As the South Queensland International Children’s Care Australia’s (ICC Australia) ambassador each year I conduct a number of public speaking engagements on Child abuse, poverty and slavery, although typically these talks are not related to Australian children. Child safety is a passionate area and therefore the call for National change to the current practice towards child safety can be an emotive topic.
There is an ever growing number of people speaking out about the failures of the current Australian system and the desire for cultural change towards our Nation’s view of child safety. To facilitate this desire for change, there is a need to change the collective thinking of our politicians. Jeremy Sammut in his recently released book titled The Madness of Australian Child Protection says, ‘Politicians will be more likely to take the lead and act on child protection reform if there is already community support for a new approach’.
Change is typically a result of knowledge, and knowledge requires the study of historical and current relevant data. Community involvement facilitating education and consistent and appropriate data collection can lead to the fulfilment of the desire to achieve a cultural change in child safety practice to become more child centric. There is recognition that the current generation of children are the future of our nation.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), an Australian Government organisation, reported in 2015 that there where over 43,000 (almost 1%) Australian children in out-of-home care, this related to a 5% increase between 2013 and 2014. This is not acceptable. Out-of-home care includes foster care and group home situations. Almost 7% of these children are in non-home care or group home situations (AIFS, 2015).
These conditions have been described as ‘Barns for kids’ and in Victoria there has been a call for them to be phased out as reported by ABC News (2 July 2015). Although it has been over thirty years since most Australian orphanages where shut due to the determination that institutional care is detrimental to children, we again have many across the nation. ‘Group home’ or ‘Residential Care’ is the current politically correct terminology for an orphanage.
Within a report on government services (2015), the Productivity Commission stated that the number of Australian children in care has continually outpaced population growth rising from 3.9 per 1000 in 2001 to a staggering 8.1 per 1000 in 2013. Additionally, the children in residential care (orphanages) increase by 710% from 2000-2001 to 2013-2014 and the numbers are staggering still when looking at just the last ten years (see graph below).
These figures alone are a testament that the current conventional thinking and process by the Queensland Department of Child Safety (DoCS) has not worked and needs to change. In the same report the Productivity Commission showed that the total real (adjusted for inflation) cost of care in Queensland has risen by 389% since 2000-01 and further the total National real out-of-home care has risen from $600 million in 2001 to $2 billion in 2013. Again in the last ten years alone the increase has been astounding (see graph below).
As stated within the findings of the Cummins report, a report commissioned by the Victorian Government and headed up by former Supreme Court judge Philip Cummins in 2012, this increased spend on family support services had no positive effect on the overall outcome.
Across the nation, child protection services cost $3.3Billion in 2013, an increase of 2.4% from the previous year. Over 65% ($2.2Billion) was associated to the cost of Out-of-home care (AIFS, 2015). Dr McHugh from the University of NSW shared in her research titled ‘Reforming the Foster Care System’ that the cost of a child in care is over 52% more than a child not in care. The call for more support services and therefore more funding is not the only answer and presently there are other suggested solutions, such as early permanency, that propose better outcomes as suggest by Dr Sammut.
There has been a call for a national standard for statistical data collection with to-date little adherence from politicians. The declaration by Dr. Sammut that ‘A high quality data surveillance system... enables the government and community stakeholders to know the magnitude of the child abuse problem, to identify geographic areas or population types that are more affected by the problem than others, to track the incidence... and prevalence... over time, and to understand causes. It informs the setting of priorities, the facilitation of prevention and response programs, and enables the evaluation of those programs’ supports the call for a national data collection process by the Australian Childhood Foundation. Therefore, to enhance the case for change, consistent and relevant data collection is essential.
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