Delivering an alternative to an overloaded system

News, Prevention & Strengthening | Posted June 21, 2022
Delivering an alternative to an overloaded system

by Dr Lisa J. Griffiths

Alternative models must be part of solution

While alarming, the findings of a KPMG report into the Victorian carer allowance that backs a 67 per cent increase in the carer allowance come as no surprise to those in the sector.

Foster and kinship 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 nowhere near enough.

In fact, it’s never been enough, especially when you consider the cost savings carers contribute to government spending in the out-of-home care system.

Foster and kin carers provide care for thousands of children per year in Victoria. This represents avoided costs related to alternative care placements such as residential care. The annual cost to government for a carer providing a general foster care placement range from $11,249.16 – $16,574. 74 per annum with a unit of cost of $20,000 to the agency supervising the placement.

When a care placement isn’t available, children in need (and as young as eight) find themselves in residential care at a cost close to $1,500 to $2,500 per day.

Then there are contingency placements which cost on average over $2,000 and as high as $5,000 per day and it is well known that there are children in these placements for months, and even a year. An annual cost in excess of $700,000 compared to the cost of a carer placement is a significant waste of taxpayer dollars.

Models that support the system, families, and carers, like Treatment Foster Care Oregon (TFCO), a specialised program designed to exit children and young people from residential care facilities and support them into lower cost placements or reunification with family should be considered as part of the solution to address the foster care crisis.

The economic argument is strong. TFCO costs on average $583 per child, per day compared to residential care and contingency placements average cost of $2,300 per day. The savings in one year plus the savings over forward years of a lower cost placement are significant.

With savings made from programs like TFCO, the government can reinvest into higher carer payments for all foster and kin carers in Victoria.

Cost of living pressures coupled with concerns emerging from the effects of the pandemic are presenting very real challenges, for families and members of the broader community who make up the caring population.  We also know that families are presenting with greater challenges than ever before, substance abuse, poverty and poor mental health, family or domestic violence, housing vulnerability contributing to profound disadvantage for many families.

As a result, children are entering care with significant needs. This in turn is placing additional demands on foster and kin cares and their families to meet the complex needs of children and young people. 

The Victorian Government continues to have to invest into the residential care system, instead investment should be shifted to attract carers who are appropriately supported and remunerated so children can grow up in a home, like our own children.

Dr Griffiths is the Chief Executive Officer at OzChild, Victoria’s longest-running child welfare organisation and Australia’s largest provider of evidence-based programs in child protection, family violence and youth justice.

Lisa has a Doctor of Business Leadership, researching evidence-based ethical leadership models for the community services sector.

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