Children and young people speak out about a state care system they say is broken: report

Instead of a place where they can heal from harm, children and young people have spoken out on state care to say it too often inflicts more harm, they are moved around too much, their placements – especially in residential care – are unsafe, and there are not enough supports to help them recover from trauma.

These were among the key insights to emerge from the In our own words report, which was tabled in Parliament this morning by the Commission for Children and Young People.

The In our own words inquiry spoke with more than 200 children and young people in or with experience of kinship, foster and residential care in Victoria. Their voices shape the 43 findings and 17 recommendations the report makes to the Victorian Government.

‘It is clear from our consultations with children and young people that empowering their voices means more than just giving them a say – hearing and heeding them is fundamental to their sense of identity, their right to shape the decisions made about them, their physical and emotional safety, and their recovery from trauma,’ said Liana Buchanan, Commissioner for Children and Young People, today.

The report found a pressured, poorly resourced system repeatedly failed to take the views of children and young people into account when deciding where they should live, what they needed from their Child Protection workers and carers, what was happening to them in care, and the contact they had with friends, family and community.

Children and young people told the Commission they often felt unsafe in a residential care system that exposed them to violence, drug use and other criminal activity. Those in kinship and foster care generally felt safer, though in some settings they had been subject to abuse but were not given the opportunity to report that abuse to case workers.

‘DHHS take us out of our parents’ care for whatever reason and put us in a resi which is just as bad. ...If someone’s being taken out of someone’s care because there’s been violence, you don’t put them somewhere where there’s more violence – it causes more trauma,’ said a 17-year-old with experience of the residential care system quoted in the report.

Children and young people also told the Commission they were moved around too much, with little warning or explanation of these changes.

‘They often have no trusted worker they can talk to about their wishes,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

She said the lack of a consistent, trusted worker and a high level of placement changes were the result of a stretched and pressured system.

‘The number of children in care has doubled since 2008–09, and Child Protection reports, investigations and substantiations have tripled. Despite significant recent investment in Child Protection workers by the current Victorian Government, Child Protection funding has only increased by 70 per cent while demand on the system has tripled.

‘There also continues to be high attrition of the Child Protection workforce and high numbers of unallocated cases. As at 31 December 2018, almost 1,500 children and young people in out-of-home care did not have their own allocated case worker.

‘Likewise, out-of-home care funding is just not keeping pace with demand, with Victoria continuing to spend 25 per cent less per child on out-of-home care than the national average,’ she said.

‘Without urgent investment and major reform, we risk harming more children,’ she concluded.

The system could also not be fixed without acknowledging the yawning gap in measures to prevent children and young people being removed into care in the first place, Commissioner Buchanan noted.

Among the report’s key recommendations are an integrated, whole-of-system investment model for a safe and quality system (recommendation 1), a review to embed children’s participation in decision-making (recommendation 4), the allocation of a key worker with decision-making power for every child and young person in care (recommendation 5), and the establishment of an independent and child-centred complaints mechanism for children and young people in state care (recommendation 6).

The over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in state care, and the disproportionate impact on them of the systemic failures detailed by the In our own words report are the subject of a separate media statement by the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Justin Mohamed.

The report will be launched this afternoon (1.00–2.00pm) at the Treetops Room at Melbourne Museum, where commissioners Buchanan and Mohamed will be available for interview, together with three young people who will speak about their experiences of the state care system.

In our own words can be downloaded from the Commission’s website.

For interview:

Liana Buchanan
Commissioner for Children and Young People

Media contact:

Darren Lewin-Hill
0437 046 360