Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

COMMISSION FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE Out of Sight: Systemic Inquiry into Children and Young People Who Are Absent or Missing from Residential Care

A key question that we in Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party ask a lot is: who is looking out for the children? Before I was here, as you all know, I worked at the sexual offences and child abuse investigation team in Victoria Police, otherwise known as SOCIT. Those that have worked in SOCIT are incredibly resilient people. The images we used to trawl through, the interviews we had to conduct, the prosecutions we needed to file—this was not an easy task. The victim-survivors we supported along their journey and the all-too-common disappointment in the justice system stays with you forever. That is why it makes me grateful for the job I have now. This role opens doors for me to work to prevent this abuse from happening so less investigations need to take place at all. One of the regular occurrences we would see in SOCIT was the abuse of children in state-run care. It makes me sick to say that residential care children were and still are constantly targeted by predators seeking to sexually abuse vulnerable kids. These children, who had rocky upbringings, who potentially did not have families that nurtured them, who faced addiction and disability in the home, were now being subjected to sexual violence. In this day and age it is simply mind blowing. As a police officer I would often be involved in bringing children back to residential care who had voluntarily left the home with older men to engage in sexual acts for drugs. I say ‘voluntarily’, but when you are 12, 13 or 15 years of age you cannot give consent to the sexual acts you engage in. It is scary stuff. This is just one of the many types of abuse I was tasked to investigate in my job as a SOCIT detective. This work will never leave me, but it does fuel my desire to change things for the better in this place. At the end of June, the Commission for Children and Young People tabled the report Out of Sight: Systemic Inquiry into Children and Young People Who Are Absent or Missing from Residential Care. I recently read in a motion to this place asking the government to tell us how they have addressed this very issue I faced regularly in my SOCIT days—issues that continue to this very moment. This was based on the 2015 Commission for Children and Young People, or CCYP, report titled “… as a good parent would …”. This report explores the issues surrounding residential care, specifically those who have experienced sexual abuse whilst in residential care. Last year you may recall Ombudsman Deborah Glass also releasing a report focusing on five children in residential care who had allegedly been assaulted. She recognised that these incidents were not isolated and that the CCYP had been calling for changes to the system for over a decade. The delay in action in response to these reports is infuriating. The CCYP report was completed in 2015, and one of the main recommendations was to significantly reduce the number of children in residential care. Well, it is six years later, and I can tell you that this number has remained relatively stagnant. Like the outcomes of the CCYP and Ombudsman reports, budget paper 3 detailing service delivery says that the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) has a goal to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care who live in residential care. The same budget paper has an expected outcome of 446 kids in residential care in 2020–21, with a target in 2021–22 of 455 placements. Why is this number increasing, and how is this meeting the department’s own goal? On 4 March 2020 an online article titled ‘The lost kids’ written by Elise Kinsella was published through the ABC. This article stated that more than 600 children are running away from residential care homes each year. Again, I do not even blink an eyelid when I hear this; I have seen it with my own eyes. Even as a cop there was little we could do about it. It was just totally devastating. I do not discount the fact that these children in residential care have complex needs. I am not saying there is an easy fix to this. The more children we can get out of residential care and into stable, loving homes, the better. This means foster care agencies will need more money. There is no denying this, but if it comes down to money, I make the point that residential care is very expensive. According to DFFH figures, a complex residential care placement is $301 000 per year. Besides the financial benefits and obviously, more importantly, the outcomes for our children, it is obvious that these kids are better off in other care options. Our foster system needs more foster carers and more respite carers. I have said it before in this place and I will say it again: if we do not have enough respite carers ready to go, our foster carers will become fatigued and will withdraw. I do offer another solution as well, and I hope it is on the government’s radar. Kids Under Cover are a not-for-profit who build one and two-bedroom studios for a range of purposes. One of these, relevant to my contribution today, is that they support kids in out-of-home care, including kids 12 to 25 years transitioning from residential care. Kids Under Cover was the only preventative care organisation named in the recent homelessness inquiry as specifically needing additional funding. These studios cost $60 000 to build, and they can keep a child unified in the family or in a loving home with their grandparents or other friends or family, pending all necessary checks being done, obviously. I am running out of time, but I would reiterate my call to the government. As an outcome of this CCYP report, we need to expand foster care and invest in early intervention and primary prevention approaches. In this case and in the case of Kids Under Cover it is an innovative, proven way to keep families unified and kids on the right track. It is a no-brainer.


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