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Victoria’s growing need for homelessness and child protection support revealed

Almost 100 people a day are being turned away from homelessness agencies, more than 82,000 reports of child abuse and neglect have been received, and the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care is rising. These are some of the worrying Victorian figures and trends revealed in a new government report.

This week the Productivity Commission released the first three volumes of the 2015 Report on Government Services (the report), on community services and housing and homelessness. Other volumes will be released in coming days.

The report showed 92 Victorians who needed accommodation and other support were turned away each day from homelessness agencies. This number jumped from 79 in 2012-13. With agencies facing growing demand for homelessness services, the Australian government must urgently commit to extending the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) which is due to expire on 30 June 2015. The NPAH funds about 90 Victorian homelessness agencies to provide programs and services to women and children fleeing family violence, young people leaving state care and families at risk of homelessness.

During 2011-12 (the most recent data available in the report), Victoria trailed only Queensland in the proportion of low-income families experiencing housing stress (when households spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent or mortgage payments). With rising unemployment, costs of living and housing costs, many Victorian families are struggling to keep up. The figures show we need to help cut the cost of housing by developing affordable housing strategies, to help stop people slipping into poverty.

The report also showed worrying growth in the need for child protection services. More than 82,000 reports of abuse and neglect were received by the Victorian government in 2013-14; a 12 per cent increase from the previous year. The rate of children in out-of-home care grew to 6.1 per 1000, up from 5.1 per 1000 the previous year.

Urgent state government investment is required to meet the needs of those children, young people and families in the child protection system and to prevent children entering in the first place through investing in early intervention and prevention services. With this rise in the number of child protection reports, family services are struggling to meet demand, putting some of our most vulnerable children further at risk.

The report showed that the number of Aboriginal children on care and protection orders remains disproportionately high and rising. Aboriginal children are 12 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Aboriginal Victorian children, up from 9 times in 2007-08.

The state government can improve the safety, wellbeing and connection to culture of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care by enabling Aboriginal community controlled organisations to provide more early intervention and intensive family support and participate in decision-making about care and placement options.

A more positive finding was the recorded drop in the number of young people involved in the justice system. Our rates remain the lowest in the nation. There was also a drop in the number of Aboriginal young people in youth detention.

Diverting young people from the justice system and in particular from custodial sentences helps steer them away from a path of offending. The report also showed that placing someone under community-based supervision costs less than 10 per cent of the cost of detaining someone in a youth justice facility.

VCOSS will continue to monitor findings from the remaining two volumes of the Productivity Commission’s 2015 Report on Government Services as they are released this week. The findings so far make it evident there is more the government needs to do to help Victorians secure stable, affordable homes, assist those who face homelessness, and support our most vulnerable children.