CHILD FOCUS: Mallee Family Care CEO, Teresa Jayet, and The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare chief executive, Deb Tsorbaris, at yesterday’s launch.

By VINNIE RODI

ENSURING that Mallee-based families and children are provided with early access to educational support and opportunities, while improving educational outcomes for young people, should be a top priority for the next Victoria Government.

This is the stance being taken by Mallee Family Care (MFC) and The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, with the organisations joining forces yesterday to launch the ‘Putting children of the centre: 2018 State Election’ campaign.

MFC, which has a mission to empower the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community, and The Centre – the peak body responsible for representing the rights and well-being of vulnerable kids, young people and families in Victoria – called on all political parties to put children at the centre at the upcoming election, while also seeking a $100million pledge.

According to MFC, young people in the region do not currently get the support they need to stay engaged with education. In Mildura alone, more than 25 percent of 17 to 24-year-olds are not completing VCE or undertaking further education compared to a Statewide average of 11.6 percent.

“When we see that data, we have to do something about it,” Centre chief executive, Deb Tsorbaris, said. “Lots of great things are going on at TAFE, but schools do not get the support they need to support these kids or their families.

“While the Mallee is attracting growing numbers of skilled migrants, tourists and tree-changers, there is an increasing need for young people to be better supported.”

Ms Tsorbaris also called on the State Government, or any incoming government, to commit $100million per year over the next four years to integrated family services to prevent families from going into crisis.

How this money is spent would then become a matter for the community to decide.

“Young people in the Mallee are more likely than their metropolitan counterparts to not be studying, and we think that this is directly a result of the lack of educational support services in the area,” she said. “Our political leaders must also ensure that families and children in the region are supported to access vital services. 

“We hear stories of families travelling long distances to receive basic services. We want to ensure that children who grow up in the Mallee have the same opportunities as everyone else – to achieve this we must make services accessible.

“It’s easy to sit in Melbourne and think that everything is okay… and while there is some great things happening, there are a number of areas we need to improve on. In Mildura we are seeing some fantastic outcomes, particularly in the early years space, and through MFC… and there’s some great partnerships.

“Something is going really great in the early years, and then kids get to 17 and they drop out of school. Programs like Raising Expectations (which is about supporting children in out-of-home care to attain their dreams of furthering their education) has had results.

“Students tell us they are discouraged from going into higher education, and that stigma is the main reason. State election candidates need to make sure they are focusing on kids.”

MFC CEO, Teresa Jayet, said the needs of children in foster care was also a concern.

“We know that 10 percent of Mildura’s kids are in out-of-home care, and when we compare this to the State average of six percent, this is significant,” she said. “We need to be investing more into those kids to ensure they have the same successes as other kids afforded those opportunities.

“We can’t do this work in isolation, we have to work alongside government and we know that we have to work alongside other service providers supporting young people in care.”

Ms Tsorbaris said the joint partnership was also calling on government to allocate $5000 per child, per carer, each year.

“They do this in NSW, and we would love to see something like this in Victoria,” she said. “Children in care do not get what the average child gets automatically, and we have to change that.”

Ms Jayet said that investment in carers was also part of the equation.

“Investing in carers is very important… if investment is there than the recruitment of carers will improve,” she said. “We also can’t stress enough the importance of making sure we get in very early for these children, young people and families.

“The reward is actually going to come at the end for the whole community… because these people want to impact their community, and that is fundamental if we are to thrive as a community.”

Ms Tsorbaris also confirmed that the Victorian Government had agreed to extend funding to carers until a child reaches the age of 21. 

Previously funding would be cut off at 18, again hindering the ability of a young adult living in out-of-home care to pursue further education.