Victoria’s Commissioner for Children has announced an investigation into why hundreds of children are going missing from the state’s residential care system each year.
- Hundreds of children go missing from care in Victoria each year
- The majority of children who go missing are girls
- Police have said children who go missing repeatedly are at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation
It follows an ABC report which revealed more than 600 children are reported missing from the state’s care each year, with the vast majority of them going missing from residential care.
Some young people told the ABC they had felt safer sleeping on the streets of Melbourne, than they did in their residential care unit.
Residential care is a type of care where rotating shift workers look after small groups of young people who are housed together.
“The establishment of the inquiry is in response to our concern about the very high number of young people who continue to be absent or missing from residential care, seen through our incident monitoring function,” Commissioner Liana Buchanan said.
“In broad terms, the inquiry will examine why young people are absent or go missing from residential care, the harm that occurs when they do, and what measures can be recommended to address this.”
Residential care ‘falling apart’
Victoria’s Shadow Minister for Child Protection, Nick Wakeling, said it was clear the residential care system was broken.
“It is heartbreaking to think that children would see a life on the streets as a better option than a residential care setting,” he said.
Mr Wakeling said there needed to be a bigger investment from the Victorian Government into foster care, so that children were not housed in residential care.
“It is no surprise that children are fleeing residential care when we have had report after report that shows that children who are placed in residential care continue to be exposed to abuse and further neglect,” he said.
Reason Party MP Fiona Patten said children were being removed from their families because of abuse or serious risk of harm, but child protection workers were not considering whether children would be exposed to similar risks in residential care.
“If our residential care facilities themselves don’t meet that safety threshold, then it is a fundamental failure of the system,” she said.
“First and foremost if we take a child from a dangerous environment, we must put them in a safe one, that is the whole point of child protection.”
Michael Perusco tweets: Victoria's child protection and out-of-home care system is broken. It has not been designed for-and not funded for -the overwhelming level of demand or for the complex levels of trauma children have experienced. Change required urgently
Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said it was heartbreaking to see vulnerable young people with no other option than to live on the streets.
“It’s clear that the system has been on life support for years and now it’s falling apart,” she said.
“The Government needs to stop short-changing the care and protection of our young people and instead invest in a complete overhaul of the system.”
Expert says workers need better training
Joseph McDowall is a director at the CREATE Foundation, which represents young people in care, and a visiting fellow at the Queensland University of Technology.
He has recently finished a study of young people who have left out-of-home care across Australia.
He says of the 325 young people interviewed, more than half said they had been absent for at least a day from their care placement, and a third said they had been absent for at least a week.
Dr McDowall said those numbers of missing children were higher than what state governments usually report.
“Young people are voting with their feet, they are saying we are not happy here where we are and we are going somewhere else,” he said.
He said there was a range of reasons why children were leaving their placements, but his survey showed the most common reason was because of conflict or abuse in the care facility.
Dr McDowall said state governments urgently needed to lift the level of education and training provided to workers in residential care, so they were better equipped to deal with conflict.
He said teachers and social workers all required degree-level qualifications, but residential care workers, who support some of the most traumatised children, do not.
“Here we have people working at the coalface and trying to have constant behaviour modification and working with challenging kids and they have the least training,” he said.
Victoria’s Minister for Child Protection Luke Donnellan said Victoria had introduced a minimum Certificate IV training standard for residential care workers.
“We could suddenly say we want everyone to have a degree but we would be short of workers straight away, so it is a gradual thing and that is what we are doing,” he said.
The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare CEO Deb Tsorbaris said the take up of Certificate IV training from residential care workers had been remarkable, but it was now time for the industry to think about getting workers to the next level of training.
She said “almost every stakeholder in this space, we are all saying you need to move there (towards degree qualified staff)”.
She said wages for residential care workers were another thing she would like to see lifted.
“Of course we would like to see properly compensated workers in this field and they are not compensated as well as we would like.”
Ms Tsorbaris said it was challenging work.
“When you are working with small children who have been removed from their family, have often had multiple placements, have a range of trauma history and really in many ways what you want is to make life easier for them and develop some hope, it is a really tough job and not for the faint-hearted.”