The foster care system is a ticking time bomb – now isn’t the time to look away

Foster Care | Posted September 13, 2021
The foster care system is a ticking time bomb – now isn’t the time to look away

By Dr Lisa J. Griffiths, Chief Executive Officer, OzChild

The pandemic has many of us feeling like we’ve lost control, not knowing what the coming days or months will bring. This ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ feeling for many of us is the everyday reality for children and young people in out-of-home care (OOHC) across Australia.

In Victoria, the growth in OOHC is the fastest in the nation – a grim reality for the state which has endured the harshest and longest lockdowns. With more than 45,000 children already in OOHC across Australia, an additional 4,500 children are estimated to enter OOHC because of the pandemic – put simply, we do not have enough carers.

Covid-19 has placed additional stress on all Australian families, but especially those already experiencing disadvantage. Our most vulnerable children have lost vital, physical touch points with their support network – schools, the Department, and the wider community. Without this safety net, instances of abuse and neglect are slipping through the cracks.

Whilst we are all quarantining during lockdowns, we must remember there is no greater isolation than an at-risk child in an unsafe home.

This begs the question – what is expected when restrictions ease? We are bracing for a tidal wave of referrals to OOHC, which we lack the carers and funds to facilitate.

Devastatingly, the increasing number of children needing foster care coincides with carers exiting the system at alarming rates. Last year, 596 Victorian foster care households exited the system, whilst only 354 families commenced care.

The OOHC sector is facing a perfect storm and the urgency to recruit more foster carers is at fever pitch.  Now is not the time to look away.

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% – but our kids belong in homes, not institutional facilities.

Many people don’t realise 1 in 32 Australian children required child protection services last year. There is no question this has a profound impact on our entire community and affects all of us.

The pandemic’s devastating impact on the sector is only beginning to unfold. If you are in a position to open your heart and home to a child in need, please consider becoming a foster carer today. You can give these kids a brighter future.

Read the news article here.

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