Working to improve out-of-home care for Australian children

Posted on 20 January 2016 by Ché Stockley

Close up of a child's hand holding an adult's hand

Earlier this year the Senate’s Standing Committee on Community Affairs conducted an inquiry into out-of-home care (OOHC). Their report was released in August 2015.

MacKillop Family Services prepared a written submission to the Inquiry and was invited to appear at Committee hearings in Melbourne and Canberra.

Our submission focussed on four areas:

  • early intervention strategies for families at risk of child protection intervention and OOHC engagement
  • the impact of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) on children with a disability and their families
  • development of a consistent national policy for care leavers, including funded support beyond the age of 18
  • overcoming barriers associated with implementing professionalised foster care

At the hearing in Melbourne, our staff encouraged the Committee to examine how supports for families are funded and provided. We emphasised the importance of early intervention to prevent entry into OOHC, especially for families with a child or young person with a disability. We also recommended that the NDIS should provide support to families as a whole, not just the individual child or young person with a disability.

At the hearing in Canberra, our staff were joined by Craig Ardler (CEO of South Coast Medical Service Aboriginal Corporation) to talk about our innovative partnership work in WA and NSW with Aboriginal Community Controlled Agencies (ACCAs) and the importance of connection to country, community and culture for Aboriginal children and young people. We also outlined the need for support for kinship and foster carers and discussed the issues that contribute to the alarming over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in OOHC.

The Committee’s final report acknowledged the broad range of issues presented in evidence, and made reference to our evidence in relation to:

  • better coordination and support for National Standards for OOHC
  • better funding for early intervention and universal interventions
  • the potential of professionalised foster care models
  • therapeutic residential care
  • the importance of our Aboriginal partnership work in NSW and WA

The final report made 39 recommendations to improve OOHC for Australian children and young people. MacKillop welcomed a number of these, including:

  • improving national data collection
  • enhanced measures in the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 to achieve better OOHC outcomes
  • special measures to recognise the needs of children with a disability in OOHC
  • improving the involvement of children and young people in decision-making
  • establishing national therapeutic care standards
  • creating a nationally-consistent approach to permanent care
  • states and territories raising the age that young people can access post-care support to 21
  • national accreditation and registration of child protection workers
  • enhanced support to programs which raise the capacity of ACCAs through partnerships with mainstream agencies
  • review of approaches to children with disability in OOHC in the NDIS trial sites
  • national consistency in relation to training for residential care workers

MacKillop welcomes the broad range of recommendations made by the Senate Committee and looks forward to seeing how they will be adopted and acted on. We view a number of these recommendations for change as critically important to the development and improvement of out of home care service delivery across Australia.