VACCA’s Response to Victorian Government State Budget 2020/21

Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency

We at VACCA work tirelessly to ensure Victoria is a fairer place for Aboriginal children and families. We commend the Victorian Government for their commitment towards and investment in the Aboriginal community in the 2020/21 State budget.

This budget acknowledges that when Government invests in Aboriginal communities and organisations to be empowered, make decisions and lead service delivery for their own communities, better outcomes for Aboriginal children, young people, families, women and men are achieved.

Victoria leads the way in supporting and strengthening self-determination to improve the lives of Aboriginal people across all spheres of life. VACCA will continue to work with Government to ensure the voice of Aboriginal children and families are reflected in the actions arising from this Budget.

Progressing Treaty

The $20.2 million commitment to support the ongoing journey to Treaty with the First People of this land is a significant step forward. This will support the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria to continue progressing towards Treaty and ensure community voice is central to this process.

Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme

We are pleased to see that the Victorian Government has adopted our recommendation to invest in Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme. VACCA CEO Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett AO says, “A Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme is important in supporting the healing of survivors who continue to feel the profound impacts of being removed from family, culture and Country today”.

Family Violence

VACCA is a leader in providing culturally appropriate family violence therapeutic work with all family members affected by family violence. Our CEO, Professor Muriel Bamblett says, “Our approach to family violence helps the whole family to heal, reconnect and keep children and women safe.” The $238million commitment in the budget to continue implementing the Family Violence Royal Commission recommendations with a focus on multiagency information sharing and perpetrator accountability programs is welcomed.

VACCA will also continue working with Government to ensure Aboriginal adolescents and men who use violence in the home are provided with holistic, intensive services to support them address underlying issues leading to these behaviours, and to heal the family. Our intensive support approach supports and strengthens families to stay together, reunify and is linked to less family relocations and relieves pressure on crisis accommodation and refuges.

The funding for the two new dedicated Aboriginal Family Violence refuges with enhanced case management capabilities will be highly valued in the community. Through our Orana Gunyah program servicing Gippsland, Latrobe Valley, Baw Baw, South Gippsland and Bass Coast, we know that when access to an Aboriginal specific, culturally appropriate and wrap-around response is available Aboriginal women and children feel more confident, safer and supported to seek assistance and allows Aboriginal women to see a positive future for themselves and their children.

As we emerge from COVID-19, VACCA will continue working with the government to ensure all family violence interventions and services in Victoria are culturally safe for Aboriginal women and their children.

Children and young people

Aboriginal children and young people who grow up strong in culture and are supported by their kin and community thrive and have improved future life paths. Aboriginal community-control of child welfare services is critical to reducing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in care. VACCA welcomes the $74.1 million to reform out-of-home care services ensuring Aboriginal family case management control is in the hands of ACCOs.

VACCA’s Nugel program, has led the way in developing a new model of child protection practice which is premised on Aboriginal organisations working in partnership with Aboriginal families to achieve better outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people. Our CEO, Professor Muriel Bamblett reflects on the impact of Nugel that “our children will know who they are and where they belong. They will take pride in their cultural identity and will grow up strong and resilient”.

VACCA is pleased that the Government has implemented our recommendations for additional leaving care supports and extended care, providing funding of $64.7 million over the next four years for the Home Stretch program as a part of the funding to reform out-of-home care services. This will provide young people in care with the necessary supports to empower them to transition to independence until their 21st birthday. Young people leaving care particularly need access to safe and secure housing to ensure they do not end up in the homelessness or youth justice system.

We acknowledge the Government’s investment in social housing in the coming years and how valuable this will be to the Aboriginal community, especially young people and families. VACCA will continue working with Government to implement the Victorian Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Framework (link) and to ensure that their investment in Aboriginal social housing supports young people leaving care to safe and secure accommodation.

The additional funding for the Better Futures program of $10.3 million will provide young people in care with tailored supports, including education and employment advice, and life-skills coaching helping them to prepare for life after care. The Aboriginal community values education. The commitment of a further $7.5 million or 2 years funding to support the Murrung Aboriginal Education Plan and the investment in tutors will go a long way to ensure that Aboriginal kids receive fair and equal access to education and help us close the education gap. We will continue advocating for dedicated funding for more support for Aboriginal children and families in their school transitions and school attendance so that they can come out of COVID stronger.

COVID-19 posed challenges and opportunities for our children and young people to maintain engaged in education. Some of our children thrived with the support of VACCA staff distributing education packs and resources and others struggled keeping engaged with their schooling. We welcome the State Government’s $10 million plan to recruit 4,100 tutors and hope to work with Government to ensure Aboriginal children and young people receive culturally safe tutoring supports.

Supporting families who are under pressure or in crisis with the tools they need to support their children is essential for families to stay together and reduce the number of Aboriginal children in out of home care. We welcome the $90.2 million for Targeted Care Packages and will continue working with Government to ensure that ACCOs receive funding proportionate to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in care. All Aboriginal children, young people, their families and carers must receive tailored and individual supports to meet their specific needs.

A particular focus of VACCA’s advocacy is the urgent need for additional resources to be dedicated to early help, prevention and early intervention. Culturally based services that support the social and emotional wellbeing and safety of children, young people and families can reduce the need for out-of-home care. VACCA welcomes funding of $85.8 million for intensive family restoration and preservation supporting Aboriginal children and families to stay together.

We commend the Government’s investment in smaller two and three bedroom Residential Care units, but this is only part of the solution. VACCA has developed Aboriginal models of residential care that focus on healing, engagement and connection with family, community and culture and supporting children and young people’s education and development. VACCA calls upon the State Government to partner with the Aboriginal community controlled organisations to develop and fund local Aboriginal residential care facilities and programs to meet the best interests of Aboriginal children in care so they are safe, connected to culture and their siblings.

Youth justice

We at VACCA strongly believe in providing culturally therapeutic, trauma-informed youth justice programs delivered by ACCOs which holistically support children and their families. Programs that connect Aboriginal children and young people to culture, family and community allow for healing, address the impacts of trauma and support positive social and emotional wellbeing as key to preventing offending behaviour and recidivism, and reduce overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people in the Youth Justice system.

Investment in more effective, culturally safe and trauma-informed alternatives to the current justice system for Aboriginal children and young people is needed and we welcome the $1.5 million in the first year, with recurrent funding for 4 years, for Aboriginal Community-led youth justice responses. Youth justice responses must be co-designed with the voice of Aboriginal children and young people as central to the process and ACCOs are well placed to lead this work.

Aboriginal children and young people belong in community, not in prison. We seek commitment from the State Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility, as part of the development of new Youth Justice legislation. The minimum age of criminal responsibility at 10 years is a key driver of the high rates of Aboriginal children coming into contact with Police and the justice system. By criminalising Aboriginal children, responsibility and resources are diverted into the justice system rather than being available for the cultural and wellbeing support required to appropriately respond to their needs.

COVID-19 Recovery

Throughout the pandemic, Aboriginal communities and the Government have worked in close partnership, with the COVID-19 Aboriginal Community Taskforce delivering community-led support for Aboriginal people.

The ACCO sector knows best how to support Aboriginal children, young people and families and it is critical that they are adequately funded to provide direct support and assistance during the ‘transition’ into recovery. We are pleased that the State Government has invested $22.6 million for the Aboriginal community to lead COVID-19 recovery.

COVID-19 has placed increased pressure on the ACCCO system workforce capability and capacity which is already experiencing high demand due to Aboriginal population growth. “VACCA will be working to ensure that other announced measures, such as the investment to create 500 new jobs across mental health, family violence, health and child protection and the training pathways and internships are made available to Aboriginal people, particularly young people. We need to bring every available resource to the task of recovery” said Muriel Bamblett.

As the Aboriginal population in Victoria is growing rapidly and will increase by up to 48% by the year 2028, budget funding and investment must increase in line with population growth. This budget is a significant investment in Aboriginal communities and organisations and in putting people first.

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