Making changes for our children

Michelle Wisbey 2018, Child Protection, News and Media, Young People

Last week, re-elected Premier Will Hodgman announced his second-term cabinet, with one of the biggest changes being the appointment of former backbencher Roger Jaensch to Human Services Minister.

This challenging position will see Mr Jaensch take a leading role in the wellbeing of Tasmania’s vulnerable children.

With the number of children living in out-of-home care in Tasmania continuing to rise, up 5 per cent in one year, and with 56 young people currently “referred for an investigation who had not been allocated a case worker within priority timeframes”, according to the Department of Human Services, there is much work to be done in this space.

All parties took policies to the election to implement the Home Stretch campaign, which will see Tasmania become to first state to extend the age out-of-home care support ends, up from 18 years to 21.

This was a welcome decision, and one that Anglicare and other stakeholders have advocated strongly for in recent years.

It will be significant in addressing the fact that currently half of all children who leave state care become homeless, unemployed, in jail or a new parent within 12 months.

But there are still big changes needed to disrupt the disturbing patterns that have emerged in Tasmania’s care systems.

We know from SARC’s previous research that for children who are not on care and protection orders but can no longer live at home, there is nowhere for them to go.

“This is a cohort of young people who concurrently experience lifetime trajectories of cumulative harm, repeat homelessness, limited education, contact with police and youth justice, and repeat child protection notifications,” Anglicare’s 2017 Too Hard? report found.

These children have the same care needs as any others, but they are not being offered the long-term accommodation or support needed to change these trajectories of adversity.

What is needed, for vulnerable young people, either with or without care and protection orders, are expanded or new services that focus on intensive family re-connection work, long-term, therapeutic, mobile case coordination, and most importantly, medium and long-term accommodation options for vulnerable young people.

Existing specialist adolescent services need to be expanded to provide a complete suite of drug and alcohol, mental health, education, trauma and medium and long-term supported accommodation services for teenagers and the government needs to develop good practice guidelines relevant to all service providers working with unaccompanied children.

We know that unaccompanied children under 16 are highly vulnerable, we know that current services are inadequate for vulnerable teens, that child and youth wellbeing goes beyond the realm of the Child Safety Service, and that the wellbeing of children and young people must be a daily priority in Tasmania.

To best implement changes that make a difference will not just be a job for the new minister – it needs to be a whole-of-government initiative which garners tri-partisan support.

Current SARC research projects

SARC researchers Teresa Hinton and Lindsey Fidler are both currently working on research projects looking at the collateral consequences of child removal.

Lindsey’s project looks at the financial impact on a family when children are removed – with a common result being a significant drop in household income leading to an increased vulnerability to debt and increased likelihood of homelessness.

The impact of poverty driven by the change in income from child removal then becomes a barrier to the potential reunification of that family.

Lindsey is in the fieldwork stage of this project, currently interviewing service providers and families, and gathering data, and this research will be launched in the second half of the year.

Teresa’s research examines the circumstances of repeat child removals – the likelihood that after the first removal of a child or children, a mother becomes more likely to have subsequent children removed.

Teresa is examining what measures are successful at breaking this commonly observed cycle and ensuring that parents are able to access appropriate support and services after children are removed so as to address both the circumstances that led to the removal and also the traumatic impact of having children removed.

Teresa is currently conducting fieldwork for this project –  interviewing families and service providers, and collecting data from relevant agencies.

This research will be launched in the middle of the year.

We anticipate that these projects will make a valuable contribution to the Child Safety Service redesign process through the provision of evidence-based policy recommendations for better outcomes for Tasmania’s children and families.