Positive impact

LEAD agencies working with the vast numbers of vulnerable Latrobe Valley children say new State Government funding and strategies are starting to impact positively on local outcomes.

On Friday The Express spoke with numerous agencies delivering new, or boosted, programs in a range of areas relevant to the “disturbingly high” numbers of vulnerable young children in the region, following the State Government’s launch of a 10-year ‘strategy for change’.

‘Victoria’s Vulnerable Children – Our Shared Responsibility’ outlined numerous actions, some planned and some underway, aimed at combating child vulnerability.

Given data, including figures in last year’s Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry, has long shown Gippsland to have the highest rates of young people in out-of-home (state) care, local service providers have welcomed the strategy and news of another $91 million to be distributed statewide to the cause.

Several agency leaders said much of the government’s new direction was now location-based and Gippsland’s data demanded it would attract a hefty share of more new money.

The Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault said recent funding boosts had already caused a significant reduction to waiting lists for sexual assault counselling from 12 months to around four weeks.

“To be able to get in and do therapeutic work within a specific time means people then don’t need our service for as long and, in turn, we can provide more people with the service,” GCASA chief executive Fiona Boyle said.

Funds for wider programs tackling sexualised behaviours in children, which now reach up to 50 Gippsland children annually, would also help prevent future sex assaults, Ms Boyle said, though she called for the programs to extend to youth aged between 16 and 18 years.

GCASA also hoped to have a new $2.5 to $3 million purpose built ‘multi-disciplinary’ centre, preferably on its existing Victor Street site in Morwell, built in the next 12 months, Ms Boyle said.

The State Government has committed funds to the centre’s fit-out and additional staff, while GCASA and other potential sources would look to fund the remainder, Ms Boyle said.

The centre would accommodate GCASA, police and child protection officers and include a Victoria Police digital analyst on-site to investigate internet sex offences, which Ms Boyle said were a “significant issue” in the Valley.

Berry Street regional director Trish McCluskey said she expected extra funds would soon see an expansion of the ‘therapeutic residential care’ model being trialled in Gippsland.

Berry Street has around 14 residential care units in Gippsland, housing up to 46 adolescents who cannot live at home, and she hoped another four young people would benefit from a unit-based therapist shortly.

“The findings so far have been that this is a fantastic alternative to general residential care,” Ms McCluskey said.

New money finding its way into the Department of Human Service’s child protection services was also seeing workers staying longer in their roles and being better supported by new ‘practice leaders’ and a regional practice practitioner, she said.

Ms McCluskey said Gippsland secured the “lion’s share” of extra positions funded “because there was an acknowledgement that they were needed here if we are to not keep rolling out that same sort of data”.

Anglicare Victoria Gippsland area manager Jane Anderson agreed a range of services were finally being funded “to meet demand” and the approach was “absolutely welcome”.

“With the number of children in care in Gippsland there is no doubt we need more foster care placements so we want to see more money there… but we do expect in Gippsland, given the focus on our need, there will be more to come (from the newly announced $91 million),” she said.

Ms Anderson said 24 Latrobe Valley families had benefited from the new “and very successful” Cradle to Kinder program, which sees Anglicare, Quantum and the Queen Elizabeth Centre working with families from the time a mother fell pregnant through to when her child turned four.

More integrated services and localised programs in areas of “particular intergenerational disadvantage” were now better targeting areas of need, Ms Anderson said.

“What we are seeing is more specialised services so we can have more therapeutic approaches… for example, our workers have to deal with family violence as part of their job and they are able to get the skills now to do that,” she said.