New research strengthens calls for early intervention investment to fix child protection system

Berry Street
  • New economic modelling shows investment in targeted early intervention programs for children and families could save $1.6 billion over ten years, and prevent 1,200 children from entering out-of-home care every year.
    • Victoria is on track to have almost 26,000 children in out-of-home-care by 2026; more than any other state and territory.
    • The cost of child protection and out-of-home care services is set to more than double to $2.2 billion by 2026.
    • Investing $150 million per year in early intervention programs would significantly improve outcomes for Victoria’s most vulnerable children and families.

    Leading child and family agencies are calling on the Victorian Government to provide targeted investment in effective early intervention programs that reduce the number of children experiencing harm and entering the child protection and out-of-home care system.

    The call for investment is supported by new economic modelling, commissioned by Berry Street, which found long-term investment in targeted early intervention to prevent children entering the out-of-home care system in Victoria would deliver net savings of $1.6 billion over ten years.

    “Victoria’s child protection and out-of-home care system is broken. The number of children being removed from their families in Victoria is the worst in Australia, yet we still hear about children falling through the gaps,” CEO of Berry Street, Michael Perusco, said.

    “There has been exponential growth of children coming into child protection and out-of-home care. This huge increase in demand has overwhelmed the system, and is delivering poor and sometimes tragic outcomes for the children in its care as a result.”

    In 2017-18, there were more than 43,000 children involved with the child protection system in Victoria – around 3 per cent of all Victorian children – and nearly 12,000 children are living in out-of-home care.

    “There will always be a need for child protection services for children who have suffered abuse and neglect. But, for many vulnerable families, providing targeted intervention at an early stage will help them stay safely together, and prevent the need for child protection involvement.

    “We need effective options that prevent harm to children before the issues confronting families spiral out of control and the children are at serious risk of harm. By investing in targeted early intervention programs, the Government can better respond to demand on child protection services, ensuring better outcomes for all children,” Mr Perusco said.

    The research analysed the impact of investment in five evidence-based early intervention programs; implementation of all five programs in Victoria would cost around $150 million per year.

    The economic modelling found that the first year of investment alone would see almost 7,000 children supported through the programs, with almost 1,200 children helped to avoid entering out-of-home care. Over ten years of targeted investment, more than 11,000 children could avoid entering out-of-home care, with the investment costs to break-even at year five.

    Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, which represents over 100 Victorian child and family services organisations, says Victoria needs to get serious about addressing the growing numbers.

    “Soon, Victoria will have the highest number of children and young people in out-of-home care. That’s a record we don’t want to have,” Ms Tsorbaris said.

    “We are currently mourning the loss of 35 children and young people who had contact with the system, as highlighted by the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People’s recent report ‘Lost, Not Forgotten’. If we are to address that number and attempt to stop it from sky-rocketing in the coming years, we need proper investment in early intervention, so that children and families receive the support they need at the right time.”

    Mr Perusco said the investment needed is nothing in comparison to the benefits it would deliver – both to the budget bottom line, and to the lives of vulnerable children and young people.

    “If we purely look at the numbers – the government could save $2 for every $1 it invests in early intervention. But the social imperative that we do better for vulnerable children and young people is unquantifiable.”

    “Real investment in early intervention cannot be a ‘maybe’ – it is a must. The cost of doing nothing is too great. We need decisive action now,” Mr Perusco said.

    The research was funded by the Macquarie Group Foundation, and supported by a coalition of Victoria’s leading child and family services agencies, including the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, OzChild, Anglicare Victoria, MacKillop Family Services, Mallee Family Care, the Queen Elizabeth Centre, Uniting Victoria and Tasmania, and Youth Support and Advocacy Service.

    “The Macquarie Group Foundation is proud to partner with Berry Street to highlight the need for investment in targeted early intervention. The positive impact of these programs has been proven, and we believe this investment can profoundly change the lives of so many children and families facing multiple barriers,” Regional Head of Macquarie Group Foundation, Anne Le Masurier, said.

    The full report is available at www.berrystreet.org.au/early-intervention.

    The five evidence-based programs analysed were:

    • SafeCare – a structured training program to help parents of young children at risk of neglect and abuse;
    • Functional Family Therapy, Child Welfare – a program that works with children, young people and their family or kin to address problems that may result in the child or young person entering out-of-home care;
    • Multi-Systemic Therapy – an intensive family and community-based program that focuses on addressing anti-social behaviour in young people;
    • MST-Child Abuse and Neglect – an in-home intervention model which works with families who have come to the attention of child protection services due to high risk and safety issues;
    • Treatment Foster Care Oregon, Adolescents – a foster care model for children and young people who have problems with chronic antisocial behaviour, emotional disturbance, and delinquency.
    /Public Release.