Welfare study gathers snapshot

CHILD welfare organisation Berry Street is building a case for the Latrobe Valley to gain more government funding to better equip the community to address child and family wellbeing.

It is in the process of conducting a scoping study with the help of schools, Latrobe City Council and services including Lifeline and Quantum, to get an up-to-date snapshot of the challenges facing Valley children.

According to Berry Street’s existing statistics, one in four Latrobe Valley families receive income support and the region has one of the highest rates of child protection reports in Victoria.

“Often children are developmentally delayed when they move into the early years of primary school,” Berry Street deputy regional director Jane Barr said.

“One of our goals would be to increase a family’s capacity to support their children’s early learning between kinder and primary.”

She said up to 500 Latrobe Valley and West Gippsland teenagers walk through Berry Street’s doors each year after dropping out of mainstream school.

“If you start off in primary school behind, that’s often just compounded as you go through,” Ms Barr said.

She said early results of the study suggested the need for a more coordinated approach to child development and wellbeing, with various agencies coming together.

“I think what’s important is that we use the funding to collaborate across agency or across sector,” she said.

“Rather than if you need a food voucher you go ‘here’ or if you need a dietitian you go ‘there’… we would hope that we can improve access to service options and therefore get more efficiency.”

Ms Barr said she also saw a need for programs to be tailored to individual family situations, rather than families having to fit a certain criteria.

She also said support programs needed to run over a longer period of time.

“Often family support is measured over hours, rather than the relationship and goals,” she said.

“When you provide support to a family, it often might be two months before you gain the family’s trust and then you have to move onto the next case.

“It doesn’t enable long-term skills to be developed.”

The report will be released in April with key recommendations.

Anybody interested in getting involved in the study should phone Berry Street on 5134 5971.