The Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic), the state’s peak body for young people and the sector that supports them, welcomes the announcement by Victoria’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Bernie Geary, of an inquiry into sexual exploitation of children in state care.
The announcement follows media reports of the sexual abuse of children as young as 12 in out-of-home care by paedophile gangs. It also responds to concerns about vulnerable and traumatised young people being housed in settings which are understaffed and underfunded.
“Young people in out-of-home care represent one of the most vulnerable groups in Victoria,” YACVic CEO Georgie Ferrari said. “It’s vital that their right to safety is guaranteed, and that their voices are heard.”
The new inquiry will look at sexual exploitation and assaults by outsiders, as well as sexual violence committed by children towards other children in care.
“This inquiry is a positive step. It shows the value of having an independent commission for children and young people, with the power to investigate such serious issues at an individual and systemic level. YACVic, along with other groups, has long advocated for such a set-up”, Ms Ferrari said.
“It’s worth noting that Victoria has only had an independent commissioner for children and young people for the past 12 months. Minister Wooldridge was the driving force behind giving the Commissioner these powers”. Ms Ferrari said.
YACVic, a leader in youth participation and engagement, stresses the importance of listening to the experiences of young people in the course of the inquiry.
“It is imperative the inquiry engages directly with these young people in safe and responsive ways, recognising them as the experts on their own lives.
“I will be writing to Commissioner Geary today to underline this point”, Ms Ferrari said.
While Victoria has the lowest rate of children in care in Australia, numbers are rising. Over the past decade the number has grown by 46%.
“The abuse of children while in state care is an appalling situation. We must now all work together to understand how it has been allowed to happen, and what safeguards we can put in place immediately to stop it from happening again”, Ms Ferrari said.
For further comment contact Georgie Ferrari on 0411 484 428.