Article in The Advertiser – 14 February 2021

Connecting Foster and Kinship Carers SA survey voices carer concerns

A new survey reveals the top concerns of foster carers and what authorities must do to find more homes for children who need them.

Lauren Novak
Social Policy Editor
@Lauren__Dailey

February 14, 2021 – 8:41PM

Less than half of foster carers would confidently encourage others to take in an at-risk child – and poor communication with authorities, financial effects and few opportunities for a break are among their top concerns.

A survey of almost 200 carers by the state’s peak body finds many are frustrated by “inconsistent” policies and worry a child could be removed from their care “at any time”. Almost all say they form strong bonds with the children who come into their lives and many are keen to pursue long-term arrangements or adoption.

At the end of 2020, there were 1676 South Australian children living with 1422 foster parents.

Another 2144 children were with more than 1300 extended family members, known as kinship carers. However, another 550 live in state-run homes with paid carers, with up to 100 new children entering the system each month.

Latest data shows 151 foster carers were recruited last financial year, while 69 dropped out during the same period.

Connecting Foster and Kinship Carers SA chief executive Fiona Endacott said looking after carers was crucial to encouraging new volunteers.

“If a carer experience is a positive one, they would recommend it to others,” she said. “It is clear that carers are asking for better information and consultation.”

Child Protection Department deputy chief executive Fiona Ward said the number of carers recruited each year had grown since 2016-17. Ms Ward said the department was “actively working to improve the level of support they receive” through measures such as a recruitment and retention taskforce, a clear statement of commitment to carers, more information online and extra funding to offer respite opportunities.

The survey of 194 carers with a total of 333 children in their care found:

ALMOST one in five did not plan to continue for more than five years;

ONE in five would not recommend the role, while 40 per cent would;

61 PER CENT did not receive required information about the background of a child before they came into their care in the past year;

FOUR in five carers were not satisfied with communication with department case workers;

THREE-quarters felt they did not get enough respite.

Opposition child protection spokeswoman Katrine Hildyard said the findings showed many carers were “feeling unsupported, undervalued and not consulted”.

‘My family changed for better’

Annie Lambert grew up alongside foster children and last year began taking young people in state care into her own home.

“My parents started fostering children when I was 13,” the 21-year-old recalled. “These children became a part of our large and loud family, each leaving their own special imprint.”

Foster carer Annie Lambert. Picture: Dean Martin

In August, Ms Lambert became a respite carer with Centacare and, while working full-time and studying, spends one weekend a fortnight with young people whose foster families need a break.

She has already looked after 11 children aged between 18 months and 11 years.

“I know that I am providing time for the main carers … to have a break and rejuvenate,” she said.

“They may have their date night, anniversary or just need some time away.

“I definitely would recommend foster care.

“It has changed our family for the better.”

System needs to improve

Analysis – Lauren Novak

The experience of being a foster carer in South Australia differs vastly depending on a few key factors.

Carers tell The Advertiser that which agency you apply through, which departmental social worker or case manager you are assigned, and which office they are based in can make a huge difference.

Approaches and workloads vary widely, they say.

The behaviour of the biological family of a child and how much interaction you have with them has a significant effect, as does how much information you are given about what happened to the child before they joined you.

There are thousands of foster carers and relatives giving up time, income and effort to provide loving, stable homes for children who cannot safely remain with their parents.

Many of them have positive and stress-free experiences.

But just as many report they are constantly worried by difficulties obtaining information, chasing reimbursements or unpicking inconsistencies in how policies are applied.

There are examples of life-changing placements where children flourish into adulthood. But many placements end far too soon. I know of some children who have bounced between multiple households in their first month.

Often miscommunication, frustration or a lack of preparation to manage the impacts of trauma are factors in the breakdown.

If the State Government is to encourage more people to take in a child in need, it must ensure that those currently doing this crucial job have reason to be eager advocates.

To become a carer, phone 1300 236 7837