LARGELY because the NSW government has transferred responsibility for much of its previous welfare capabilities to the private sector, there are dozens of organisations across the state that are responsible for placing vulnerable and at-risk children with other families in a process known as out-of-home-care.
In this part of the world, one of the organisations doing this work is Hunter-Manning CatholicCare Social Services, and its director, Gary Christensen, is on the lookout for more families to offer their services to care for these children.
This can be both a rewarding and a challenging task, as Mr Christensen acknowledges, and an apparent shortage of families interested in joining the program means that dozens of children around the state are living in crisis motel-style accommodation, often for months at a time. Although it goes without saying that these children are in care because their parents are unable or unwilling to look after for them – meaning they are often traumatised by the time the system steps in – keeping damaged children in crisis accommodation is unlikely to do any good for them in the long term.
The Newcastle Herald would like to tell you more about these situations but official statistics are difficult to come by. The figure of 10,000 children in care in the Hunter, Central Coast and New England regions is cited in numerous articles, as is a statewide total of more than 20,000.
The annual reports of Family and Community Services and the Office of the Children’s Guardian both talk about progress made in out-of-home care services, but neither says how many children are being looked after beyond saying the number is falling. The Tune Review ordered in November 2015 by Mike Baird found NSW out-of-home care to be “ineffective and unsustainable”, but Gladys Berejiklian still refuses to release the full document some 18 months after the report was completed.
The government does acknowledge problems, however, saying: “Expenditure is crisis-driven and it’s difficult to know how much we spend on each child and family. The system is not centred on the needs of children and families, designed instead around programs and service models.”
Mr Christensen, no doubt, would agree.
In the meantime, a steady stream of Hunter children find themselves forced into life in motel rooms, waiting for the adults to sort things out.