Boost for children

Latrobe Valley’s vulnerable children are expected to be key beneficiaries of the massive boost to child protection funding announced in this week’s State Budget.

An additional $336 million was allocated statewide over five years, mostly in response to the recent Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children inquiry findings.

Local organisations have welcomed reforms which will see the Valley secure a new Multi-Disciplinary Centre within the next three years to help meet the needs of sexual assault survivors in the region.

MDCs provide for co-location of police, child protection workers and centres for sexual assault on a single site.

A local working group has been lobbying to secure a Valley centre to address waiting lists of up to 12 months for counselling and support for sexual assault survivors.

Yesterday Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive Fiona Boyle told The Express her organisation hoped to receive a healthy share of the $20 million announced for three new MDCs in Victoria.

While it is expected the bulk of funds will be spent on a Centre of Excellence in Dandenong, providing video link-ups with regions, Gippsland CASA still hoped the local MDC would secure about $2.5 million for a new site and further funds for extra staff.

State Member for Morwell Russell Northe said he hoped work on a new site could progress quickly given “we have the advantage of a local working group already established and they are quite well advanced…”

Gippsland CASA also welcomed news of a $7.3 million boost to expand treatment centres for children with problem sexual behaviours.

Ms Boyle said CASA provided a local service already but it was “so under funded and we have really been struggling..we have been hoping for funding because there is such a risk in keeping that client group on waiting lists”.

Gippsland CASA’s service currently offered therapy for children aged between four and 15 years but hoped to expand to cater for 16 to 17-year-olds where there was currently “a big no-service gap”, she said.

Berry Street regional director Trish McCluskey echoed Gippsland CASA’s sentiments, heralding budget allocations to the child protection sector as “very brave” given the range of austerity measures announced in other areas.

“We are really pleased, I couldn’t believe it actually,” Ms McCluskey said.

“I would have been surprised if it was $36 million, so $336 million was beyond my wildest dreams.”

“I have talked to my child protection colleagues and they are really pleased and hope this will make a big difference.”

Ms McCluskey said the findings for Gippsland and the Valley, in the PVVC report, had been “really concerning”.

She said she expected the region to secure a number of the 42 new child protection workers to be funded state-wide.

Ms McCluskey, also chair of the Therapeutic Treatment Board in Victoria, commended the government on its “clear commitment” to expanding a therapeutic residential care program for young people.

“We have wanted this specialised accommodation for these people for a number of years, so the members of the board…were vastly relieved,” she said.

A reformed funding allocation formula would also benefit Gippsland, Ms McCluskey said.

She said while Gippsland had five per cent of Victoria’s population, it handled 15 per cent of its child protection work, and the new formula better recognised this.

Meanwhile, Mr Northe also advised Gippsland-based mental health advocacy service Barrier Breakers would receive $100,000 to support its local work.

Barrier Breakers chief executive Derek Amos said the service appreciated the efforts of Mr Northe and State Member for Eastern Victoria Peter Hall in helping secure funds to recruit a qualified mental health advocate.

The organisation had bid for a recurrent allocation of $100,000 but had so far secured just one year’s worth, he said.

“We don’t want to knock a gift horse in the mouth because we are very grateful for this but we need to go back now and see what arrangements we need to see it become recurrent,” he added.