It's been a little over a week since the Cummins report into Victoria's child protection system was made public. The numbers make for grim reading.
The report shows that in the past decade there has been a 44 per cent increase in the number of children living in out-of-home care, a 45 per cent jump in reports of child abuse and, most concerning of all, twice as many deaths of children already known to Child Protection workers.
The enormity of the challenge ahead was not lost on Cummins and his panel of experts – they made 90 recommendations to fix the Child Protection and out-of-home care system.
But while there is much to be improved at 'the pointy end' of child protection, early intervention and Family Services can help build strong families that support each other. This can mean the difference between a child barely surviving and thriving – and that may save a child from becoming a system statistic.
Family services though, are also under pressure due to rising demand and barely sufficient funding.
A collective of welfare agencies in Victoria's Hume Moreland region recently had to close its books as need exceeded capacity. In Gippsland, child protection numbers are high and climbing. Across Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula soaring rates of mental health issues are not only effecting parents, but growing numbers of children.
Case workers see families grappling with multiple issues - violence, mental illness, housing and poverty. They may be the first port of call in a crisis and attempt to immediately link families in with other appropriate support services. They can also provide emergency relief like food and helping pay bills.
Rosie Downs at Anglicare Victoria's Broadmeadows office says a lack of housing usually dwarfs other problems, so it becomes the first thing to try to rectify. "Then we move through what else is happening in the family and attempt to offer as much help as they need."
That help often involves addressing violence in the home. " Nearly every second case Family Services see has violence attached to it," says Dianne Yoong from the Agency's Child Focused Counseling and Support Team. "It is a chronic issue with devastating ramifications, especially for children. These kids are at increased risk of mental health, behavioural and learning difficulties."
Dianne's team work specifically with children and adolescents traumatised by domestic violence. They attempt to repair the bond between child and mother and encourage women to leave a toxic relationship.
Dianne remembers a nine year old girl who stopped talking and withdrew after witnessing her mother in two violent relationships. Months of therapeutic work with the pair followed. They were also encouraged to reconnect through art, games and writing about their feelings. The veil of silence between them lifted. The girl is now improving at school while her mother and partner continue counseling.
Another example of families breaking down – and one that is less publicized is a spike in adolescent violence against parents. Intergenerational trauma and abuse, alcohol and drug dependency and poor mental health have all played a part.
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