The 2016 Victorian Budget features substantial investment in supporting the wellbeing of vulnerable children and families. Many of these initiatives were announced as part of the government’s Roadmap for Reform Package and cover a wide-range of measures from prevention and early intervention initiatives through to better support for carers and children and young people who have entered the out-of-home care sector. The budget also includes funding to help meet demand for services, including increasing the number of kinship, foster and permanent care placements.
VCOSS welcomes these initiatives which help strengthen vulnerable families and support children’s health, wellbeing and positive development. Investment in prevention and early intervention can help place children on positive life trajectories, reduces the number of children entering the child protection system, and break down cycles of inequality and disadvantage.
VCOSS look forward to working with the government to build on this investment to help vulnerable children and families benefit from playgroups and improve support for young people leaving out-of-home care.
Initiatives at a glance
- $35.7m over two years for an intensive in-home early childhood support service for vulnerable families, with $14.6m in 2016-17. This welcome funding will integrate and expand the Cradle to Kinder, right@home and Healthy Mothers Healthy babies early intervention programs across Victoria. Investment should be based on the best evidence and lessons available from the implementation of these programs. $1.6m of this funding will be used to work with Aboriginal communities to design and deliver culturally responsive MCH services and in-home support.
- $133m over four years to maintain Maternal and Child Health Services (MCH), with $31.9m in 2016-17. $2m of this this funding will be used to improve data management and improve communication with families, including translating resources into multiple languages.
- $1.6m over one year for perinatal depression funding. This will replace the withdrawn Commonwealth funding for prevention and early detection for new mothers experiencing depression.
- $16.5m over two years to support Aboriginal children and families, with $8.2m in 2016-17. This includes expanding Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Services (ACSASS), ensuring Aboriginal children in out-of-home have cultural support plans, growing the number of Aboriginal carers and the expansion of the Koorie Youth Justice Program to support young people at risk of offending.
- $8.5m over two years to expand trauma informed interventions, with $3.1m in 2016-17.
Providing tailored long-term therapeutic support and sexual assault counselling will help children recover from the trauma they have experienced. VCOSS called for the provision of therapeutic placements for all children and young people in out-of-home care.
- $16.2m over two years to increase support for carers of children in out-of-home care, with $7.9m in 2016-17. VCOSS welcomes this flexible funding to better support children in care, such as meeting the costs of education and training, childcare, equipment and essential transport. Training will also be provided to foster and kinship carers.
- $35.9m over two years to transition residential care targets to complex level of support, with $17.5m in 2016-17. VCOSS is pleased to see measures to increase the safety and wellbeing of children in care.
- $2.3m in 2016-17 to continue the Child Protection Specialist Intervention Unit.
- $1m in 2016-17 to improve the sexual health and sexual exploitation of children in out-of-home care. This will include an online safety policy and engagement strategy and sector-wide training. A number of measures were included to help meet demand, including:
- $34.1m over two years to provide an additional 857 kinship, foster and permanent care places, with $16m in 2016-17.
- $5.7m in 2016-17 for integrated family services.
- $3.4m over two years, to provide additional child protection practitioners with $1.7m in 2016-17.
Future policy directions
- Funding for initiatives aimed at improving access to universal services for vulnerable families and the investment in intensive early years support is welcome. Prevention and early intervention strategies that strengthen vulnerable families and help them provide optimal environments for their children are the best ways to support children’s healthy development and minimise conditions that may lead to abuse and neglect.
- The government can build on this by investing in supported playgroups, particularly for highly vulnerable families involved in child protection and out-of-home care and by expanding the numbers of regional development workers, to help raise participation rates across the state. Continued attendance at playgroups improves children’s learning and social outcomes, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and they are an effective way of connecting vulnerable families to other more targeted supports when needed.
- VCOSS is pleased to see a range of initiatives aimed at better supporting Aboriginal children and families, including greater support for self-determination. In the future full implementation of Section 18 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, transferring guardianship of Aboriginal children to the care of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs), will be important to retain Aboriginal children’s connection to community and culture.
- Further expansion of trauma informed interventions will help improve the health and wellbeing of children and young people in out-of-home-care. Therapeutic care models seek to address the underlying trauma experienced by children and young people in care, and help facilitate healing and recovery from the effects of abuse, neglect and separation from family.
- In the future, VCOSS would like to see the Victorian Government provide greater support young people leaving care. Care leavers continue to experience poorer outcomes than their peers, being over represented in the youth justice system, having poorer mental and physical health, and lower education and employment participation rates. Providing care leavers with holistic case-managed support, combined with an education and housing guarantee will help care leavers find stable housing, pursue education and training or gain stable employment.