HUNTER-BASED welfare provider Premier Youthworks has lost a major contract to care for troubled children but the change is apparently part of a broader shakeup of out-of-home care by the NSW government.
The Cardiff company has been under scrutiny since late 2016 after a Four Corners investigation of child protection and further reporting by the Newcastle Herald and Canberra Times.
The government ordered a review and audit of Premier, which was set up as a for-profit company by founder Lisa Glen.
Other Hunter providers including Life Without Barriers and Lifestyle Solutions have had aspects of their care investigated as well, but the sector’s supporters say all of these companies are doing their best to care for society’s most-high-needs individuals at a time when government services are being rapidly dismantled.
Premier says it has 300 staff looking after 90 children in the Hunter and Central Coast regions and in the ACT.
It is understood that more than half of the children are in the Hunter contract now lost to a competitor. Four Corners reported Premier was being paid between $550 and $1700 per child per day, with 2015 revenues of about $20 million.
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Premier declined to comment on its loss on Monday, but an internal memo told staff that the company was unsuccessful in its tender for “Intensive Therapeutic (Residential) Care in NSW”.
“I have no doubt we put our best foot forward throughout this process and demonstrated the incredible work you are all doing every single day,” the memo said.
Premier was waiting for “detailed feedback” from the government but the children in its care would have to be moved to “alternative placements or arrangements with [other] agencies”.
One of the sector’s peak bodies, the Association of Child Welfare Agencies, said its agencies were “distressed” at what was happening.
The association’s deputy chief executive, Wendy Foote, said the industry was still trying to get more detail from the government.
“Our members are very worried about will happen to the children in all this,” Ms Foote said.
“It will be distressing for them. These are children with complex needs, they often come from very difficult backgrounds and where they are now, stability is important,” Ms Foote said.
“Moving for some of these children will be a very unsettling experience. In one region involved, these children have only just been moved forcibly because their home was shut down, and they had been told in going where they are now that they would not be moved again.”
Ms Foote said the association would seek meetings with the department to find out what was happening.
The Newcastle Herald spoke with two other agencies involved in the shakeup – one, from the Hunter, apparently a winner, the other, outside the region, a loser – and both said they were bound by confidentiality demands made by the department.
But the Herald understands one agency that lost its tender – and was told that it did not “demonstrate readiness or capacity” – had recently been contacted by the department “begging” it to take one young person on the grounds that it was the only agency in the state capable of looking after the youth. The government’s Sherwood House, at Redfern, had been unable to take him.
The Herald put detailed questions about the changes to the Department of Family and Community Services, but it responded with a general statement on its plan to replace its existing system of residential care with a new commitment called “intensive therapeutic care”.
“The move from residential care to intensive therapeutic care represents an historic shift in the provision of therapeutic care in NSW, with unprecedented quality standards relating to staff qualifications, training and rostering, as well as a commitment to learning, clinical excellence and continuous improvement,” the department said.
“The department is ensuring a safe and well-planned transition of children and young people from residential care to intensive therapeutic care that minimises disruption and considers each individual’s best interests.”
It said the transition would start on July 1 and take up to two years. The department’s website says the program is aimed at young people (aged 12 and over) with “complex needs who cannot live with family or in foster care initially”.
Using “evidence-based” methods, the aim was to minimise the time spent in care to “two years or less”.