Children across Victoria will move out of residential units and into home-based care as part of a $43 million State Government investment announced this week.
The funding arrives in addition to last month’s $19 million investment, boosting kinship and foster care support and services, while allowing some children to return home.
Families and Children Minister Jenny Mikakos said home-based care was preferable to residential care, where vulnerable children were often placed as a “stopgap” measure.
“The Andrews Labor Government is taking immediate steps to boost the wellbeing of children and young people in out-of-home care,” Ms Mikakos told the media on Monday.
“Primary school age children should live in home-based care wherever possible – that’s our priority.”
Ms Mikakos said the government would work with community service organisations to help plan and implement the new approach, which included targeted care packages.
These packages will address the needs of individual children and their carers, and focus on the over-representation of Aboriginal children in state care.
There are about 230 children across Gippsland in foster care on any one night, and between 45 to 48 children in residential care.
Anglicare Victoria regional director for Gippsland Jane Anderson said she welcomed the additional funding.
“It’ll allow us to specifically recruit foster carers and we’ll be able to have tailored support for the carer and child, according to what that child needs,” Ms Anderson said.
“That’s more attractive and supportive for foster carers.”
Ms Anderson said welfare organisations such as Anglicare Victoria and Berry Street would be able to fund recreational or social activities, along with mentoring and counselling programs.
She said it would also mean Aboriginal children in state care could access different cultural activities that linked them to their heritage and personal background.
Berry Street regional director for Gippsland Jane Barr said this was the “most effective and focused direction” the organisation had seen for providing care for children in the state system.
“These packages, with the right support, will increase the funding and services to assist the child and the carer,” Ms Barr said.
“It’s really focused on the children’s needs and that’s what I love about it.
“It’s a highlight to see this has happened.”
Greens community spokesperson Nina Springle said the new packages would fail without further action on addressing structural issues in the state-care system.
“Children end up in residential care because there simply aren’t enough foster homes,” Ms Springle said.
“We remain concerned that there is no state-wide strategy to attract new foster carers, while those currently offering care leave the system in record numbers.”
Last month’s investment included a $1.5 million recruitment campaign, which Ms Mikakos said would help attract and maintain foster carers across Victoria.
The latest funding is already available, with the targeted care packages due to begin in April.