Toowoomba’s Act for Kids helps children heal from trauma and lead safe, happy lives

Member for Toowoomba South David Janetzki MP and Act For Kids regional director Heidi Fowler discuss the intensive support the organisation provides to improve the lives of at risk kids and keep them out of foster care

Tonight in the region, two young foster brothers aged five and seven will be sleeping in their 30th beds in residential care – a group home staffed by a paid shift-worker.

There will be no bedtime stories, no goodnight cuddles, just the worry of when their lives will again be uprooted, and they will be moved to their next – and 31st – “home”.

In their short trauma-filled lives, the boys have been through 30 foster care placements – that is 30 different homes, 30 different beds, 30 different carers, 30 different sets of rules.

The brothers are just two of the 2,312 children in the south west region who are in the foster care system.

Act for Kids central and western regional director Heidi Fowler and her team of dedicated staff are working hard to heal past trauma and help create a brighter future for the 380 families they have worked with in the Toowoomba region this year.

Mrs Fowler is a former police officer and domestic violence specialist and has helped grow the organisation’s reach since they opened in Toowoomba six years ago.

“Act for Kids specialises in helping families cope with the impacts of domestic and family violence, sexual abuse, mental health, drug abuse, poverty, and learning difficulties,” Mrs Fowler said.

“We visit families weekly in their homes and talk to all people involved in that family’s life such as their school, doctor, hospital, grandparents, neighbours – people who are important to their support,” she said.

“Staff work with families to address domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse issues while also helping develop life skills such as setting routines, budgeting, managing a household, nutrition, parenting and emphasising the importance of school attendance.”

Member for Toowoomba South David Janetzki MP said Act for Kids’ Intensive Family Support program had successfully supported families who were deemed “at risk” and prevented children from entering the foster care system.

They also run another program for families involved in a current Child Safety investigation and assessment process. Staff ensure families are linked in with the support services they need.

“Early intervention is the key,” Mr Janetzki said.

“There needs to be more investment in these life-changing programs when a child first comes to the attention of Child Safety – rather than years later spending more than $300,000 per child, per year to house children in residential care as a last resort after multiple foster care placement breakdowns,” he said.

“I am supporting Act for Kids in their lobbying of the government to fund more Individual Care Packages for our vulnerable children, which provides tailored support for each child.”

Mrs Fowler said Act for Kids had opened a second office in Toowoomba and currently employed 35 staff members. However, the need for their vital service is so great, there is a 12-week waiting list.

The number of children currently living away from home in the Toowoomba and south west region –2,312 children – has increased by 22% over the past five years. That is an extra 416 children who have been placed in foster care, kinship care or residential care, because they were not safe at home, since 2016.

Children living away from home in the Toowoomba and South West Region
Year Number of children living away from home
As at 30 June 2016 1,896
As at 30 June 2017 1,928
As at 30 June 2018 2,046
As at 30 June 2019 2,059
As at 30 June 2020 2,192
As at 31 March 2021 2,312
Percentage increase from 2016 to 2021 21.94%
Children living away from home in Queensland 
Year Number of children living away from home
As at 30 June 2016 9,091
As at 30 June 2017 9,406
As at 30 June 2018 9,629
As at 30 June 2019 10,248
As at 30 June 2020 11,323
As at 31 March 2021 11,813
Percentage increase from 2016 to 2021 29.94%

*Figures obtained from the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs