Residential care survivor calls for more support for children to stay with family

 Dan Freeman and his mumAfter living in foster care, residential care and being homeless, Dan Freeman is now back living with family. 

Dan Freeman is happy that he's back living with his mum.

His life has been turbulent. He has lived in what he describes as "unsafe" residential care facilities, foster care, and has been homeless — living in his car between Morwell, Wonthaggi, and Frankston in Victoria's south-east.

"I've been in foster care since I was two. I've been sexually assaulted by workers, I've been bashed," he told ABC Gippsland.

"I lost my job working at a bank in the [Latrobe] Valley, and since then I have been homeless, and then went to resi care."

Mr Freeman said residential care facilities, which are used as a last resort when there is a lack of foster carers to take children, were no place for young people.

This view is represented in a recent report by Victorian child safety advocacy group, the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP).

The 'In our own words' inquiry spoke with more than 200 children and young people who are in or who have been in state care.

The inquiry found that the system often inflicted more harm on children after being removed from their families.

The report reviewed how frequently changing foster carers could be traumatic for children, and how the participants felt unsafe in residential care because it exposed them to drugs, crime, and violence.

Principal commissioner Liana Buchanan said far too many of the children and young people they spoke to had experienced the stress and upheaval of constantly shifting placements.

"We must continue to prioritise prevention and early intervention programs to support families to remain together safely, wherever possible," she said in the report.

Gippsland over represented in child removal rates

Gippsland solicitor Meg Smallwood has firsthand experience of the fallout of inappropriate residential care accommodation.

"Latrobe Valley has the highest removal rates [of children] in Victoria … it's particularly bad for Indigenous families," she said.

Ms Smallwood said she believed most of the time children were better off staying with their families, and that the parents should be getting more help to keep children in their care.

"Particularly when you get children over 10 it's really difficult to place them with a foster family … so they'll end up in residential care, which is horrific," Ms Smallwood said.

"You'll get kids who are 12 that live there next to kids who are 15 or 16 with a significant criminal history, and I see these young kids just spiral out of control. They start using drugs and start getting involved with sexual exploitation."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said it was taking the findings from the CCYP "extremely seriously".

"We're working closely with Victoria's first ever ministerial youth advisory group, the sector, and the Commission to further strengthen services and give children who cannot live at home the future they deserve," the spokesperson said.

"It's important to note the majority of children living in out-of-home care are in kinship or foster care and most are faring well.

"For those in residential care, we need to make improvements — we are trialling new models of therapeutic residential care and the CCYP inquiry and its recommendations will provide important input into our improvement strategy and reform work underway."

For Mr Freeman, his life is looking up. He said he was loving living back with his mother on the Mornington Peninsula.

"I've just moved back in with my real mum. I haven't lived with her since I was taken away when I was three," he said.

"Mum has stopped taking drugs, she doesn't drink anymore. It's a really supportive household."

Source : https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-05/foster-care-residential-care-failures-victoria/11759266?pfmredir=sm

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