Children missing from residential care exposed to sexual exploitation | #predators | #childpredators | #kids | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

Children and young people in residential care may be introduced to sexual predators through existing connections with friends, peers and fellow residents. In some instances a predator may offer drugs or alcohol in exchange for engaging in sexual or criminal activities.

“This inquiry heard about a range of scenarios, including organised paedophile rings actively targeting children and young people in residential care, through to ‘the odd guy and his mates’ who opportunistically exploit and assault vulnerable children and young people when they are away from residential care,” the report said.

One residential care staff member said the children in their care had grown up with neglect. “They smell at school, no one wants to be near them, so clothes etc are important,” the worker told the inquiry.

“If we had the budget to buy good gear for kids, then they would stay; compared to a predator who will fit you out with Nike.”

In the 18 months to March 31, 2020, 388 warrants per month were granted, on average, authorising police to take children absent or missing from residential care into “safe custody”.

In Victoria, there are about 450 children in residential care on any given night.

Over the inquiry period, 37 per cent of residential care absent client incident reports (870) referred to “sexual exploitation”.

Other harms included sexually transmitted illnesses, unwanted pregnancies, missed medication, injury in car and train accidents, self-harm and attempted suicide, and neglect of basic needs of food, water and shelter.

Ms Buchanan said the findings demonstrated the urgent need to create a new model of residential care.

“Because of pressures in residential care, children and young people are put together who should not be together,” Ms Buchanan told The Age. “There’s a mix of inappropriate ages and children with more challenging behaviours or more violent behaviours with other younger children.”

She also said there was a high staff turnover and large number of casual workers at residential care units.

“So the kind of environment that we have in residential care is the complete opposite for what many of these children need which is a really stable, safe, therapeutic environment.”

Baijun, who lived in residential care from the age of 13 to 17, believed young people left because they felt unsafe.

“It could be interactions between the peers, there could be peers using drugs, it could be just sort of anxiety around others,” Baijun who is now 18, told The Age. “I think that staff should focus more on the reasons why the people are leaving, rather than punishing them for leaving.”

He also believed staff at the homes should teach young people about sexual safety and appropriate relationships and provide more group activities such as cooking classes.

Ms Buchanan said she had wanted to conduct the inquiry because the commission was seeing incident reports of children as young as seven going missing from residential care.

“We were seeing reports of these children being raped, of these children being involved in sexual exploitation.

Victorian Children’s Commissioner Liana Buchanan said the report’s findings were deeply distressing.

Victorian Children’s Commissioner Liana Buchanan said the report’s findings were deeply distressing.Credit:Justin McManus

Ms Buchanan said the inquiry had been “deeply, deeply distressing and angry-making”, given the young people involved had already experienced a risk of harm and the state had stepped in to remove them from their families.

“They’ve been bounced around within the care system, they’ve experienced more instability, they haven’t had access to counselling or support to recover from the early experiences, and by the time they land in residential care they need an environment that is as supportive, as stable, as therapeutic, as we can possibly provide, and we’re just not providing it. And the consequence for these kids is awful.”

The report made 18 recommendations including:

  • Strengthening relationships between carers and young people in care
  • Funding for co-ordinated statewide approaches to address child sexual exploitation
  • Reduced reliance on police and other measures experienced as punitive or stigmatising
  • Increased monitoring of young people frequently absent or missing from care.

Ms Buchanan said she wanted every agency that had contact with children in residential care – including police, child protection and residential care providers – to be trained in what these children have experienced, why they may have gone missing and the impact of trauma.

“We have a response to these kids that is as often punitive and criminalising as it is supportive and caring, and we need to turn that on its head,” she said.

The Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, Luke Donnellan said many of the recommendations aligned with reforms the government was already undertaking.

“But we know there is still a long way to go in improving the system that supports these vulnerable young people,” he said.

“We’re boosting the workforce and expanding new care models for children and young people – including wrap-around services, comprehensive mental health support, better connection to community and country, and smaller, more family-like care settings.”

In 2015 an inquiry found children and young people in residential care were repeatedly subjected to sexual abuse, including several counts of abuse of children under 10 by teens also in state care.

Former commissioner for children and young people, Bernie Geary.

Former commissioner for children and young people, Bernie Geary.Credit:Angela Milne

At the time the former commissioner for children and young people, Bernie Geary, slammed the Department of Health and Human Services’ handling of sexual abuse reporting practices.

Ms Buchanan said in the wake of the inquiry a trial was introduced where police, residential care providers and child protection worked together in five pilot areas.

“It was showing really significant impact in terms of supporting young people and disrupting some of the predators,” Ms Buchanan said. “That has fallen away, it has not been sustained and it has not been scaled up on all that statewide. I’m calling for that to be funded, and rolled out statewide.”


She said there had been some improvements since the 2015 Geary inquiry including a mandatory qualification for residential care workers, physical improvements to the units and a professionalised foster care pilot known as Treatment Foster Care Oregon, although this had not been expanded.

“But when I look back at those recommendations a lot of that reform is still needed.”

Ms Buchanan said over time residential care needed to be entirely overhauled.

“There needs to be a suite of different therapeutic options for children who can’t get foster care or kinship care that is fully supported but not this one-size-fits-all four-bedroom resi unit that is more often than not causing more harm to kids than good.”

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