Foster care's future in jeopardy


Child with teddy bear.Since becoming a foster care family in 2006 we have been a part of the story of more than thirty children’s lives.

No matter how many times you experience it, you are never really prepared for the next children that visit your house.

The sadness you feel when inseparable brothers stay with you for a few days before they are told they will be sent two different households, because nobody can look after two boys at the moment, and its your job to sort through their single bag of belongings to work out which child is allowed to take the toy with them.

The sense of awe you feel when you meet foster carers in the seventies who have five foster children including a couple with disabilities.

The frustration when you hear the stories of carers who can’t afford to pay for swimming lessons for their foster children, and the sense that, yet again, these children miss out on what most of us consider the normal things that children do these days.

As you read this piece more than forty thousand children are in out of home care in Australia. That figure has doubled in the past ten years.

If the system works well, these children should be able thrive in the same way as children who grow up in their own families. But ask most carers, and they have stories of children who have spent years not knowing where they would be living in a few months time. Already traumatised at an early age, these children who require stability are moved from house to house as the system attempts to find a permanent carer.

In Victoria alone there has been a significant increase in the number of children in care as well as a major decrease in the number of available foster carers. Last year, 616 foster carers left the system with only 442 new families being recruited.

The gap between the actual cost of providing care and the Victorian DHS reimbursement is now as much as $5,356 per year. Asking volunteers to contribute this much money, as well as providing care to the most vulnerable, often high need members of our community, gets less news time than a road project in Victoria. Our priorities seem to be very much misplaced.

The Foster Care Association of Victoria (FCAV) and Berry Street are calling on the Victorian Government to deal with five significant issues in the lead up to the 2014 State Election.

They want an increase to foster and kinship carer reimbursments to meet the day to day costs of caring for children, and to advocate to the Commonwealth for the removal of income tests from carer's access to benefints for children in foster and kinship care. They want to ensure that all of a child's education, medical and recreational expenses are met in a timely fashion. They are asking for a coordinated, state-wide carer recruitment and foster carers recruitment program, as well as improved access to training, support and respite for all foster carers.

The most concerning thing I heard at the recent FCAV Annual General Meeting came from Sandi de Wolf, CEO of Berry St, who said that based on current demographics and needs, without major changes, foster care will be non-existent in five years. With the many articles that have been written on institutionalised abuse in the past year, I fear for the children if foster care ends. The costs of such a system would also be prohibitive and it is difficult to see how the government could find the funds to operate such a system adequately.

The long term costs of not supporting foster care are significant. Mental health, crime, drugs and homelessness are all a more likely part of the journey for children who move from home to home with little support. For too long, volunteers have borne the costs of looking after children who are coming with greater needs. As a society we need to ask ourselves whether we want to prioritise the care of the most vulnerable in our midst.

The #savefostercare campaign is a genuine attempt to make the change that is needed. With a Victorian state election in November, the case for foster care must be made. Children can’t vote and so the campaign is calling on people to contact their local MPs to make the case for foster care. 

As foster carers, my family has been given opportunities that we never would have had otherwise. My own children have learned to share their belongings from a young age and have loved playing with the children who come through our home. We have also been fortunate to be part of a network of foster carers who are always willing to help out when we need a hand.

Foster Care can change lives. We once had the opportunity to visit the first foster children that had stayed at our home. They are big sisters to our children and they are a foster care success story.

Their family has moved up north and invited us to lunch on our family holiday. The girls bought gifts for our sons and played games while they served us a meal. The placement felt that it had come full circle, as we had become guests in their home.

Darrell CruseDarrell Cruse is a Melbourne teacher and foster carer who helps run Eddie's Backpacks, an organisation that provides support materials for children in foster care. 

Image: Shutterstock

Topic tags: foster care



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Existing comments

Fantastic piece. Thank-you for sharing Darrell. What we also need is a strategy for ensuring that kinship carers have the same entitlements and access to support as kinship carers. At the moment they don't. The system is a shambles. Please also send a submission to the out of home care senate inquiry - deadline is late October.
Amanda Tattam | 18 September 2014

Great article Darrell. Like Amanda, encourage you to submit to the out of home care inquiry or maybe touch base with Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens spokesperson on family and community services, @SenatorSiewert or as they're hoping to do a lot in the forthcoming Vic election. All the best getting through the challenges of the system.
Debbie Lee | 18 September 2014

I will definitely get in touch with my local MP to make the case for foster care. I have a friend who is a foster carer, she is the most amazing person. The story of what those children have gone through is just heart breaking. We need more people to be aware of the problem in our society. Enjoyed your article. Thank you!
Danielle | 19 September 2014

I am a volunteer carer for a 5 year old whose mum suffers from mental illness. Although I get some money from DHS, I now feel their is no follow up or urgency to my enquiries or concerns about the child. I am torn between the rights of the parent and the system. I took it upon myself to get the child assistance through the school.I am looking for long time care for the child as my circumstance has changed.Help this child is our next generation and the system has failed her.
Lorraine | 19 September 2014

"Our priorities seem to be very much misplaced." What an understatement! Alas, social welfare issues seem to come well done the list of most Australian governments. Foster parents I have known have been lower middle class - comfortable but not overly so. They all claimed that government (NSW) reimbursement assistance comes no way near their actual weekly expenditure. Not all their fostered children are success stories but they keep fostering because the need is there. However soon they will be too old and few volunteers are coming from the next generation. I agree with Amanda Tattam and Debbie Lee - we must keep this issue before our parliamentarians in whatever way (legitimate, of course) we can.
Uncle Pat | 19 September 2014

Ah Beautiful Kashmir! Paradise on Earth! Alas, the politics of Kashmir, intractable beyond reason!
Uncle Pat | 19 September 2014

Homeless children, unloved children, abused children and murdered children, the greatest of all sadnesses and all products of the so-called sexual revolution. Three cheers for the trashing of motherhood and fatherhood by this enlightened godless society based on selfishness and personal introspection.
john frawley | 19 September 2014

Apologies for my comment re-Kashmir. It was meant to refer to Catherine Marshall's article. Even Homer nods!
Uncle Pat | 19 September 2014

Amid the sad reality of the decline in foster care, it is fabulous to read about the reunion of your family and your first foster children. How special and how clearly the evidence of your good will and good work. Inspiring.
Phil Canon | 19 September 2014

it is not simply the money issue. the basic problem is the more difficult you make it for someone to become a foster parent the more people will avoid participation and the existing ones just throwing in the towel. Simple. I considered it but the bureaucratic red tape meant I just wasted interested - all too hard
lou | 19 September 2014

I never cease to marvel at the many wonderful, generous and inspired people in our world. May I remember, even on the greyest days, when policy-makers seem to have lost their humanity. Thank you
Anne Benjamin | 19 September 2014

Darrell thank you and to other Foster carers for care given of children at risk;30 children in just 6 years. Beyond your words is a deeply, deeply disturbing picture of our society- that we fail to support children, families and kinship care in desperate/ despairing times, then later fail foster carers. The system is broke;society broken. DHS is in crisis, with limited resources, our state fails to offer appropriate finances and supports - in the first place to families/ kin then carers at the preventative level/ times of high needs demands URGENT re-evaluation. Too many preventive support programs/ addiction services/ and family conferencing programs in limited supply or now abandoned! WRONG More kids in care than at any other time in our history-What is going on? Then siblings divided,WRONG. Or kids under state care once they turn 18 abandoned. .Have we not learnt anything? I agree institutionalisation is not the answer. On a practical level all kids (till fully independent (not simply at 18) and families need support and nuturing. Young children in care wherever possible reunification at the earliest possible time,that should be our aim. In relation to child protection and foster care we need a standard 'caring'national response t
Georgie | 19 September 2014

Darrell's story is replicated in NSW and in deed around Australia. The increasing shortage of carers has been a source of increasing focus and concern among NFP agencies working to recruit and support carers when macro trends such as highest levels of female workforce participation, highest levels of home un-affordability and changing family patterns, as well as historical and cultural issues for particular communities, make finding new carers increasingly difficult. And yet there is no carer on the planet, no matter what difficulties at times, who would not echo Darrell's personal experience: that it IS better to give than to recieve - because you recieve so much more! In my own agency (CatholicCare Diocese of Broken Bay) we have one carer family, for example, who only foster teenage boys! (Something this mother of tween boy with attitude can only imagine with horror). Yet they wouldnt have it any other way, and they have daily witness of the 'good' their love and stability provide. Very ordinary families and very ordinary parents can change the world and change the future one child at a time. It may be the future for a baby or toddler where a foster parent can afford to stay at home; it may be the future for a school aged child where a single worker or couple have workforce/job flexibility; or it may be a future for older children where potential carers are empty nesters or have older children just waiting to be idolised! It doesnt necessarily have to be for the long term of full time. Even providing 'respite' can open new worlds for children in need of adult role models.
Anna Brown | 22 September 2014

If the government gave natural families more support, there would be No Need for foster care. Foster carers get paid, up to. $1,300 a week in NSW. Through NGO's. The way the system is. There is No Hope, of reuniting families. Support Families, and Eradicate Foster Care.
Hitlersbride | 08 October 2014

Its great that we are finally able to open up and talk about these HUGE concerning issues. As a carer of 9 years these issues have always been there yet you would think that in that time frame things would have been improving. We are meant to move forwards surely and improve things. Great article Darrell.
Jen | 10 October 2014


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