In an alarming revelation, claims have been made about babies being held at Cairns resi care homes and bongs being returned to children amid an invitation for stakeholders to take part in a government review.
It’s been revealed more than 70 serious youth offenders are living in Queensland’s state-run housing on suburban streets. Workers on the ground are calling for an urgent overhaul of the system, claiming the facilities are inadequate to deal with a growing number of troubled children.
On Wednesday, Opposition leader David Crisafulli and child safety spokeswoman Amanda Camm met with about 20 Cairns executives of resi care provider companies, as well as frontline staff, in a regional follow up to a roundtable discussion in Brisbane last Friday.
In an alarming revelation, meetings outlined how resi care staff have no power to stop kids from smoking cannabis, chroming or vaping and in some cases workers had been directed to return bongs to children in care.
It’s understood resi kids cannot own bikes, cannot go swimming in rivers and are not permitted to go fishing due to risk of injury, however care workers are powerless to prevent self-harm stemming from illicit drug use.
In other cases some providers are known to lock kids out of the home for the duration of the day until night shift workers open the house back up in the afternoon.
Opposition child safety spokeswoman Amanda Camm said care providers needed autonomy from the Department of Child Safety to make day-to-day decisions affecting youths in resi care.
“Providers are in fact dictated to rather than seen as a partner,” she said.
“(We need to) focus on how you stabilise the child, how you provide consistency of care, and then how you build their capacity so they are going to school, so they do have a pathway where they can either be reunited with family or kin, or they can be transitioned into foster care.”
Ms Camm said she was told babies were being held in Cairns residential care homes despite assurances from the government in a pre-estimate response no infants under one-year-old were looked after in Queensland care homes.
“What concerns me is I heard (on Wednesday) about babies in residential care,” she said.
“I’d be interested to see how many children we have in those early years that are so important and so critical.”
Up to 140 young people live in 73 homes, run by 10 different service providers in Cairns.
According to Child Safety the organisation funds six licensed and four unlicensed residential care service providers in the Cairns electorate.
Nightly costs to keep a child in care range from $800 and $1200 per child.
On Thursday up to 80 frontline resi care stakeholders will have their say on reform into the troubled sector at a government-convened forum.
Community members across the state will be able to have their voice heard during a review of the sector actioned by incoming Child Safety Minister Craig Crawford in July.
From Friday, suggestions and ideas can be submitted through an online portal.
“The safety and welfare of young people in residential care are at the heart of this review and I welcome people in Cairns giving their feedback, including at today’s forum,” Mr Crawford said.
“I’ve already heard discussions on options like specialist therapeutic family-based care and increased support for carers.”
Opposition leader Mr Crisafulli claimed a broken resi care system was failing Queensland kids by “funnelling” youth into a life of crime while outlining five key goals the LNP will focus on if elected next year.
Proposed reforms include compulsory school attendance, insistence on an extra-curricular activity, an opportunity for employment training for older kids and a focus on transition to foster care.
“Whether it’s youth crime or resi care, the government sets the legislation and the standards and the buck stops with the government,” he said.
“We know that for some of those kids, it’s costing hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, but there isn’t a lot of accountability for kids, there’s not a lot of authority for the providers. There is a better way.”