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Berry Street has welcomed the 2020-21 Victorian Budget, which provides $1.73 billion for child protection and family services programs and initiatives.

“Budgets are about priorities, and the Andrews Labor Government has prioritised support for Victoria’s vulnerable children and families in this year’s State Budget,” Berry Street CEO Michael Perusco said.

Berry Street provides services to children, young people and families impacted by abuse, violence and neglect across Victoria, including out-of-home care.

Mr Perusco said the Government has struck the right balance between stimulating the economy and creating jobs, and ensuring that those who are struggling have their needs addressed.

There are almost 12,000 children in Victoria currently living in out-of-home care – including around 450 in residential care on any given day.”

Michael Perusco Berry Street CEO

“The child protection system is under pressure, and struggling to cope with the complexity of issues faced by these children and young people. The investments announced today will make a significant difference moving forward,” Mr Perusco said.

The 2020-21 Victorian Budget includes funding for the development of 21 two and three bedroom residential facilities, in line with a recent recommendation by the Victorian Ombudsman that smaller residential care units be made available. It also provides funding to continue and expand the Keep Embracing Your Success (KEYS) program, delivery of additional Targeted Care Packages, and establishment of Care Hubs to provide intensive support to children and young people before they move to longer-term placements.

“These programs and initiatives are proven to work, and we applaud the Government for making these critical investments.”

“When governments invest, we see the numbers of children entering the system decrease, and the outcomes for children in the system improve,” Mr Perusco.

Critically, funding is also provided to reduce representation of Aboriginal children in care and continue to support self-determination for Aboriginal Victorians.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be over-represented in child protection, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children making up 26 per cent of all children in out-of-home care.”

Michael Perusco Berry Street CEO

“We’re delighted to hear that this Budget will enable Aboriginal children and families involved in the child protection system provided with services and support to remain connected with their culture.”

Further investment is also provided in the Budget to continue the progressive roll-out of universal three-year-old kindergarten, including extending eligibility for the Early Start Kindergarten extension grants to all children known to child protection. The Early Childhood LOOKOUT program will also be expanded to meet additional demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide tailored support for children with complex needs resulting from trauma.

Mr Perusco said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the risk factors for families that can lead to child abuse and neglect, but, for many, providing targeted intervention at an early stage will help them stay safely together, and prevent the need for child protection involvement.

Early support for families is critical to ensuring they receive the support they need before issues spiral out of control”

Michael Perusco Berry Street CEO

“At Berry Street, we know that, sadly, half of the young people who leave care when they turn 18 experience homelessness. The funding to enable young people to stay with their existing kinship or foster carer families up to the age of 21, instead of having to leave at 18, will make a big difference.” Mr Perusco said the $5.3 billion Big Housing Build is a historic announcement that will not only create jobs and stimulate our economy, but one that will change thousands of lives. “Social housing provides security of tenure and rent set at a level that allows people to rebuild their lives. It provides a vital safety net, and offers people the dignity, stability and opportunities they need to fully participate in their community,” Mr Perusco said.

“Investment in child and family services is sorely needed, and it’s great to see the Government provide vital funding in the Budget which aims to ensure the safety and wellbeing and provide specialist support for children and young people at risk of harm, abuse and neglect,” Berry Street CEO, Michael Perusco, said.

“There will always be a need for child protection services for children who have suffered abuse and neglect. But, for many families, targeted intervention at an early stage could help them stay safely together, and prevent the need for a child to be removed,” Mr Perusco said.

“Today’s Budget is a significant step towards improving Victoria’s child protection system. We look forward to continuing to work with the Government to reimagine the system to prevent the trauma and life-long consequences that come with living in out-of-home care.”