Gippsland fails children

“DISTURBING” figures tabled in state parliament this week showed the state’s “flawed” child protection system is failing Gippsland more than any other region.

The Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry has identified Gippsland as having the highest proportion of young people admitted to out-of-home (state) care, in its final report tabled on Tuesday, prompting immediate calls for urgent action.

Berry Street regional director Trish McCluskey welcomed the report’s 90 recommendations for change, but told The Express Gippsland’s figures were “nothing short of disturbing”.

Ms McCluskey called for the State Government to ensure some of its earliest responses, announced this week, were focused on Gippsland.

She said statistics proving Gippsland had more than three times the rate of children in out-of-home care, compared with eastern and southern metropolitan regions’ rates were “utterly terrible”.

Though Gippsland had just four to five per cent of the state’s population, it was tackling around 15 per cent of Victoria’s child protection workload, Ms McCluskey said.

“It is utterly terrible what this says about the needs of children in Gippsland and it also helps to explain why our child protection services in Gippsland are under so much pressure.”

The report showed that in 2009-10 Gippsland had 66 reports to its child protection service per 1000 children – the highest ratio in the state, while about 10 children and young people aged between 0-17 years per 1000 in the region were admitted to out-of-home care.

At the end of June 2010, the proportion of ‘child and young people’ in out-of-home care per 1000 ranged from 2.7 in the eastern metropolitan region compared with 10 in Gippsland, the report said.

One of the report’s recommendations was for child protection workforce numbers to reflect a region’s established need rather than its population and Ms McCluskey welcomed moves to overhaul the “equity formulas” currently in use.

On Tuesday the State Government announced an initial $61.4 million over four years to “start improvements to service delivery at the frontline”.

Aside from recruiting additional child protection workers, the government committed to expanding Child FIRST and family support services in “areas of extreme need”.

The funding aims to establish, state-wide, three new multi-disciplinary centres “where police, child protection officers and specialist counsellors are located together” to address child sexual abuse in and out of the home.

Yesterday Ms McCluskey said if one of the centres was not located in Gippsland she would be “very surprised and would want to know why”.

In its own submission to the inquiry, and as part of another joint submission with other community service organisations, Berry Street called for increased investment in early years programs and a “big plan” for out-of-home care, including increasing payments to Victoria’s foster carers – “a dwindling group” who were among the worst paid in Australia.

“We want that significantly reviewed,” Ms McCluskey said.

The retention of child protection workers was a challenge demanding much more than increased recruitment, Ms McCluskey said.

“Each time there is a report like this, the immediate response is to put more workers on but until we can retain those workers, and have strategies to manage (them), we can keep recruiting until we are blue in the face but is is a revolving door,” she said.

“The nature of their job is really difficult and how much they are paid is a major issue. Until those issues are addressed it is hard to imagine anything is going to change. There needs to be a recognition of the incredible pressure our staff here have been under.”

Ms McCluskey said Gippsland’s demographic features, including entrenched poverty, high levels of family violence and intra-familial sexual abuse, were behind the statistics reported this week.

Solutions, “that don’t have us on the front pages for all the wrong reasons”, would come from collaborations between community service organisations, government departments and political parties.

State Member for Morwell Russell Northe supported Ms McCluskey’s comments.

“This is not a table you want to be at the top of but the facts are there, that from Gippsland’s perspective the numbers are extremely high so for any positive outcomes of investment to occur around prevention and support, I am certainly see this happen in Gippsland,” Mr Northe said.

He said State Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge was “well aware of the need” in Gippsland.

He said the report’s figures indicated Gippsland should be a future venue of a multi- disciplinary centre and he recognised “many good (child protection) workers” had left their jobs for “a range of reasons and certainly pay is a part of that”.

Mr Northe said a local working group, including representatives from the Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault, Victoria Police, relevant departmental agencies and local social and community workers, had been advocating for a local multi- disciplinary centre.

Mr Northe agreed future preventative strategies were crucial.

“This is a horrendous thing and we need to get in earlier,” he said

To view the full report visit