Sustainability of Victoria’s child protection system put at risk by treatment of kinship carers

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The Department of Health and Human Services has failed to act in the best interests of some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged children by neglecting kinship carers, the Victorian Ombudsman has found.

Tabling her report in the Victorian Parliament today, Ombudsman Deborah Glass said her Investigation into the financial support provided to kinship carers - members of a child's family or social group who take in a child – has exposed "an alarming weakness in our child protection system".

She welcomed the Government’s announcement yesterday of a new model for kinship carers which would provide greater support.

The investigation found not only errors and delays, but that kinship carers receive far less financial support than foster carers, with 97 per cent of kinship carers receiving the lowest level of allowance compared with 40 per cent of foster carers.

Support from the Victorian Government is not payment for looking after a child, but is to assist carers with the costs they incur because of the placement.

"Kinship carers are typically grandparents on low incomes, who take children in times of crisis, often because of family violence or substance abuse affecting the child's parent,” Ms Glass said.

“They do so often in difficult and challenging circumstances, and at a fraction of the cost to the public purse of other forms of out-of-home care."

"Kinship carers are almost invariably the poor relation. Lack of financial support can destroy the sustainability of kinship placements - at vastly greater cost to the system.

"If the placement fails, children end up in other parts of the child protection system, in unsafe environments, or on the depressing treadmill to youth justice facilities and prisons.”

Ms Glass said nearly 25 per cent of Victorian children in kinship care were Aboriginal, "for whom connection to culture is vital".

“This is a worrying enough statistic.

"Kinship care is a necessity to rebuild these connections – recognised in practice by the growth in the number of these carers, yet appallingly neglected when it comes to financial support.

"This neglect is discriminatory, unjust – and wrong.”

During the investigation, the Ombudsman resolved 14 complaints resulting in more than $170,000 being back-paid to kinship carers and $37,000 in debts being waived.

She made seven recommendations for administrative improvement, all of which have been accepted by the department.

The Ombudsman thanked all those who contributed towards the investigation including: individual kinship carers, Kinship Care Victoria, the Victorian Aboriginal and Young People’s Alliance, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People Liana Buchanan and Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare Inc, Foster Care Victoria, and the department's staff.

Key statistics

  • Kinship care is the fastest growing form of out-of-home care in Victoria, with more than 5,500 children living in kinship care, compared with 1,500 in foster care and 439 in residential care (as at February 2017).
  • The cost of caring for a Victorian child in a residential facility is about $280,000 per year, whereas the majority of kinship placements cost up to $15,000 per year.
  • Demand for kinship care placements more than doubled over the five years to June 2016, increasing from about 2,500 placements to about 5,500 placements.

Read the report here: Investigation into the financial support provided to kinship carers

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