The Victorian Government is working to strengthen mechanisms to prevent child sexual abuse in care services and provide an effective response if abuse does occur.
Support for all young people leaving care
Victoria is the first Australian jurisdiction to make ‘extended care’ available to all care leavers. From 1 January 2021, eligibility for Home Stretch support was extended to all young people leaving foster, kinship and residential care from 18 until 21 years of age. From 1 July 2021, Home Stretch support became available to young people leaving foster, kinship and residential care from 16 until 21 years of age, and permanent care from 18 until 21 years of age. Extended care will soon be covered under Victorian law and has been supported by an investment of almost $114 million from the Victorian Government (in addition to ongoing funding).
Home Stretch, delivered through the Better Futures model, provides young people with options to:
- remain with their carer up to the age of 21 years, or
- receive support up to the age of 21 to transition to alternative living arrangements, such as a share house or independent living (See Case Study 1).
Home Stretch includes an allowance, case work support and flexible funding. The Victorian Government’s Youth Expert Advisory Group, which includes young people with lived experience of the care services system, has contributed to the Better Futures and Home Stretch policies.
Case Study 1. Home Stretch
Home Stretch is supporting care leavers like 19-year-old Alkira.
Alkira recently enrolled at university to study primary education and was ready to move into independent living. While she works casually, there is a lot to cover on her own. Home Stretch covers most of her rent and will allow her to buy a new laptop for university.
See Alkira’s story below or you can read the transcript here.
Child abuse data collection and reporting
The Royal Commission recommended having nationally consistent definitions relating to child sexual abuse, as well as nationally consistent data collection requirements for children receiving child protection services. National consistency in definitions will increase the accuracy of reporting by agencies like the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Productivity Commission, which collect and analyse health and welfare data. This creates a reliable evidence base to support better policy and service delivery decisions from which effective prevention strategies can be developed.
National definitions for ‘child sexual abuse’, ‘abuse in care’, ‘perpetrator’, and ‘child sexual exploitation’ were agreed on by states and territories in late 2019. Victoria’s definitions closely align with national definitions and the government will work towards incorporating the new definitions into its data collection and reporting system during the next major client incident policy review, due within the next two years.
'Abuse in care' data is now collected as part of the Child Protection National Minimum Data Set. Victoria and all other Australian jurisdictions committed to providing this data for the inaugural national Safety of Children in Out-of-Home Care report. The report was published on 10 December 2021.
Better access to training for home-based carers
The Royal Commission identified the importance of supporting carers to understand and respond to the needs of the children in their care, including those who have experienced child sexual abuse. It was recommended carers receive training on the impacts of trauma and abuse on children and the principles of trauma-informed care.
Carer KaFÉ provides training to foster and kinship carers based on the principles of therapeutic care, trauma, healing, and connection to culture. In 2021-22, the Victorian State Budget delivered ongoing funding for Carer KaFÉ to enable continued training and support for foster and kinship carers. The 2021-22 Budget also delivered an expansion of these supports to permanent carers, to be delivered over four years.
Carer KaFÉ is in the process of commissioning a review of its carer engagement, education, and training activities to ensure the program embeds best practice. The review will also examine the needs of different carers to determine whether tailored training might better meet the specific needs of each carer cohort. The expansions to Carer KaFÉ are outlined in the Victorian Government’s Strong carers, stronger children: 12-month action plan 2021–22.
Expansion to therapeutic models of care
In late 2020, close to $16 million funding over four years was provided by the Victorian Government to expand Keep Embracing Your Success (KEYS). It is an intensive, trauma-informed, multi-disciplinary transition model of residential care and brings together the mental health and care service systems to provide young people who have complex emotional and behavioural needs with a range of therapeutic interventions, to enable a transition back to home-based care or independent living.
The Strong carers, stronger children: 12-month action plan 2021–22 sets out the ways Victoria will continue improving support for carers and children in their care. For example, ongoing funding has been dedicated to the continuation of the Treatment Foster Care Oregon model of foster care. This model aims to help children with complex behaviours live in long-term, home-based care instead of residential care placements. The model includes a foster carer who is available to provide 24/7 support to the child in their care. The model emphasises the development of interpersonal skills and participation in positive social activities and offers a range of additional wraparound supports to meet the unique needs of that child.
Keeping Aboriginal children connected to culture, Country and family
The Victorian Government is amending the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to incorporate all five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP) (see Table 4). The ATSICPP aims to enhance and preserve Aboriginal children's connection to culture, Country and community where they cannot remain with their parents. Similarly, the Act will recognise the importance of prevention, participation, partnership, placement and maintaining connection to culture.
The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020: Fourth Action Plan 2018-2020 sought agreement by all jurisdictions to improve compliance with the ATSICPP through active efforts to implement all of its elements. The Wungurilwil Gapgapduir: Aboriginal Children and Families Agreement (Wungurilwil Gapgapduir) between the Aboriginal community, the Victorian Government and community service organisations outlines a strategic direction to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in care services. The Wungurilwil Gapgapduir Strategic Action Plan (2021-24) identifies the implementation and measurement of the ATSICPP as a priority action.
The Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 will also enable Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to lead the response to child protection reports relating to Aboriginal children. This will build on the existing Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care reforms, which enable an ACCO to take on responsibility for an Aboriginal child’s care management and case plan.
These changes reflect the Victorian Government’s ongoing commitment to Aboriginal self-determination and recognise the importance of using the expertise of Aboriginal communities to keep children safe, well and connected to culture and community.
Table 4. Victoria's Enhanced Aboriginal Child Placement Principles
A child has a right to be brought up within the child's family and community.
The Aboriginal community to which the child belongs and/or Aboriginal agency has a right to participate in the making of a significant decision in relation to an Aboriginal child under this Act.
The parents and members of the extended family of an Aboriginal child have a right to participate, and to be enabled to participate in an administrative or judicial decision-making process under this Act that relates to that child.
An Aboriginal child has a right to develop and maintain a connection with the child's culture, identity, family, community, Country and language.
Placement principle hierarchy
As a priority, wherever possible, the child must be placed within the Aboriginal extended family or relatives and, where this is not possible, other extended family or relatives.
If, after consultation with the relevant Aboriginal agency, placement with extended family or relatives is not feasible or possible, the child may be placed with:
Any non-Aboriginal placement must ensure the maintenance of the child's culture and identity through contact with the child’s community.