Families in need of support to better care for their children are being asked to develop their own strategies to protect their children’s safety under a $1.6 million trial rolled out by the Child Protection Department this month.
The 18-month pilot involves the Department holding conferences with at-risk families to discuss how they can better care for and protect their children before they are required to be placed in out-of-home care.
Previously, only the Youth Court had the authority to convene family group conferences for children who had contact with the legal system.
The new model is touted as an early-intervention strategy to keep families together and curb the increasing number of South Australian children in out-of-home care, which spiked last year from 3695 in June to 4120 in October.
During the conferences, families and community members are invited to discuss and make decisions about how they will safely look after their children, who are also invited to participate.
Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson has awarded Relationships Australia the $1.6 million contract to run the program, which is expected to help more than 200 families identified as being at-risk.
The program has a particular focus on helping Aboriginal families and community members to make their own decisions about their children’s safety.
While Aboriginal children account for just four per cent of South Australia’s total child population, they represent 33 per cent of children currently in care.
“Ultimately, the aim of this program is to keep children and young people safely in their own families, wherever possible, and connected to their own cultures and communities, because we know this gives them better outcomes in life,” Sanderson said.
“We recognise that everyone’s family situation is different and that’s why for some children, their extended family may be able to help protect and care for them.”
Relationships Australia state branch executive officer Claire Ralfs said families would be urged to take back responsibility and develop their own solutions to better care for their children.
She said there was increasing evidence that family group conferencing had “immediate and long-term benefits” for families engaged or at risk of being engaged with the child protection system.