Victorian children at risk in kinship care

·3-min read

Victoria's child protection system is failing to properly monitor whether it is putting young people further at risk, new data shows.

The state's auditor-general raised concerns about the government's new kinship care model in a damning report tabled in parliament on Wednesday.

The findings show the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) cannot be assured that timely, safe and stable placements for children and young people at risk are being provided, because it is not properly monitoring them.

Only 14.2 per cent of kinship care assessments were able to meet targets of checking within a week of placement whether it is safe and can meet a child's needs.

Additionally, only 0.9 per cent of annual assessments to check the child in care's progress, wellbeing and development and placement stability were done on time.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are significantly over-represented in kinship care and are 20.1 times more likely to be in kinship care than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Kinship care is when family members or non-family members in a child or family's social network lend support to a young person who is unable to live with their parents.

It is the fastest-growing form of out-of-home care in Victoria and during 2017-2021, kinship care grew by 33.2 per cent from 5577 to 7429 children in care.

The Victorian Auditor-General's Office (VAGO) examined DFFH and three other care providers - Anglicare Victoria, Uniting Vic.Tas and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency - in its audit.

VAGO made 12 recommendations to improve Victoria's child protection system including developing mandatory and ongoing training programs for child protection practitioners.

In 2018, the Victorian government introduced a new kinship care model to improve child protection services, however the audit suggests the system is flawed.

Victoria's principal commissioner for Children and Young People, Liana Buchanan, said the report is not surprising as there were similar findings in recent years.

"This report essentially says, half of the children who are being placed in kinship care are not having their placements assessed, either for safety or for what kind of support they and their carers might need," Ms Buchanan said.

She remains cautiously optimistic about the proposed recommendations.

"We have to provide safe placements and well supported placements otherwise those children will just frankly continue to suffer trauma," she said.

Opposition child protection spokesman Matt Bach said the state's most vulnerable children are being left behind.

"Early last year I called for a full independent inquiry into the child protection system following the unprecedented deaths of 65 vulnerable children," Mr Bach said.

"This report confirms that children in the state's care are at risk in kinship care and that urgent action needs to be taken to ensure their safety".

In response to the report, DFFH accepted all 12 recommendations.

"The acceptance of the findings and recommendations reflects the department's continued commitment to improving the quality care to children and young and to supporting kinship carers to undertake the important work in caring for some of Victoria's most vulnerable children and young people," the department said in a statement.

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