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Estimates: Unlicensed residential care and child safety

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Thursday 10 August 2023, I asked about the use of fee-for-service packages in child safety, and unlicensed vs. licensed residential care providers. 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: I appreciate your time this evening, folks. I wanted to start off with a couple of questions around the response to question on notice 19 which indicates that the government provided almost $440 million for individual placement and support, or the fee-for-service packages, in the 2020-21 financial year. I will put the question to the director-general in the first instance. Is there a straightforward explanation as to why that figure almost doubled over that two-year period from just over $220 million in the 2019 financial year?

Ms Connors: The reason that figure has changed is it is the reality of demand on the system. It is some of the packages that we provide to children and young people who are in residential care. It is part of what we need to look at in the review. To some extent we are supporting children with very complex needs. Some of those needs have even increased in complexity over that period of time, but some of those packages would reflect the accommodation packages for young people in residential care and that is part of the resetting of the system that we want to look at in the course of the review.

Mr BERKMAN: Just to follow on from that point specifically, I broadly understand that these kinds of specialised packages are intended for rare cases where a child has specific or complex needs, but they now make up, it seems, more than half of the department’s spending on resi care. Is this because there are increasingly sparse or inadequate options to meet children’s needs through contracted outsourced service delivery and particularly unlicensed care providers?

Ms Connors: Some of the need for us to use packages is about the number of placements that we have available. Over the course of the last year we have generated far more foster and kinship care places and the ability through outsource service delivery to service those. We have also brought more residential care places, but in some parts of Queensland I suppose the demand and the nature of complex young people coming into care—particularly we have seen an increase in older complex young people coming into care—has meant we have needed to use the individual support packages.

As I said, this is absolutely part of what we are looking at in the review in partnership with our service providers: how can we get the settings right in residential care where we have got outsourced service delivery with providers that is providing the kind of packages that we need and we do not need to do it through so many of the individualised placements.

CHAIR: We have time for another quick question.

Mr BERKMAN: I will move as quickly as I can. I was hoping to get one more clarification after this one, but we will see how we go. I understand that as of March 2023 the department had 68 unlicensed organisations providing 328 placements and 48 licensed organisations providing 1,393. That indicates that unlicensed organisations are providing less than a quarter of placements. On what basis did they receive almost 40 per cent of the funding in 2022 and 55 per cent in 2021?

Ms Connors: It is important to be really clear. Under the Child Protection Act there is a system of licensing services that provides care for children, but the act does also provide that the chief executive can have a child cared for by services under different arrangements. That includes an entity conducting a departmental care service, which is a service type we do not use; a licensee; and an unlicensed care provider.

We have used unlicensed providers since that was in the act. We do often work with providers to move to being licensed. I would be really clear: unlicensed does not mean unregulated or unmonitored. Those unlicensed providers are subject to the same regimes of monitoring and oversight by the oversight bodies. The children who are in those residential care placements still have the visitors who visit them. All of those things are still in place. We still have strict controls over the services they provide but we have seen more unlicensed providers into the market. Again, this is part of what we want to do to work with providers as part of the residential care review. PeakCare, the peak organisation, has a real interest in how the sector will work. Part of that is looking at the ratio of licensed and unlicensed providers. We are really keen to work with that as part of the review. That will be one of the absolute features of the work we are doing.

Mr BERKMAN: Chair, if I could be really cheeky, I am seeking a little clarification.

CHAIR: Member for Maiwar, you owe the member for Burnett. You may ask a very quick question.

Mr BERKMAN: He is a good man, I am sure. With the way that I framed the years referred to in question on notice No. 19, I inadvertently have not asked for figures for the most recent financial year, the 2022-23 financial year. Are we able to get those figures at some point?

Ms Connors: We can take that on notice.


Mr BERKMAN: Excuse me, Chair. I appreciate the extra information that has come through. What I was hoping to get was the figures as broken down under all four limbs of that question for the 2022-23 financial year. I realise it is very late in the session. If it is possible for that to be taken on notice, it would be greatly appreciated.

CHAIR: Acting Director-General, are you happy to take up the matter with the member for Maiwar offline, as you indicated earlier?

Ms Connors: Yes. We can provide those figures.

Mr CRAWFORD: We are happy to do that. Instead of it being part of the formal session, we will make that commitment directly with the member.

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