The need for locals to foster care is becoming "desperate", as authorities warn child abuse cases are expected to soar in the wake of COVID-19.
Berry Street senior manager of home-based care in Shepparton Sharelle Davidson said the organisation was welcoming "as many foster carers as possible" to meet a surge in demand.
“You just need to be over 21 and have undertaken training provided through Berry Street,” she said.
“Every foster carer has something different to offer.”
Locals can provide respite care (one or two weekends a month) or emergency care, which is for children who require an immediate placement.
Short-term care is also an option, spanning a few weeks to six months.
Finally, there is long-term care — more than six months.
Ms Davidson said recent social distancing measures — including school closures — meant there had been fewer eyes on vulnerable Shepparton children.
“We have also seen an increase in family violence incidents as COVID-19 has placed additional pressures on vulnerable families,” she said.
“More and more children are entering the foster care system because of this.
“If you're at all interested in becoming a foster carer, please contact us. We would love to have a chat.”
While there is a range of reasons why children and young people come into care, most have suffered abuse, neglect or trauma.
Issues authorities are warning could be on the rise, with some countries predicting the number of children at risk could increase by up to 300 per cent on the other side of the coronavirus crisis.
Children's charity Act for Kids chief executive Neil Carrington said it was not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the number of cases would surge nationally.
“It’s almost like a pressure cooker — the harm is escalating, but the reporting is going down, with a 60 to 80 per cent reduction in the numbers of reports of child harm expected,” he said.
“Social isolation measures mean that many children are left without connection to their usual support networks. Some kids in fact will be spending more time with people who harm or neglect them.”
In addition to offering care, locals are being urged to keep an eye out for signs of child abuse and neglect in their communities.
“(These signs) include children crying for long periods of time, aggressive or repeated shouting, hearing hitting or things being broken, children not wanting to go home, children looking dirty or not changing their clothes, or children being withdrawn or anxious,” Dr Carrington said.
“If you have a reason to suspect a child is experiencing harm, or is at risk of experiencing harm, please contact the relevant authorities.
“If you believe a child is in immediate danger or in a life-threatening situation, please contact the police immediately by dialling 000.”
For more information on becoming a foster carer, including necessary training, visit berrystreet.org.au/foster-care or call 1800 836 783.
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