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2014 Election Statement

The Centre for Excellence in Child & Family Welfare official launched it's 2014 Election Statement on Friday 7th November.

The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (The Centre) and its members provide support and care for Victoria’s most vulnerable children – abused or neglected children and those who may be at risk of abuse or neglect – and the families and carers of these children.

The number of vulnerable children and families in Victoria is growing at an alarming rate. Child welfare organisations are struggling to cope with the soaring demand for services to help these children and families.

The Centre has therefore written this 2014 election statement to identify the child welfare policy areas that need the most urgent attention from Victoria’s political parties as they prepare for the state election in November 2014.

The election statement outlines fi ve priority areas that a newly elected government should address to rescue a child welfare system that is under severe strain and to improve the lives and prospects of the state’s most vulnerable children and families.

The election statement includes recommendations to enhance service planning and delivery. It is based on statewide consultations with The Centre’s member organisations and the 2012 Cummins Inquiry report into protecting Victoria’s vulnerable children.

The election statement is underpinned by the following core values:

  • children’s safety and wellbeing are paramount
  • parents, carers and families are supported and respected
  • children’s views are heard

Recent Victorian government reforms – challenges and opportunities

Much has been accomplished in the child and family welfare sector since 2012 when the Cummins Inquiry report set out new approaches for vulnerable children and their families, for example:

  • the newly established independent Commissioner for Children and Young People and the Aboriginal Commissioner for Children and Young People
  • introduction of Cradle to Kinder early parenting program
  • introduction of the Springboard intensive education and outreach service for young people leaving residential care
  • multi-disciplinary centres to respond to sexual assault
  • extension of therapeutic approaches to foster and residential care.

The state government has also introduced notable changes to the way it funds and regulates the community services sector including individual packages and mandated child safety standards.

These changes have raised challenges for child and family service providers as well as other organisations across the community sector upon which the providers rely. Child and family services in Victoria are well positioned to rise to these challenges in providing for vulnerable children and their families but fundamental decisions need to be made about the next steps.

Chief of these is the need to re-examine the core respective functions of government and community service organisations in responding to vulnerable children and their families. The Centre believes that the role of government should mainly be that of resourcing, regulation and monitoring. Only in areas such as juvenile justice and child protection should government be providing services directly and these should be subject to the oversight of independent review. The Victorian Auditor General, the Commissioner for Children and Young People and the Aboriginal Commissioner for Children and Young People and the Children’s Court have demonstrated their crucial role in these areas by ensuring improved services and better outcomes for vulnerable children and families.

An important next step for government is to consider the extra benefi ts that could be gained if community based service organisations were to play a greater role in such areas. An example where significant service improvement and potential effi ciencies could be found is in the kinship care support area where the support of more kinship care families could be undertaken by family workers in community service organisations. This would free up child protection workers to focus on their core role of investigating reported cases of suspected child abuse or neglect.

Service redevelopment through re-commissioning in the mental health and in the alcohol and other drugs programs has had signifi cant impact on the essential support services available to vulnerable families. The Centre recommends that a newly elected government should introduce a tiered, more progressive approach to service redevelopment which includes protections for service users and community organisations such as those adopted in the UK. It is important that service users and community service organisations are equal partners in shaping a redeveloped services approach for vulnerable children and their families.

Community access and early intervention are proven ways to help strengthen vulnerable families and reduce the risk of children entering the protective system. Governments in all jurisdictions have identified the importance of local area networked approaches to planning and providing services to people. In Victoria ChildFIRST and Integrated Family Networks are the platform for further service provision for vulnerable families. An important next step for government is to ensure an expanded range of service types for this platform, integration with other local area approaches and co-construction at the local level.

Child and family service organisations contribute to the economic and social well-being of the whole community through their enormous volunteer contribution and fundraising for service innovation and enhancement.They are crucial to the fabric of the community. Government should ensure that strategies to strengthen service provision and accountability also recognise and support the community’s contribution to vulnerable children and their families.

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