Portrait of senior woman

Strong community services

2020 Victorian Budget Analysis

Victoria’s community services industry is vibrant and mature with a proud history of supporting people facing poverty and disadvantage. It also contributes about $19 billion to the Victorian economy every year.  

Over the next five years, the social assistance sector is predicted to be one of the fastest growing industries in Australia. As the Victorian Government navigates the COVID-19 pandemic and steers the community through social and economic recovery, community services can be an engine room for job creation. 

Initiatives announced in this Budget, including traineeships and new positions in the alcohol and drug, mental health and family violence sectorswill simultaneously help create a pipeline of new workers sufficient to keep up with industry growth and provide meaningful jobs with a future career path for more Victorians.  

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, community organisations galvanised to support and meet the needs of existing and new clients, and local communities. They quickly adapted to new ways of working and delivering services to vulnerable Victorians. There are countless examples of services adopting new remote service models, connecting with isolated or marginalised community members in innovative ways, or pivoting their delivery to emerging community needs.  

The Budget included some welcome funding to help organisations stay financially sustainable. Organisations have incurred substantial costs as a result of COVID-19. Some had to invest in digital infrastructure so they could shift to remote service delivery. The costs of personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning quickly added up. Some organisations had no choice but to draw on financial reserves to meet the additional costs.  

 

Positive initiatives 

 

Pathways to employment in growth sectors 

$4.2m in 2020/21 ($16.6m/3yrs)  

Funding is provided for additional job training opportunities to support students and jobseekers looking to pursue a career in community services. The package comprises funding for: 

  • Vacation internships and financial support for undergraduates completing child protection studies. 
  • Carer relief and other supports to assist unpaid carers to undertake studies and clinical placements. 
  • Traineeships in community services organisations with a focus on developing participants’ skills and knowledge in the prevention of family violence and sexual assault. 
  • The establishment of a new family violence graduate program to create a structured pathway into specialist family violence positions. 

 

Mental health lived experience workforce 

$10.3m in 2020-21 (16m/3yrs) to promote, define and support the lived experience workforce in Victoria’s mental health system, along with establishing pathways for growth.   

 

Drug and alcohol care recovery coordination 

$8.4m in 2020-21 ($25.6m/2yrs) for new care and recovery specialist positions to support people facing extended time on wait lists for residential alcohol and drug treatment services, and to provide targeted services for cohorts who have disengaged from treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

 

Maintaining the capacity of the children and families system 

$91.2m 2020-21 ($365.4m/4yrs) to continue and expand support for vulnerable children and families. Package includes funding for the sustainability of community service organisations at risk of financial stress. 

 

Child protection workforce 

$106.7m/4yrs to recruit 239 new child protection practitioners, which will include graduates and experienced professionals who will be placed around Victoria to protect our young people.  

 

Information sharing and family violence risk assessment and management reforms  

$2.7m in 2020-21 to support ongoing work to develop and deliver workforce-specific training in information sharing through the multi-agency risk assessment and management (MARAM)  framework. The scope of training will be expanded to embed information-sharing and the MARAM framework into business-as-usual practices of all workforces that interact with victim-survivors and perpetrators, as prescribed under relevant legislation.  

 

Community Advancement Fund  

$1m in 2020-21 to expand the Community Advancement Fund, which provides grants to deliver community-level initiatives and support not-for-profit organisations. 

 

Further policy directions 

The community sector, like many other industries, is facing new challenges and disruptions because of COVID-19. Demand is high, and expected to keep growing. Many organisations are experiencing reductions in fundraising and donation income.

At the same time, low indexation rates in recent years, short-term funding extensions and a significant widening of the scope of the portable long service leave scheme have left organisations struggling to make ends meet.

In the next budget, the Government can help make sure community need is met by providing community organisations with a fair indexation formula incorporating wage rises, the superannuation guarantee and portable long service leave, and dedicated funding to meet growth in demand.

Services also need additional capacity to help them adapt to the new COVID-normal and comply with public health directives. Without this support, fewer Victorians will get the help they need, and organisations’ future sustainability may be at risk. The investment in the sustainability of community organisations in some sectors, including children and families services, is very welcome, and can be expanded across the entire community sector.

Every year, thousands of students are attracted to community services qualifications, but are deterred from pursuing their career pathway because of difficulties obtaining student placement hours. The pandemic has made it even harder to find student placements. Supporting student placements costs money and takes time. We need to create capacity in community service organisations to take on increased student placement numbers and enhance the level of workplace support so that students stay in the sector beyond their placement. A centralised support and supervision model would support community sector organisations to provide students the training and experience they need to become highly skilled community sector workers.