National Child Protection Week: More early intervention needed to protect children from harm

Friday, August 30, 2019
Next week (1 to 7 September 2019) is National Child Protection Week, which aims to encourage Australians to ‘play their part’ to promote the safety and wellbeing of children and young people.
It comes as the number of Victorian children entering the child protection system continues to increase.
“Victoria can do – and must do – better for our most vulnerable children and families,” CEO of Berry Street, Michael Perusco, said.
Berry Street provides services to children, young people and families impacted by abuse, violence and neglect across Victoria, including family support, parenting, education, family violence programs and out-of-home care.
“Every year, the number of children entering the Victorian child protection system rises. Last year, it grew by around 12 per cent, to over 10,000 children,” Mr Perusco said.
“If we don’t start to see greater focus and targeted investment in early intervention services, there will be more than 25,000 children in the child protection system by 2026.”
“We need to ask whether we as a community are really doing everything we can to step in early enough to support these families and these children.”
Mr Perusco highlighted the long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect, and said there needs to be more targeted and secure funding for initiatives that keep families together safely.
“We know that there are strong correlations between childhood trauma and developmental disorders with increased risk of mental illness, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, criminality and suicide.”
“There needs to be evidence-informed investments which are targeted at early intervention, and prevent children entering out-of-home care. Otherwise, we will continue to see the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage, trauma and engagement with child protection,” Mr Perusco said.
Berry Street provides a range of innovative programs designed to build stronger families and provide safe homes. For example, the Restoring Childhood initiative intervenes early to respond to the trauma of family violence on children’s emotional and developmental wellbeing, and the Teaching Family Model offers an innovative way of caring for children and young people in a family-style setting.
Mr Perusco also flagged that half of the children in Victoria who are removed from their families return home within 6 months, after support services are provided.
“This is a good outcome, but it also raises a question about whether we could avoid more separations if we supported these children and families earlier.”
“We know that for too many children and families, the child protection system compounds, rather than ameliorates, experiences of trauma and mental illness. We need to look at alternative supports that can keep families safely together,” Mr Perusco said. 
Mr Perusco said more needs to be done to help strengthen families and ensure parents can receive support, advice and assistance, earlier. 
“We need to reduce the stigma of asking for help so families feel safe to put their hand up early on, and so the right supports and programs and assistance can be provided to reduce the need for more serious intervention down the track.”
“It’s vital that more is invested in early intervention if we’re serious about creating safer environments for children and protecting them from harm,” Mr Perusco said.


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