A mid-point analysis of a $39 million investment to improve the lives of Canberra's most vulnerable children and young people has found many indicators have not improved, and some have fallen below levels measured when the strategy was introduced.
A Step Up for Our Kids was designed over four years and implementation began in early 2016. The aim was to address the growing number of children in out of home care, the over-representation of Aboriginal children in care, the poor life outcomes for care leavers and the increasing and unsustainable costs of the system.
The mid-strategy evaluation by KPMG, tabled in the Legislative Assembly this week, stated that all the intended reforms had been implemented however they had not markedly improved outcomes, and in some instances outcomes had deteriorated.
The report found a decline in the number of children and young people who self-reported they felt settled in 2017-18 compared to when the strategy was introduced.
The number of children and young people permanently placed decreased year on year since the implementation of the strategy, from 22 children in 2015-16 to 11 children in 2017-18, despite stability being one of the core focuses.
The report found the number of children and young people entering out of home care who had an initial health check within six weeks fell from 97 per cent of children when the strategy was introduced to 94 per cent in 2017-18, despite every child in care requiring one.
And despite every child entering care requiring a health passport to keep track of important medical information, in 2017-18 less than half of children entering care received one.
The mid-strategy evaluation report confirms that the impact of individual reforms is still developing. It includes a range of findings that reflect the evaluation was undertaken at the mid-point of a significant reform that will take time to mature.Minister for Children, Youth and Families Rachel Stephen-Smith
Participation in NAPLAN increased but the proportion of children reaching the national minimum standards decreased. In numeracy, about 3 per cent of young people in the general population didn't meet minimum standards compared to 13 per cent of the children in out of home care.
The report stated there was evidence that trauma-informed care had not been embedded into individual practice, and that while a trauma-informed system of care was put in place the outcomes have not been sustained.
However, there was a substantial increase in the number of children who left care within a year having been placed in less than two homes in that time, from 77 per cent in 2015-16 to 95 per cent in 2017-18.
Data was unavailable for the report for things like whether sibling groups had been kept together in placements, the proportion of families accessing advocacy services, the proportion of children meeting developmental milestones and the number of children already in care who had a health passport.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in care, the report stated ongoing work was needed to determine the most effective services for prevention and reunification services for those families.
The report made 22 recommendations including to investigate why there was an increased number of children reporting they didn't feel settled.
Minister for Children, Youth and Families Rachel Stephen-Smith tabled the report on Thursday.
"The mid-strategy evaluation report confirms that the impact of individual reforms is still developing," the minister said.
"It includes a range of findings that reflect the evaluation was undertaken at the mid-point of a significant reform that will take time to mature."
She recognised the A Step Up for Our Kids strategy was in its fourth year of a five-year program to reform the out of home care sector, and said the number one priority was keeping families together where it was safe to do so.
"We are delivering on this through a range of initiatives," she said.
"Where a safe return home is not possible the focus shifts to ensuring the child or young people is settled into a permanent alternative family home as quickly as possible."
The minister noted the report data was up to June 30, 2018 and said operational data in more recent reports showed "some promising signs with the rate of new entries coming into care slowing".
She said the report would allow the Community Services Directorate to consider how to strengthen the reforms going forward.
"The commitment to long-term, generational change can only be achieved through a collaborative and sustained effort."
The report comes just a week after Premier Youthworks, one of the foundation members of the out-of-home care consortium ACT Together, announced it would cease to operate in Canberra due to a lack of funding and increasing costs of workers compensation claims.
Premier Youthworks had provided care and accommodation to children who could no longer live with their families, relatives or in foster homes. The minister said while they are in the process of managing the change in the consortium, the commitment to the principles of the strategy remain firm.
At the time of Premier's announcement, the minister said the safety, care and stability of arrangements for the affected children and young people was the ACT government's highest priority.
"Our strong preference is that young people in residential care continue to be supported by staff they already know," the minister said.