Assessment of health needs of children entering out-of-home care in Victoria: a mixed methods study
AuthorMcLean, Karen Martha
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2023-04-14. This item is currently available to University of Melbourne staff and students only, login required.
© 2020 Karen Martha McLean
In Australia, state-based statutory Child Protection (CP) systems intervene when children are deemed to be at risk of harm from exposure to neglect and/or abuse. On 30th June 2019, 44,906 (8.0 per 1,000) Australian children were subject to court orders placing them with a relative (kinship) or foster carer in an out-of-home care (OOHC) placement. These children have often experienced socio-economic disadvantage in addition to adverse experiences such as neglect or abuse, with resultant high health needs. Australian and international child health experts uniformly recommend that health is routinely assessed upon entry to OOHC. Australia has national standards that stipulate an initial assessment within 30 days and a comprehensive assessment (paediatrician-led, with dental, audiology, and optometry assessments) within three months of entering OOHC. Despite this, Victorian state policy is less clear. Some routine assessments (medical, dental, optical, and auditory) are advised within one month of entry to care. While some areas have access to dedicated multi-disciplinary assessment clinics, there is no state-wide recommendation for routine comprehensive assessment. The majority of Victoria has no model of adequate service provision for health assessments. There are no data that monitor health assessments at either a state or national level, and little is known in Australia about the barriers to healthcare for children in OOHC. This research therefore aimed to determine the extent to which Victorian children entering OOHC were having their health needs assessed and addressed in a timely way, and to identify barriers and enablers to timely health assessment. This was a convergent parallel mixed-methods study with 3 sub-studies: Study 1, an audit of children seen at a multidisciplinary OOHC comprehensive assessment clinic, confirmed high rates of need and identified that only 25% of children attended within timeliness recommendations. Study 2 included a survey of 290 foster and kinship carers and interviews with 19 survey participants. Barriers encountered when accessing health services for children in OOHC included time-consuming consent processes, insufficient publicly funded health services, long wait times, poor communication of health information and delays in receiving key identifying information such as the child’s Medicare number. Increased health navigation support, greater prioritisation of health within CP, greater prioritisation of children in OOHC by health services, and flexible delivery of healthcare were identified as potential solutions. Study 3, a retrospective data linkage cohort study, examined the health service use of 6,201 children in the first year after entry to OOHC between 2010 and 2015, through analysis of administrative health data from one federal (Medicare) and four Victorian datasets. Only 41 children had attended all recommended services (GP, paediatrician, dentist, audiologist, and optometrist). While 90% attended a GP, fewer than 40% attended other health services, and a minority attended within recommended timeframes. This research has demonstrated that health assessment for Victorian children upon entry to OOHC is neither routine nor timely, and potentially modifiable barriers exist within the health and child protection systems. The findings have implications for cross-sector service and policy development, and for monitoring of compliance with national standards.
KeywordsOut-of-home care; Child health; Paediatrics; Healthcare access; Health assessment; Child protection; Mixed-methods research; Data linkage cohort study
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