A centre that helps some of Victoria’s most vulnerable families with parenting issues is understaffed and underfunded.

At a time when the state’s child protection system is constantly in the headlines because of high caseloads and difficulty recruiting staff, the Queen Elizabeth Centre, which has an important role in preventing parenting problems from becoming critical, is struggling.

According to the QEC 2009-10 annual report, the centre is funded for 956 call-outs to access families that may be in need of entering parenting programs, yet last year delivered more than twice that number — 2417 calls.

“We are funded by the Department of Human Services for a certain amount, which we often go over,” said QEC employee Alisha. She explained that when they do go over their funded amount, the centre does not get paid any more money despite the extra benefit that they are providing to the community and are forced to cover the costs in other ways.

“We have a fund-raising officer whose job is to try and come up with the extra money that is needed. This involves applying for government grants, or contacting charities for assistance.”

Training is also an issue, with QEC board president Susan Harper saying in the annual report that “our specialised sector requires considerable training and speech delivery skills that cannot be obtained through a brokerage approach. It takes years to train staff”.

Alisha agreed that it all comes back down to the funding, though she couldn’t provide a specific figure on just how much funding they want to receive. She said that while the employees do receive refresher training every year, it is still not enough for some of the situations that they have to deal with and that management requires more money in order to better train the staff members with the issues that arise.

The QEC report is one of several in the Crikey/Swinburne University Brumby Dump investigation that suggests welfare services in Victoria are underfunded and at severe stress after 11 years of Labor Government. In earlier reports, the exercise has reported on problems in supported accommodation for the mentally ill and disabled. See the all the stories published so far here

The QEC has its head office in Noble Park, but it offers its services across Victoria with centres in towns such as Wangaratta, Morwell and Wodonga.

A standard call-out involves accessing a person or family member and seeing which program would best suit them. The QEC is a registered public hospital, so those admitted into the programs aren’t charged for any services — with the exception of possibly having to buy their own nappies if they are a parent of an infant.

The programs on offer provide health, education and refuge to those families in need. They also provide courses on dealing with anger and abuse as well as drug and alcohol addiction. The centre takes in clients of many different ethnicities and this requires the staff to know how to handle different cultures respectfully.

Peter Fray

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