their parents’ Aboriginal community. In many cases, DHHS failed to identify that a child and their family were Aboriginal. To build connection to culture, promote self-determination and get better outcomes for Aboriginal children, the Victorian Government must help them connect with their communities through programs like Family Finding and Return to Country.

Keeping Aboriginal children safe

The Commission for Children and Young People said the best ways to prevent Aboriginal children entering care and to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children are:

  • keeping Aboriginal children safe within their family
  • implementing supports that address family violence and intergenerational trauma
  • giving Aboriginal children in out-of-home care meaningful access to their culture
  • building cultural competence within organisations caring for Aboriginal children
  • improving child protection responses to Aboriginal children and families
  • ensuring Aboriginal carers are supported and properly remunerated.


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