My statement this afternoon is on the Auditor-General’s report on residential care services for children.
The system that is reported on in terms of the audit summary indicates that there are currently 500 children in the care of the Department of Human Services (DHS), and they are among the most vulnerable in our community.
Residential care is the most expensive option compared to foster care and kinship, as it requires paid staff to provide care 24 hours a day.
The children in the care of the department have typically suffered multiple traumas, including but not limited to family violence, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
Residential care is an option of last resort. The residential care system has been unable to meet growing levels of demand for a number of years.
This has a significant impact upon the level of care which can be provided, and there is no independent advocate for children in state care, something which really needs to be addressed.
The report’s findings go to the fact that the number of children in any form of out-of-home care has increased by 60 per cent over the past 10 years, whilst the number of children in residential care has increased by 10 per cent.
For the 2012-13 period the Department of Human Services planned for 459 residential care placements; however, on any given day an average of 508 children were in residential care. This had a significant impact on the quality of care which could be provided to vulnerable children.
The annual cost of providing residential care to the state is over $100 million.
The additional cost of dealing with needs excess to capacity has meant that DHS has had to shift money from other areas of its budget into residential care services.
Residential care is intended primarily for children between the ages of 12 and 17, although 65 children under 12 were in residential care last year.
There are two categories of residential care — standard and therapeutic, which is more intensive and provides access to specialists and additional staff.
Residential care is provided by a range of small to medium community service organisations, which are also funded by DHS.
A total of 25 such organisations employ 1600 staff to provide residential care. A disproportionately large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children — 13 per cent of all children — are in care.
In terms of outcomes for children, one-third of children in residential care have experienced more than 10 out-of-home care placements.
The government has failed to adequately provide for the collection of sufficient data about outcomes for children in care.
Children are not adequately prepared for life out of care. Disturbingly, a 2012 ministerial review by the child safety commissioner of 16 children in care found that 10 of them — that is, 63 per cent — had experienced at least one type of abuse, either physical or sexual, or bullying by co-residents.
Currently the government only provides 17 per cent of placements with additional funding to provide for therapeutic residential care, which significantly improves outcomes.
In spite of nearly 8 per cent of children in care being in residential facilities, they account for over 40 per cent of category 1 incidents — those being incidents which present a serious threat to their wellbeing.
Of these incidents, 15 to 20 per cent are the result of abuse by someone within the care facility. There have been disturbing incidences of absenteeism from facilities being linked to the sexual exploitation of children in state care.
Of children in out-of-home care, 65 per cent have experienced five or more different placements, which proves extremely disruptive to them from an emotional and developmental standpoint.
The report found that the government has failed to adequately provide for the health-care needs of children and that drug and alcohol abuse is common in residential facilities.
Almost 200 children did not receive any health assessments as part of the health and education assessment initiative implemented by the department in 2012-13.
Whilst 85.7 per cent of children in residential care are enrolled at a school, attendance amongst children in residential care every day of the week is still under 50 per cent, compared to 88 per cent for children in other forms of care.