Foster Care in Crisis

I wish we didn’t need so many kids to be placed in the care of foster families. But, with more than 40,000 Australian kids unable to be looked after by their parents because of poverty, family breakdown, drug and alcohol issues and violence – and lack of support in a crisis – things are in a very bad way.

Authorities are finding it really hard to find enough volunteers for fostering children in need. Currently, more foster volunteers are giving up than are putting their hands up.

Among other things, this is causing more vulnerable children to be placed in residential ‘care’ where we know bad things happen. (Yes, I know they happen in foster families too, but to nowhere near the same extent as in ‘resi care’.)

The problem is essentially this: governments refuse to reimburse their volunteer foster families to cover the costs of schooling, medical expense, and other basic costs of caring for a child. Governments rely on goodwill to bridge the gap between what they provide and what it really costs to raise a child. Eventually, the good will is eroded to the extent that people become disillusioned, drop out and refuse to take more children.

Here is a response from my local MP to my letter calling for better support for foster families and more resources.

Dear Frank

Thank you for your recent correspondence in which you raise concerns regarding the difficulties faced by Victorian foster carers. 

Labor recognises that foster carers are an invaluable part of our out of home care system. They play a vital role in providing a positive, safe and nurturing environment for some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people.  

This is why the former Labor Government provided funding for the implementation of a long term Foster Care Communication and Recruitment Strategy. In its early years, the Strategy showed positive early outcomes including increased enquiries about foster care. In an extremely short-sighted move, the Strategy was abandoned by the Napthine Government in 2012. It is therefore not surprising that in 2012-13, there were 616 foster carers who left the system and only 442 new carers that were recruited. 

Labor recognises that there are many financial expenses associated with this role. Foster carers need to be supported and respected in their contribution to achieving positive outcomes for children. 

It is disappointing that the Napthine Government has not developed a clear and consistent approach to the reimbursement of common out of pocket educational and medical expenses across different Departmental regions. 

The Napthine Government’s Five Year Out of Home Care Plan, released earlier this year, does not address the issues facing foster carers in Victoria nor the issues of recruitment and retention of foster carers. 

There are many challenges facing Victoria’s out of home care system with a record number of child protection reports having occurred in the last year. The latest Department of Human Services Annual Report shows that the number of child protection reports has grown by 12 per cent, the rate of unallocated cases has grown to 15 per cent state-wide, the number of children in out of home care has grown by 6 per cent and there are more children under 12 years of age being placed in residential care. These figures show that under the Napthine Government, our child protection system is only getting worse.

Labor will announce its child protection policies closer to the November State election. We are committed to improving Victoria’s child protection system.

I can assure you that the vital work provided by foster carers is valued by Labor and the community.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me.

Kind regards

Jennifer Kanis MP
State Member for Melbourne

Hands up if you think this is a meaningful response!  Hands up if you think we can be content to let things slide with the current government!  More pressure, friends, on both major parties.  This is election mode in Victoria. If we can’t get something better on the table now, things will stagnate again after the election.

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