RPP FM’s program Eye on the Peninsula interviewed OzChild CEO Lisa J. Griffiths and Anglicare’s Paul McDonald ahead of launching the Treatment Foster Care Oregon trial, an intensive foster care model. Lisa explained the context of foster care in Australia, Victoria, and the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula area.
RPP FM: To help us better understand the foster care system and the implementation of a new program called Treatment Foster Care Oregon, which is set to slash residential care numbers in local areas, Eye on the Peninsula invited CEO of OzChild Lisa J. Griffiths to explain.
LISA J. GRIFFITHS: The foster care system is set out to provide voluntary support for children that are removed from their families by Child Protection. 95% of the time, those removals are involuntary; there have been notifications to Children Protection that the child or young person is at risk of abuse of neglect, or accumulative harm. The other 5% are voluntary relinquishments, where the parents can’t cope with looking after that child while they go through challenging circumstances.
In the Mornington Peninsula and Frankston area, 50% of the referrals are for children aged between newborns and five years of age. Clearly, those children won’t have had too much exposure to difficult sets of circumstances, but really what they’re fundamentally looking for is a loving parent or role model to help form an attachment with them so they can feel safe and secure.
The foster care system then kicks in as a support mechanism for those children to be placed either in an emergency situation or in a short or long term placement.
RPP FM: It’s a long process for a family or individual to become a foster carer.
LISA J. GRIFFITHS: The Department of Health and Human Services have the Placement Coordination unit who can contact a range of foster care providers. There’s 26 agencies in Victoria, including OzChild.
You’re not a foster carer just because you want to be. The Department requires agencies to recruit carers, train those carers, then accredit them and provide them with support. So that when the child or young person is removed from their parental care, the foster carer provides a safe, secure environment. There’ll be a phone call to OzChild who will call a carer and ask, “can we place a child in your care tonight?” and foster carers who have said “yes, that’s suitable for my circumstances and I’m available 24/7” will then take that child into care.
That’s where the court kicks in. The child protection worker will need to gather a range of evidence to discuss with the Magistrates court to discuss arrangements for the wellbeing of that child.
RPP FM: OzChild and foster care agencies are available across the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula.
LISA J. GRIFFITHS: Yes, that’s right. As children grow older and their developmental age changes, then the support and training these foster carers need might be different. If they’re a teenager for example, there might be a whole range of behavior that might be unsurprising to anyone who has had an adolescent. They might be acting out, refusing to go to school, having sexualized behaviours but also have self-esteem issues – it happens all around this developmental age of a child.
RPP FM: What numbers of foster children are there around this area?
LISA J. GRIFFITHS: There are a large number of children in foster care in the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula area. Across Victoria, there are just under 9000 children in what we call the out-of-home care system. About 450 are in residential care. And about 2500 are in foster care. We have the largest incidence in the Frankston area, which is one of the most disadvantaged postcodes in the whole of Australia. It’s not surprising then, that we’d have more referrals.
RPP FM: Australia will trial an international program called Treatment Foster Care Oregon. It’s been successful in other countries.
LISA J. GRIFFITHS: OzChild and Anglicare have been looking at some evidence from the US and other countries around the world at a program called TFCO. It started about 30 years ago and it’s been rolled out in 14 countries. Treatment foster care has been successful in working with very challenging children and adolescents who have complex behavior. It’s an intensive program which has specilaised care teams that support the foster carer, who is well trained, to help transition that child or young person to a more permanent outcome. For example, when a new child is in residential care, that’s often where they’ll stay until they turn 18. They might end up homeless, or having a job or going onto further education. Currently, evidence tells us that about 40% of children in residential care will actually end up going on become homeless, or part of the juvenile justice system. What we want to do is introduce a step-down model so it offers an alternative to children in residential care, to transition back home with their family permanently and successfully, or in permanent foster care.
RPP FM: Is the government funding this program?
LISA J. GRIFFITHS: Yes, they have totally agreed to fund this program. We have chosen to fund it ourselves. We’ve done all the research finding this particular program. We have used our own endowment funds to set it up for success. We’ve invested in all the training and set up, and the government has agreed to provide all the ongoing costs to trial this program in the Frankston and Mornington area in the next two years. It’s kicking off now and we’re recruiting our foster carers, then we’ll be receiving children aged 7-11, and with our partners VACCA and Anglicare we’ll be receiving children aged 12-18.
This particular program lasts six to nine months. Unlike foster carers that I mentioned earlier, the TFCO foster parent really is the champion for the young person. There’s a care team that surrounds the young person. Family therapists work with the family they’re returning to which could be a permanent foster family, biological family or their kin. They’ll work with that child or young person to ensure that they’re meeting all the milestones to help with their behavioural and cognitive development so they can re-assimilate into living permanently in a family environment as opposed to residential care.
RPP FM:What if you want to become a foster carer?
LISA J. GRIFFITHS: If you’ve got the capability to open your heart and open your home, we can provide you with all the support necessary to help you be successful at fostering a child or young person. Lots of people naturally who have children find they get to a stage in their life where they have a spare room, and they feel that they could do this quite easily. But there are all types of individuals and couples, same sex couples, single men and single women, who make amazing foster carers.