Up to 300 at-risk children will have a better chance of staying with their families, rather than entering the child-protection system, through a new $11.3m program.
In an attempt to ensure the best outcome for children – and the taxpayer – it will be based on a pay-by-results contract and payments will be “linked to program success”.
Resilient Families will be run by the Benevolent Society and work with families living in the Marion, Onkaparinga, Mt Barker, Murray Bridge and Mid-Murray council areas.
It will begin in July and support up to 300 children who are at risk of abuse, neglect or being removed from their parents over the next five years.
State Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said social workers would visit families in their homes “to address their specific risk factors and safety concerns” and help parents develop better skills.
There will also be a 24-hour on-call service.
“Every child in South Australia deserves to grow up in a safe and loving home,” Ms Lensink said.
The program will be jointly funded by the state and federal governments and based on a similar model in NSW.
There, the Benevolent Society recently completed a five-year trial where 86 per cent of 816 children were able to remain with their families.
Compared with a control group of families who received a standard response from child-protection authorities, 32 per cent fewer children in the Resilient Families group ended up in state care.
In SA, the Benevolent Society will receive “additional performance-outcome payments” if it achieves an 82 per cent success rate.
There are almost 4500 young people living in state care in SA. An average of about 700 children are taken into care for their first time each year.
Housing and caring for a child in state-run homes or emergency accommodation can cost as much as $540,000 a child.
The average cost – including for children who live with relatives or foster parents – has risen to about $115,000 a child.
Federal Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said Resilient Families would be “targeted at families which have been identified as really struggling, and is focused on creating a positive home environment to try and prevent children needing to enter out-of-home care”.
“We know that children who stay in out-of-home care for extended periods are at significant risk of … long-term consequences including poor mental health, homelessness, unemployment and unstable relationships,” she said.