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Contemporary out-of-home care (volume 12)

The Victorian Government is working to strengthen existing mechanisms to prevent child sexual abuse in out-of-home care. It is also assisting out-of-home care service providers to better ensure the safety of children and provide effective responses if abuse does occur.

Home-based and residential carers

The Royal Commission emphasised the important role of education in preventing child sexual abuse and recommended tailored education about sexual health and healthy relationships for children and young people in out-of-home care.

The Victorian Government is funding a Sexual Health Nurse Educator as part of the McKillop Family Services’ pilot, ‘Power to Kids: Respecting Sexual Safety’. This program aims to address the risk of child sexual exploitation, dating violence, and problem or abusive sexual behaviours in out-of-home care. Stage one of the pilot took place across four residential care homes in 2019. The Sexual Health Nurse Educator acted as a coach to residential care staff, teaching them to recognise and respond to child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation, and problem or abusive sexual behaviours. The Sexual Health Nurse Educator also developed and adapted resources and activities for residential care staff to use with children and young people, consulted with young people on sexual health and safety, and attended care team meetings.

The evaluation of Stage 1 of the pilot, published in mid-2020, highlighted the integral role of the Sexual Health Nurse Educator in improving staffs’ knowledge of sexual health and safety, and confidence in discussing these topics in an evidence-informed way with the children and young people in their care.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

The Wungurilwil Gapgapduir: Aboriginal Children and Families Agreement and Strategic Action Plan (Wungurilwil Gapgapduir) is a landmark partnership between the Aboriginal community, the Victorian Government, and community services organisations. Wungurilwil Gapgapduir, which means ‘strong families’ in Latji Latji, was released in 2018 and makes a commitment to improving outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people. It includes actions to support Aboriginal children in care to build connections to culture, Country and community, and supports the implementation of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.

The Victorian Government is supporting the continued transfer of responsibility for Aboriginal children in care to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. This change is an important step in achieving self-determination for Aboriginal communities. The change aims to provide better outcomes for all Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care by engaging culturally safe and connected supports

Supporting young people leaving care

The Royal Commission recognised the importance of support during the transition from out-of-home care to independence, especially for young people who may have experienced child sexual abuse.

Since November 2019, all eligible young people in care are referred to Better Futures three months before they turn 16. Better Futures aims to support young people through their transition to independence and is available until their 21st birthday.

Better Futures support is tailored to a young person’s individual needs and goals (Table 4). Young people may receive flexible funding, case work, and/or access to Home Stretch. Home Stretch provides an allowance that enables a young person to stay with their carer until age 21, or support with living costs until age 21 if they choose independent or semi-independent housing.

Table 4. Examples of how Better Futures flexible funding may be used
Goal Flexible funding might be used for...
I am Aboriginal and want to connect with my culture Cultural activities that support connections with culture and community, including return to Country
I did well in my VCE and want to go to university Textbooks, compulsory field trips, and travel expenses
I'm keen to access therapy Counselling not covered by Medicare
I live in rural Victoria but there's a job I want in town Interview and work clothing, travel to and from the interview
I'm ready to move into my own home Furniture and whitegoods

Better Futures workers can also support young people who have experienced sexual abuse, including abuse that occurred while in care, to access specialist sexual assault counselling, advocacy, and legal services.

Data collection for the evaluation of Better Futures, including Home Stretch, is underway. Initial findings are expected in early 2021.