Volume 12 of the Final Report of the Royal Commission in 2017 contains 22 recommendations relating to preventing child sexual abuse in out-of-home care, and providing effective responses if it does occur. The Victorian Government accepted 21 recommendations, either in full or in principle, and is giving further consideration to one recommendation. You can read the Victorian Government’s response to Volume 12 here.
Data collection and reporting
The Royal Commission recommended that using consistent definitions relating to child abuse and child protection systems would provide more reliable identification and reporting of child abuse.
Victoria is working closely with other governments, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, to develop agreed definitions of ‘child sexual abuse’ and ‘child sexual exploitation’. Work is also underway to enhance Victoria’s ability to report placement, safety and wellbeing outcomes of children who enter the child protection system.
Registration of out-of-home care providers and carers
The Royal Commission recognised the value of out-of-home care providers and carers meeting minimum eligibility requirements for registration. Victorian foster and residential carers must attend training and complete safety screening processes to be eligible for registration . Safety screening includes criminal record checks, Working with Children Checks and Disqualified Carer Checks. Criminal record checks are also conducted for adults living in foster homes. Comprehensive checks are also undertaken for kinship and prospective permanent carers including National Police Checks and Working with Children Checks.
Organisations that provide out-of-home care services must comply with Victoria’s Child Safe Standards . The Victorian Government also audits residential care facilities to observe practice, review record keeping and documentation, and speak with staff and clients.
Improving the workforce
The Royal Commission noted the importance of out-of-home carers developing appropriate skills through training.
In Victoria, residential and foster carers are required to undertake learning and development to be eligible for registration. Since 2018, residential carers must hold a minimum of a Certificate IV in a relevant discipline. Foster carers must also complete minimum training. All prospective foster carers must be accredited by the Foster Care Accreditation Panel. Prospective foster carers must complete the Shared Stories, Shared Lives pre-assessment training, or Our Carers for Our Kids, used by Aboriginal organisations to train potential foster carers for Aboriginal children. Prospective foster carers must also meet the requirements of the Step by Step Victoria or Step by Step Aboriginal competency-based assessment packages.
The Victorian Government funds voluntary training for foster and kinship carers. Training about the impacts of family violence, cyber safety awareness, sexual abuse, and dealing with problem or abusive sexual behaviours is available through Carer KaFÉ .
Supporting children in care
The Royal Commission heard that children in out-of-home care often need support to recognise abuse and safely disclose what is happening to them.
Victoria recognises the protective benefits of equipping children with strategies to exercise their right to be and feel safe. The Victorian Government provides resources to support children in out-of-home care to make a complaint about the care they receive.
The Victorian Government’s Keeping Children Safe from Sexual Exploitation Strategy includes an enhanced response model, which is a collaboration between specialist sexual exploitation child protection practitioners and Victoria Police to prevent, identify and disrupt the sexual exploitation of children known to child protection. The Victorian Government is committed to providing children in out-of-home care with the support they need to thrive and reach their full potential.
In 2016, the Victorian Government launched LOOKOUT Education Support Centres to work with and build the capacity of schools, carers, child protection practitioners and out-of-home care services to understand the unique experiences of children and young people in out-of-home care, including the impact of abuse and trauma on their development and mental health.
Each LOOKOUT Centre is led by a school principal and staffed by a team of education specialists, allied health professionals and Koori cultural advisors who work in partnership with schools to support enrolment, monitor educational progress, and improve engagement and achievement. LOOKOUT teams work closely with schools to ensure that each young person is supported through regular Student Support Groups, and that each young person has access to a trusted adult in the school who acts as their Learning Mentor.
By enabling stronger supports to exist around children and young people in care, LOOKOUT helps to facilitate opportunities for students to disclose incidents of abuse. LOOKOUT Centres also provide professional development for school staff to ensure all schools create safe, supportive and engaging learning environments for children in out-of-home care.
Safe and stable placements
The Royal Commission recommended ways to make out-of-home care placements safe and stable.
The Victorian Government committed $33.5 million over two years to implement a new model of kinship care . The new model is designed to support safe and stable placements by identifying the needs of both carers and children and linking them to appropriate supports. Flexible supports are provided through community service organisations and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. Dedicated kinship workers help find kinship networks and provide support to kinship carers.
The Royal Commission highlighted that therapeutic models of residential care provide children with better outcomes. Approximately one third of all Victorian residential care homes now use a therapeutic model, where assessments and tailored interventions are used in accordance with the needs and abilities of the child.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
The Royal Commission stressed the importance of preserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s connection to family, community and culture.
The Victorian Government committed $47.3 million over four years to continue expanding the transfer of Aboriginal child protection and out-of-home care services to the Aboriginal community. The Victorian Government’s Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care Program is an Australian-first initiative that gives approved Aboriginal agencies responsibility for the care planning and case management of Aboriginal children who are subject to protection orders. Children receive culturally sensitive planning and case management from an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation that understands their needs.
Supporting young people leaving care
The Royal Commission observed a need to increase supports for young people transitioning from care.
Victoria's Leaving Care and Post Care Services assist young people aged 16 to 21 to transition from out-of-home care to independent living. Services include a Leaving Care Hotline, casework support, mentoring and access to financial supports to facilitate transition. The Springboard program supports young people who are in, or have recently left, residential care, to engage or re-engage with education, training and employment.
Victoria is trialling Better Futures, a new way of supporting young care leavers, in a number of sites across the state. Better Futures workers engage early with young people up to age 21, and provide flexible supports depending on individual need and circumstance.
The Victorian Government recognises that a gradual and supported transition from out-of-home care can lead to better life outcomes for young people. Home Stretch will begin in early 2019 and will support 250 young people over five years. Home Stretch will provide young people and their kinship or foster carers with the option of having the young person remain with their carer up to the age of 21. Young people leaving residential care will be eligible to receive an accommodation allowance. Better Futures and, from early 2019, Home Stretch will include tailored case work support and brokerage which can be used to assist young people who have been sexually abused in care to access specialised sexual assault counselling and redress.
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