They are Victoria’s most vulnerable children yet we are failing them.
That is the conclusion of Victoria’s Auditor-General John Doyle, who says the needs of children living in residential state care are being compromised because the system is overstretched.
“Regrettably, there has been a fundamental failure to oversee and ensure the safety of children in residential care,” Mr Doyle says.
Victoria’s child care commissioner is investigating claims that organised gangs of pedophiles are grooming and sexually exploiting children in out-of-home care.
But Mr Doyle says this is only one of many serious issues in a system failing to find good answers to difficult social problems.
Residential care is often a last resort for children unable to live with their parents due to abuse or neglect.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) knows about 500 children a year will need residential care but does not plan for this number, Mr Doyle said in his report tabled in parliament on Wednesday.
This means decisions on where some of the state’s most vulnerable young people are placed depends on availability rather than matching their needs, leading to increased risks for their safety.
The government on Tuesday announced it will pump $128 million into out-of-home care services to help children and young people living in state care.
Its five-year plan includes providing more beds in residential care facilities and increasing support for alternatives such as foster care and boosting staff.
Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare head Deb Tsorbaris says the government has taken up many of the recommendations in Mr Doyle’s report.
“The prevailing view of the sector though is this will need to have the investment to make it happen,” she said.
While these children are among the most vulnerable, many people were not aware of their plight.
“These children, people don’t know about them. They live down the road from you and me,” she said.
“They don’t have, necessarily, mums and dads to take care of them.”
Sandie de Wolf, head of the largest provider of residential care Berry Street, said there were good things about the government’s plan but it failed to address the rise in demand highlighted by Mr Doyle.
“It deals with some of the issues but it doesn’t go far enough,” she said.
“Unless the funding follows the increased demand, all the reforms that are suggested are really going to be at risk.”