More than $1.6 billion and thousands of children’s ruined lives could be saved over the next decade by overhauling Victoria’s child protection system to avoid a tsunami of tragic cases, a new report claims.
Economic modelling to be presented to the Andrews Government on Wednesday calls for greater investment in early intervention programs, aimed at keeping families together before they hit a crisis point.
Presented by the state’s leading child and family agencies, the modelling forecasts 1200 children a year could be prevented from entering Victoria’s out-of-home care system.
It also finds focusing money on programs that support families at the first signs of trouble could save $1.6 billion that would later be spent on housing and caring for children after they have to leave violent homes.
Michael Perusco, chief executive officer of Berry Street which commissioned the economic report, said Victoria was on track to have 26,000 children in out-of-home-care by 2026 if action was not taken — doubling the rates of other states.
“On average there are 80 children a week going into out of home care — 11 children a day,” Mr Perusco said.
“We know families face challenges and, if you can provide support at the right time before those issues spiral out of control, then it is possible to keep families together, it is possible to keep children safe and out of care.
“We have a choice: we can choose to invest early, save money and create better futures for thousands of young people and families.”
Faced with a similar situation NSW overhauled its system in recent years to focus on intervening in troubled families sooner, cutting the number who needed to be removed from home from 4000 to 2000 a year.
Early intervention programs would cost $150 million a year and modelling by Social Ventures Australia shows measures would break even after five years by reducing the amount spent on crisis situations.
The five evidence-based programs put forward by the agencies include SaferCare, a training program already helping some parents of children at risk of neglect and abuse.
Functional Family Therapy, which works with children and their family to address problems that may result in them entering out-of-home care;
Multi-Systemic Therapy, a community-based program focused on addressing anti-social behaviour in young people;
MST-Child Abuse and Neglect, an in-home intervention model for families flagged as being at high risk and safety issues; and
Treatment Foster Care Oregon, a foster care model for children with chronic anti-social behaviour, emotional disturbance, and delinquency.
More than 43,000 children are currently involved with Victoria’s child protection system, including 12,000 living in out-of-home care.