An overhaul of Victoria’s child protection system will focus on protecting vulnerable children who are specifically targeted for sexual abuse.
The Victorian government will pump $128 million into out-of-home care services to help children and young people living in state care.
The government says additional support is needed to reduce the sexual exploitation of children.
“Young people in out-of-home care are highly vulnerable to sexual exploitation – both as a result of their own histories of trauma, but also because they are often specifically targeted and groomed by abusers,” a government report released on Tuesday says.
Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge said the government was working through issues of children being targeted for exploitation.
“We’ve got a pro-active program with Victoria Police to identify where this is occurring,” she told reporters.
“There have been arrests and we’re pursuing those issues, of course, very vigorously.”
Victoria’s child care commissioner is investigating claims that organised gangs of pedophiles are grooming and sexually exploiting children in out-of-home care.
The government’s five-year plan includes providing additional beds in residential care facilities, where children are cared for by rostered staff.
Ms Wooldridge said more than 500 troubled and highly traumatised children live in residential care and the government wants to cut that number by increasing support for alternatives such as foster care and kinship care.
She said the reforms will boost staff resources, provide a new IT system for monitoring incidents and ensure that at-risk children are given a voice on support services.
“It increases our staff significantly and it also increases their skills and capacity to both identify issues and to work with young people effectively to address those issues early.”
Opposition community services spokesperson Jenny Mikakos said the plan didn’t do enough to address the understaffing of residential care units which has enabled pedophile rings to operate.
“This announcement has come far too late and it won’t do enough to protect vulnerable children in state care,” Ms Mikakos said.
The Victorian Council of Social Service said the plan, while welcome, would require significant investment and the government package contained less than $40 million in new money.