Leading child welfare agency, OzChild has a rich history of providing care for children and young people dating back to 1851. While the programs and services have evolved, the organisation has never lost sight of their vision that all children and young people are safe, respected, nurtured and reach their full potential.
While the organisation began with the provision of residential care in orphanages, understanding the poor outcomes achieved for children and young people placed in facilities, the organisation made the decision to shift its focus to providing home-based care through foster and kinship care support more than 30 years ago.
Following some 40+ reports into the out-of-home care system, including a Royal Commission, recognising the very real need to achieve better outcomes for children and young people, OzChild made the move in recent years to deliver evidence-based early intervention and prevention programs aimed at strengthening family relationships, keeping children and young people from entering out-of-home care.
Sadly, the vulnerabilities facing children, young people, and families back in 1851 are not dissimilar to those being faced today. Poverty, inequity, and disadvantage.
Children are being removed from their parents at alarming rates. More than 45,000 children and young people in Australia are currently placed in an out-of-home care arrangement, growing up away from family. The child protection system is in crisis.
Out-of-home care alone is not delivering the kind of outcomes needed even while the cost of care is escalating.
The reality is that an out-of-home care experience has a lifelong impact on a child’s life, and it interrupts their connections to family, community, culture, and education which are vital to their development. Children who experience out-of-home care have significantly poorer lifelong outcomes than their peers.
Instigating systemic change by introducing evidence-based and evidence-informed programs, OzChild is helping to break the cycle of disadvantage so many children and young people face. And these programs are keeping children safely with family.
OzChild introduced evidence-based early intervention programs to Australia four years ago and life changing outcomes are being achieved and is proud to be thought-leaders providing solutions to the government and sector that are front foot, collaborative, agile, strategic, and systemic – to improve outcomes for at-risk children, young people, and families.
OzChild Chief Executive Officer, Dr Lisa J. Griffiths says the organisation’s shift to deliver evidence-based services in 2016 was in response to the ever-increasing trajectory of children who may end up in out-of-home care.
“Diverting children from out-of-home care, preserving family relationships and reunifying kids with family is not only the right thing to do, it makes sound economic sense, delivering programs backed by evidence to create lasting generational change benefits not only children and families but the wider community also,” says Dr Griffiths.
The long-term social benefits of preventing children from entering care are well established. Many young care-leavers are at increased risk of a range of poor social, educational and health outcomes including homelessness, mental illness, unemployment, substance misuse, contact with the justice system, early parenthood, and low educational attainment .
There is no doubt, children do better when they are with their families, and services like the family preservation and restoration programs being delivered by OzChild help to make this a reality.
As the organisation enters its 170th year it expects to see an increase in the demand on those services as more families have been disadvantaged by the pandemic.
“The pandemic has placed families at greater risk of being separated and the risk of children entering care has increased significantly. Families are at breaking point, disadvantaged by a virus which has had a significant impact on all of us – individually, socially and economically,” says Dr Griffiths.
The number of potentially vulnerable children in Australia will increase significantly because of COVID-19 related unemployment and underemployment. Mitchell Institute modelling estimates that in 2020 around 1.4 million preschool and schoolchildren are in families experiencing employment stress. This is up from 615,000 children in 2016 – a jump of around 130%.
There is no doubt significant financial stress combined with the experience of living through a global pandemic, social isolation, and temporary disruption to education all constitute risk factors for vulnerability.
“Right now, we must be able to do more, and it begins with greater investment into evidence-based early intervention programs and certainty around program continuity. In this time of great disruption, all industries are reforming, we must challenge the current child welfare model to give at-risk children and young people what is needed, and what the evidence says works,” says Dr Griffiths.
Since the inception of OzChild's evidence-based programs in 2016 - 1,195 families and 3,000 children and young people have been supported, with a success rate of 90 per cent - preventing many hundreds, if not thousands of children from entering out-of-home care.
Equity Trustees provides OzChild with not-for-profit investment services.
Find out more: ozchild.org.au
1 See for example, evidence summarised by Campo, M., & Commerford, J. (2016). Supporting young people leaving out-of-home care (CFCA Paper No. 41), for the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
2 Noble, K., Hurley, P. & Macklin, S. (2020). COVID-19, employment stress and student vulnerability in Australia. Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy, Victoria University.