Forging women’s equality is important to everyone at OzChild. That is what this year’s International Women’s Day theme is encouraging all of us to do while embracing equity.
Carers deserve a fair go
OzChild joins the call for carers to be supported with the basics such as birth certificates and Medicare cards, to be unburdened by the financial pressure to pay for health and education expenses that aren’t covered by the care allowance.
When it comes to those caring for children and young people it is important to remember, carers too are members of the community who have been impacted by the Pandemic in many ways. The pressures of home-schooling, effects of isolation, strain on their emotional and financial capacity all contribute to greater demands being placed on foster carers than ever before.
Foster care has been to date one of the most neglected systems across the country. We are asking carers to provide a safe, nurturing home for some of the most vulnerable children and young people, yet we know through many conversations with carers the broad system support available is not enough.
Without proper supports for foster and kinship carers there is a risk of a return to a system of institutionalisation for at-risk children.
Foster care is the backbone of Australia’s child protection system but cannot sustain the growing demand. When a care placement isn’t available, children in need (and as young as eight) find themselves in residential care. Since the pandemic begun the growth in kids under 12 entering residential care has risen by 45 per cent – but our kids belong in homes, not institutional facilities.
Past institutionalisation of children in Australia resulted in a Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
So why are carers not truly valued by a system that relies so heavily on them being involved?
A recent carer survey conducted in New South Wales revealed financial support, specialised carer support services and respite care were the top three areas where carers said that they received inadequate support. Significantly, over 50 per cent of carers who needed these supports reported that they never received them.
These were followed by psychology/counselling and behaviour support. When considering the results in 2020 and 2019 service support needs for children remain similar, but carers report that receiving services was harder in 2020 than it was in 2019 and concerns around anxiety and stress related to COVID‑19 were high as well as a lack of availability for specialist services and the difficulty of home schooling.
Carers interviewed in Victoria report their role to be fulfilling and rewarding overall. 85 per cent of carers feel they are making a positive difference in a child’s life and 79 per cent believe they have a positive relationship with the child/young person they are caring for.
Family and foster carers are vital when children cannot stay safely at home. COVID has placed additional stressors on families, the out-of-home care system, and carers.
Foster carers are exiting the system at alarming rates. According to the AIHW during 2019-20, in Victoria alone 596 foster care households exited while only 354 commenced care. If we do not have enough foster care households’ children and young people end up in institutional facilities.
The predicted increase in kids entering out-of-home care presents a very real challenge as members of the broader community who make up the foster caring population also emerge from the effects of COVID on their own children, their learning and development, mental health, fatigue and employment loss or reduction. We also know that families are presenting with greater challenges than ever before, the impact of methamphetamine and family domestic violence has been profound on many families.
As a result, children are entering care with significant needs.
This in turn is placing additional demands on foster carers and their families to meet the complex needs of children and young people, carers must be properly supported to ensure they can focus on their caring role, without the added pressures they often face.
In addition to the incredibly important role of foster carers, family members are critical in preserving connections for children and young people and providing better outcomes for kids in out-of-home care, but it comes at a cost.
Many kinship carers delay their retirement, change their working hours and practices and struggle to meet their financial obligations alongside dealing with the stress of parenting, especially during a pandemic. More needs to be done to support the system as a whole – the support provided to kinship and foster carers needs urgent review.
Agencies are having to fund additional supports and provide brokerage services to fill the gap.
That’s why, in 2020 OzChild launched the Thriving Families fund with the support of a small but committed coalition of corporate and philanthropic partners, to provide additional support to carers by funding practical, physical and emotional support.
When you consider the alternative cost in dollars, and psychological and physical damage of not maintain children and young people in appropriate care the need for greater investment into keeping kids in home-based environments seems very clear.
 See Galvin, M., & Kaltner., M. (2020). Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Out-of-Home Care in Australia. EY https://assets.ey.com/content/dam/ey-sites/ey-com/en_au/topics/covid-19-response/ey-impacts-of-covid-19-on-oohc-.pdf
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