$200 million ‘lifeline’ to keep state’s child protection system afloat

$200 million ‘lifeline’ to keep state’s child protection system afloat

September 12, 2023

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The Minns government has announced a $200 million funding lifeline to the state’s child protection system to keep thousands of vulnerable kids in out-of-home care as emergency and residential housing costs spiral.

About 15,000 children and young people are in the NSW child protection system. This number has been steadily decreasing from 18,300 in 2013.

Family and Communities Minister Kate Washington said the child protection system faced a funding black hole.

However, the proportion of children housed in residential care, consisting of facilities run by NGOs and private companies, has increased by 6.3 per cent across the past year, while the proportion of children in foster care, relative and Aboriginal kinship care has decreased by a combined 9.3 per cent, driving up costs.

As of June 30, there were also 451 children in emergency care arrangements, estimated to cost the government $200 million a year.

These emergency care arrangements can consist of hotels, motels, caravan parks and serviced apartments, along with homestays.

Minister for Families and Communities Kate Washington said there was a massive “black hole” in the out-of-home care budget.

“This $200 million rescue package means the state’s most vulnerable kids will be kept safe through foster care, kinship care, and residential care arrangements,” she said.

“We are committed to repairing the budget and reforming the child protection system to give children and young people the best chance of a brighter future.”

A recent independent review found systemic issues in the out-of-home care model after a pair of siblings’ behaviour and wellbeing deteriorated following a “lengthy” stay in emergency and interim care with a rotating roster of care workers, many of whom had minimal childcare qualifications.

The acting chief executive of family and children’s services peak body Fams, Lauren Stracey, said while the announcement would be welcomed by the sector, more targeted funding was needed.

“Our out-of-home care system is desperately underfunded. While this kind of funding will make a huge impact, what we’re actually seeing is the impact of inadequate investment over a significant period of time,” she said.

Stracey called for funding in early intervention and prevention programs, which focus on keeping families together by preventing abuse and neglect via community-based interventions, to be increased by 25 per cent.

Without a focus on early intervention, Stracey warned NSW would be unable to break patterns of trauma.

“We’re going to continue to need to respond to the crisis when we know that harm to children has occurred, and there’s going to be enduring impacts for those children,” she said.

CEO of out of out-of-home care support organisation the Create Foundation, Jacqui Reed, called the funding a “bandaid solution”.

“To not have the foresight to budget appropriately is perfectly outrageous,” she said.

Reed said the current cost of living crisis meant children and foster carers were doing it tough.

“Less and less people are becoming carers and staying,” she said.

The Department of Communities and Justice estimates that an extra 600 foster carers are needed each year to take care of children who cannot live safely at home.

The government has also committed to long-term reforms to rebuild the child protection system and repair the budget. Further details have yet to be announced.

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