WAVERLEY'S sole foster care service is being forced to turn away vulnerable teens because there aren't enough homes for them to go to.
Waverley Emergency Adolescent Care is being crippled by an "enormous" increase in the number of teens who desperately need a place to stay.
The service's chief executive Maureen Buck says the organisation is struggling to keep up with demand.
"I don't think I have ever, in all my years in the welfare system as a CEO, seen things as bad as they are," she said.
"The challenging behaviours and complexity of the children coming through is probably the most chronic in the 20 years I've been here."
In 2011-12, WEAC had 216 requests to place children in foster care - 49 more cases than in 2010-11.
"We're seeing kids presenting with suicidal thoughts. They're cutting themselves... substance abuse, refusing to go to school."
One girl, who was 13 at the time, was pregnant.
Most of the teens seen by the service come from broken homes where substance abuse is rampant.
"Substance abuse is so much more prevalent than what it was six years ago," Ms Buck said.
"These kids are exposed to drugs and to alcohol and that's a way of life for them. It's not in all homes, but it's in the lower socio-economic ones where people are down and they're thinking, what can I do to forget my problems."
She says a failure by parents to be good role models is eventually impressed upon their children.
"When you've got mums and dads struggling within themselves, emotionally and physically, it passes over to their family.
"I really do believe the kids we're actually seeing are the next welfare generation coming through."
There has also been a sharp rise in the number of teens presenting with mental illness.
A report seen by the Weekly shows mental health made up 64 per cent of cases seen by a WEAC counsellor in the last quarter. In April, May and June, while seven cases were closed, another eight were referred to the counsellor. A further four cases were reopened.
Despite the growing number of at-risk teens WEAC is seeing, its resources can barely keep up.
"At the moment we're really struggling. We're doubling up in caregivers and putting a lot of strain on them.
"We're getting the referrals through and when you don't have caregivers to take them on, you double up with another caregiver. So some of them have got two or three kids."
Of the 216 teens referred to WEAC in 2011-12, only 75per cent were able to find homes. The pool of carers is dwindling not only in Monash but across the state.
"We have to say no [to some of the referrals]," Ms Buck said.
Ms Buck is pleading for more carers to come forward and foster a child.
"Part of the therapy for young people, if they have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused, is to take them out of the environment that's threatening for them and start counselling."