Press Releases

KCV statement in response to VAGO report on kinship care

23 June 2022

Kinship Carers Victoria (KCV) is the agency that represents kinship carers in the public discourse and in deliberations with government, DFFH and a wide range of other decision-makers who have the potential to implement change. In order to validate its utterances, KCV works close beside kinship care families, with the core of its work being the 1000 conversations had with individual kinship families every year. It is on the strength of this precious knowledge that we enter the public discourse arising from the Victorian Auditor-General Office’s (VAGO) report (published 22 June 2022).
Before commenting on the VAGO findings it must be said that our close contact with kinship carers has had a profound influence on the way we undertake the work of representing their best interests. Kinship carers go about their family business with dignity, at all times trying to save their extended family and friends as well as their immediate family from being labelled as “those poor people” and being used by some to score points in the political arena. Hence, we hope that the debate arising from the VAGO report does not become an opportunity for point scoring.
Rather, KCV calls for a bi-partisan discussion about what we all need to do to improve matters. We need not confine ourselves to thinking within the framework of the VAGO report alone. Perhaps a parliamentary procedure would give all politicians the opportunity to place their policy cards on the table, so to speak. Evidence of a bi- partisan approach to the urgent issues confronting kinship families would be welcome, and the first politician to demonstrate such leadership will be applauded.
If all the VAGO report achieves is a mudslinging match it will be too much to bear, particularly given that over the years KCV and individual kinship carers have made representations to politicians and the media with barely a response to be had.
We have an election looming and look forward to evidence of well thought-out policy related to less urgent matters beyond those addressed in the VAGO report being tabled as part of the election campaign. Let the VAGO report be the beginning!
Whilst not wanting to dismiss any other good ideas that might be forthcoming, KCV would suggest that outsourcing any of the difficult services required to keep families safe is not a good idea. The fact that there is a VAGO report, and indeed reports coming from other statutory authorities such as the Commissioner for Children and Young People, proves the value of a strong public sector that lays itself bare to scrutiny by a network of statutory authorities empowered and enabled to hold a mirror up to us all. Strengthen the public sector, we say!
The VAGO report is hard hitting – it highlights failures related to implementation of the new model of kinship care that are acutely portrayed and profound in their detrimental effect on families and which closely match KCV’s knowledge. In fact, none of the failings highlighted by the VAGO are a surprise and many are in fact already subject of discussions across the sector, including DFFH, about how to “fix things”. The highest barrier has been, and will continue to be, a lack of funding to create the positions required to implement the VAGO recommendations.
The most urgent failing highlighted by the VAGO report is the fact that kinship carers do not receive the level of payments necessary to address the needs of the children in their care. This failing affects new carers, of course, but just contemplate the accumulated hardship endured by the many kinship carers who have been receiving inadequate payments year in year out and far beyond the life of any one government.
Over the 21 years that KCV has been witness to kinship care we have watched successive governments, not just the current one, be warned about the hardship of kinship families – they have been warned by KCV, by previous snapshots of kinship families in the media, by too many investigative reports to name, by successive Ministers, and by DFFH. Despite this, Treasury processes have not met their responsibility by releasing and tagging funds for kinship carer payments. Perhaps in the next budget things will be different. In the meantime, we wonder whether DFFH could be awarded an emergency fund to assist the most urgent cases of kinship care families struggling to pay for the needs of the children in their care. During the height of the COVID crisis the Victorian Government made an emergency payment available – it’s time to do so again, this time specifically for kinship care families as a gesture of good faith whilst we sort out a more systematic and enduring response that might be delivered in the next budget.

The second most urgent failing highlighted by VAGO report is the failure of assessment and referral procedures. There are simply not enough people employed in DFFH to do the work. We need more and much better trained case managers – urgently. The lack of staff can be attributed to government failure to provide enough funding but we, the wider community, need to take some responsibility as well by asking ourselves two key questions. Firstly, what price are we voters prepared pay for the wellbeing of Victoria’s families? Are we prepared, for example, to forgo some road infrastructure in favour of family wellbeing programs? Secondly, are we prepared to view those who work in child protection as being essential workers who are critical to the wellbeing of the Victorian community and treat them accordingly? When KCV talks with wider community groups about our work people are sympathetic but leave the talks relieved that they do not have to deal with issues related to being a vulnerable family while feeling that an occasional donation to our cause will suffice. It will not! Until the discussion of kinship care is conducted in a context where it is clear that each citizen expects a much larger investment in family matters then not much will change.
Despite the difficulties so accurately portrayed by the VAGO report, we applaud the trend to place more children in kinship care. This is good news and happens as a result of government policy and DFFH practice. At no point has any kinship care family we have ever dealt with said that they would want any child placed away from that child’s biological family. The fact that over 70% of children in out of home care are placed in kinship care needs also to be applauded and that percentage needs to be increased – we want more children placed with their family. This report must not be used as an opportunity to quietly assume that kinship care is too costly or too hard and therefore to place children in other forms of care.
KCV contemplates, if not looks forward to, the day when adults who were not placed as children with their family ask for their records to be made accessible and explanations provided about why they were not placed with family at the time. This is a potential circumstance for the whole community to face up to.
Given that the recommendations in the VAGO report have been accepted, I look forward to being part of the ongoing discussions with DFFH and the government about how they are implemented. We stand prepared to continue to work in partnership with the government, DFFH and all our other sector partners in our daily shared battles to create an environment in which Victoria’s vulnerable families can thrive and go about their business with maximum support but minimal interference from the rest of us. Achieving this balance is an ongoing work of art, not an exact science, and the VAGO report will now become central to our work.

To read/download a copy of the full VAGO report, click here