Minderoo Foundation Co-founder Nicola Forrest AO was in Canberra today to launch the report which exposes the cost of not stepping in early to provide support to Australia’s children and youth.
The report – “How Australia can invest in children and return more” – found hospitalisations for mental health, youth unemployment, obesity and out-of-home care had skyrocketed in the past decade.
“Despite multiple warning signs, far too many Australian kids and teenagers are slipping through the cracks,” Mrs Forrest said.
“The report calculates the cost of late intervention at $15.2 billion per annum. Put simply, this is the cost of not fixing problems faced by kids and young people before it’s too late.
“This is not just damning for the sheer amount of dollars and cents – people’s lives are at stake.
“The early experiences of a child have a major impact on the foundational structure of their brain, and this can lead to life-long consequences. Australian children need access to evidence-based support earlier so that they can live fulfilling lives and reach their potential.”
Mrs Forrest said a lack of evidence could no longer be used as an excuse not to act.
“The cost of late intervention is stained on the budget papers of our Federal, State and Territory Governments – $5.9 billion for child protection, $2.7 billion for youth crime, $1.3 billion for mental health, just to name a few,” she said.
While the monetary figure for late intervention is shocking, the human cost is devastating.
“The failure to identify problems early means a growing portion of Australia’s youth are falling behind their classmates, or turning to alcohol or drugs, or sitting in jails or on hospital wards,” Mrs Forrest said.
“If we can be smarter about the way we invest in services and reach these kids before the problems manifest, we can make a difference.
“We can change lives.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as ensuring a child has access to a speech therapist or a maternal nurse making home visits for mothers struggling to cope.”
Mrs Forrest said early intervention did not require huge amounts of new money, just wiser spending of existing funds.
“This isn’t about creating new services. Rather, coordinating our existing services better,” she said.
“We need more coordination at the Commonwealth and State level across portfolios and to provide targeted services where they’re needed and supported by evidence and data.”
Of the $15.2 billion annual cost to Australian governments in ‘late intervention’ supports, the report identified 39 per cent is going to child protection services, including for the 45,000 children in out-of-home care.
The cost of dealing with youth crime accounts for 18 per cent while payments for unemployed young people accounts for 13 per cent of this national tally.
The report also reveals a more than 25 per cent rise in the number of young people hospitalised with mental health issues in the past decade, while there has been an alarming 34 per cent increase in young people living in out-of-home care over the same time.
The report was produced through a partnership with philanthropy, business, research and and the not-for-profit sector.
“We took on the challenge of putting this report together because we wanted to raise awareness of the ongoing costs of not investing wisely in children and young people,” Thrive by Five CEO Steve Clifford said.