Speech- Out of Home Care Bill 2020

I rise to say that Mr Grimley and I support the intent of this bill, albeit that I am not entirely convinced that the bill is actually required to trigger the changes Ms Patten is seeking to make. From the time it was established one of our party’s most important goals has always been the protection and welfare of young people. Indeed it has been the core political cause of our party founder, Derryn Hinch, throughout his entire life. Therefore a bill which has the general intent of improving the wellbeing, choices and futures of young people in Victoria is one to which we are very naturally drawn.

It is also worth reaffirming the point made by Ms Patten and others that the changes embedded in the bill have been advocated for for a long time by the likes of Anglicare Victoria through its CEO, Paul McDonald, and other charitable organisations. The Deloitte Access Economics report that Anglicare commissioned on this policy also presents some compelling information and evidence about the potential benefits of such changes.

All of that said, I want to point out that I have for a number of years in my past directly worked with many young Victorians and families in need of support—vulnerable families who have been in kinship care, foster care and residential care. With that background I would observe that all of us would do well to remember that the state’s protection and support of children, youth and families is an incredibly complex area of policy, accompanied by probably some of the hardest questions and choices in budget management that exist anywhere across government.

Without wanting to sound like a spokesperson for either of the major parties, out-of-home care has already been the subject of many, many billions of dollars of funding from governments of both persuasions, not least through the 2016 Roadmap for Reform initiatives, which brought together a vast diversity of measures aimed at increasing the safety of families and the support of vulnerable children. Out-of-home care services have indeed also already been extended to young people between the ages of 18 and 21. Whilst I know that it is difficult for them to say anything about this before May, my understanding is that the government will more than likely be announcing further funding specifically in this area in the budget.

It must be stressed that there is also a very wide range of programs already in place to help people up to the age of 25 transitioning to living away from home, like the umbrella Creating Connections Education Employment Pathways and the Transition to Independent Living Allowance models and the various initiatives underneath them. Quite explicitly the very purpose of all of these is to support young people who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness to transition to independent living and to access or sustain education, employment and training.

Whilst I apologise to Ms Patten that I was not able to raise this with her directly prior to the debate on the bill, I would also be keen to see whatever front-end modelling or analysis has been undertaken or commissioned by her or her office on the many hundreds of millions of dollars that would quite clearly be needed as a starting point to implement these changes.

At the moment we have only been given the Deloitte report that models what the long-term, post-implementation results might be. I have always been a big believer that money and resources need to go into the primary prevention and early intervention space so that we can mitigate some of the risks and consequences that we see, particularly for children going into residential care.

I would also like to say that we still do certainly have a long way to go in this area—something most people who have spoken on this bill have raised. I would also like to say that there are many people with experience as youth workers and social workers who would also confirm that a high priority in this field, as I have just mentioned, is that early intervention and primary prevention. Preventing or minimising problems before they become as serious as they have in the cases of foster care et cetera is frequently a preferred approach, rather than trying to repair or mitigate the unfortunate consequences that these children often experience.

I have worked directly with these children and know firsthand the trauma that they have often experienced, and often parents are just unable to manage these children. We see them going into residential care, foster care and kinship care, and ultimately the impact that that has on these children is so significant for the rest of their lives. I have worked with young people in residential care who, yes, when they come to 18 become very fearful and anxious about what lies ahead for them. I think a point I would like to make is to ask: what are we actually doing at the moment to prepare them, in that current space, prior to them becoming 18? I believe that more funding is probably required to support organisations to support them through that. I know we have targeted care packages, which cost an enormous amount of money, and I believe that if we could invest in that earlier intervention we could certainly balance the scales and support our children in a more proactive way.

I would hope that most members are aware of the Social Ventures Australia report that was developed late last year for Berry Street, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare and other leading agencies across the child and family sectors. It spells out the clear economic case for early intervention. Throughout that report there is a detailed examination of the incredible costs that early intervention measures can help save, including by very specifically reducing the likelihood of children ever needing to enter out-of-home care in the first place—and wouldn’t it be magnificent if we no longer needed out-of-home care.

So on the one hand we have the Deloitte report in Ms Patten’s specific area of expanding late out-of-home care, but on the other we have the Social Ventures Australia report that recommends, as do a wealth of other studies, targeting the other end of the spectrum. We also have before us the commissioner for children and young people’s recent Lost, Not Forgotten report, which not only strongly recommends more early intervention ahead of crisis funding but also targets a range of very real weaknesses in programs and service delivery. In an ideal world none of these things would necessarily be regarded as mutually exclusive, but clearly we do not live in an ideal world, and there is not unlimited money available to be spent on overcoming all of these issues simultaneously.

Anyway, my time for this speech is nearly at an end, so I will quickly finish where I began. Together with Mr Grimley I will be supporting this bill, given its aim is to improve the lives and welfare of many young Victorians. I also particularly commend all of those child welfare organisations who are behind the bill and who do so much work to advance these objectives more generally. As Ms Shing so eloquently, as always, put it, it is often a thankless job, and I do say a very heartfelt thank you to all organisations, carers and staff who support these young vulnerable children.

What I am about to say is not to diminish the aims of Ms Patten’s bill. However, I will close by reiterating that we should never, ever lose sight of the fact that there is still an enormous amount of work to do that goes way, way beyond this legislation in the support and development of children, young people and families more generally. I would like to congratulate Ms Patten on her bill, and I would like to commend this bill to the house.