The COVID-19 pandemic has created confronting new challenges that will have immediate and lasting impacts. The impacts will not be felt equally – it is the families, children and young people already facing adversity that have been most impacted by this pandemic.
Last year, we emphasised the concerning state of the child protection and out-of-home care system. We highlighted the need to reorient this system toward early intervention. The COVID-19 crisis makes the need for reform more urgent as the risk of abuse, neglect and family separation increases and, for Aboriginal families, the impact of intergenerational disadvantage, institutional racism and over‑representation intensifies.
This report makes it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded an already bleak future for the child protection system. A further 4,500 children could potentially enter the out-of-home care system as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This could mean Victoria reaches 27,500 children in care by 2026, more than any other state or territory.
This analysis highlights that to make a significant impact on the demands that are expected on the system as a result of COVID-19, there is a need to invest in targeted early intervention now. By doing so, Victoria can prevent up to 14,600 children entering care over the next ten years and save at least $1.8 billion.
Investment in targeted early intervention programs can set struggling families up for success. It can improve employment and education engagement, health and wellbeing, social participation and community connectedness while also reducing the conditions leading to homelessness, chronic health problems and engagement with the justice system. Such social, human and economic capital will be essential for the Victorian community to recover from this pandemic.
For Aboriginal families, Government must invest in Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and communities to develop, implement and evaluate early intervention responses that are trauma-informed and culturally based. We stand beside Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to demand action to address the institutional factors, including institutional racism, that still result in significant over-representation of Aboriginal children in care. The child and family services system must, now more than ever, be a place where children, young people and families can thrive. That requires an integrated child and family system with adequate and ongoing funding to deliver real impact. We need decisive action now and an ongoing commitment to additional investment to seed change, start to improve outcomes for children and young people, and deliver long-term, economically sustainable results. As this report highlights, the social and economic benefits are clear.