29 December, 2014
The number of kids in care has jumped by 20 per cent in the four years to 2013. Picture: Thinkstock
The federal government has been warned a proposed overhaul of the early childhood system could inadvertently lead to a greater number of vulnerable children being placed into foster care.
Barnardos Australia has told a Senate inquiry into out of home care arrangements that the Productivity Commission’s draft childcare report risks highly vulnerable children missing out on childcare places which might otherwise keep them out of foster care.
The federal government is currently investigating whether out of home — or foster and kinship care arrangements — which differ across each state and territory, are adequate.
It is also looking at what is driving the increases in the numbers of Australian children entering the system.
The cost of responding to child neglect and abuse has doubled over the last four years, as the number of Australian children being placed into foster care arrangements soar.
Figures provided by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to the Senate hearing reveal total government expenditure on child protection and out of home care services have risen from $1.6 billion in the 2008-2009 financial year, to $3.2 billion in 2013.
Over the same period of time the number of kids in care has jumped by 20 per cent.
Children are also staying in foster care longer, with almost 40 per cent of all kids having been in care for more than five years.
Barnardos Australia has claimed the use of childcare for children under five years of age “is an overlooked means of keeping some children out of out of home care.”
“We fear that difficulties in accessing childcare for the reasons of abuse and neglect will be exacerbated by this year’s Productivity Report on childcare,” it says in its submission to the Senate inquiry.
Barnardos says one of the “least intrusive” ways of providing care for children and avoiding the need for kids to be placed in potentially damaging foster care arrangements is to ensure kids under the age of five are in childcare permanently.
“This option keeps children safe during the day whilst providing adults who can observe the child’s wellbeing and can counteract the impact of neglect,” its submission says.
But Barnardos is concerned the Productivity Commission’s draft recommendation, including introducing a work-test for parents before subsidised care can be accessed, will make it harder for disadvantaged kids to have that access to childcare.
The Federal Government has confirmed it will release the final Productivity Commission report into childcare next year, alongside its “families package” which will include Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s revamped paid parental leave scheme.
(This article was first published in news.com.au and was written by Social Affairs Writer, Lauren Wilson.)