inDaily article “Hundreds of SA foster carers speak out during inquiry”

More than 200 submissions are being considered as part of an independent inquiry into South Australia’s foster and kinship care system, with the deadline to hand a report to the government pushed back by three months.

The inquiry was set up by the state government last year to examine how South Australia could improve foster and kinship care, including procedures for dealing with complaints and transparency within the Child Protection Department.

At the time, the government asked the inquiry’s lead reviewer – former Australian Centre for Child Protection director Dr Fiona Arney – to hand a final report to the Child Protection Minister before June 8.

But the inquiry team says it now won’t submit a report until September.

It follows concerns from carers that they were initially given seven weeks to provide submissions to the inquiry.

In February, the state’s peak foster and kinship carer advocacy group – Connecting Foster & Kinship Carers SA – said it had “deep concern regarding the brevity of this timeframe” and had requested an extension, which was granted.

In a statement to InDaily, a spokesperson for the inquiry team said extending the formal submission period by an additional seven weeks allowed it to receive more than 200 submissions.

But Connecting Foster & Kinship Carers SA said it was not told that the extending the submission timeframe would push the deadline for the report back by three months.

The group’s chairperson Megan Hender said many foster and kinship carers were eager to read the report, given the inquiry was the first of its kind in South Australia.

“There was a clear expectation when carers lodged their submissions that it (report) was going to be handed down in early June,” she told InDaily.

“For many of them, making a submission was a very personal and heartfelt experience because they’re talking about something as fundamental as parenting.

“For many people, the experience of writing a submission was pretty hard, so they’re very keen – having put their hearts and souls into a submission – to see what the response is to their efforts.”

The spokesperson for the inquiry said the timeframe changes had been flagged on its website and through other government channels.

They did not provide a specific date for when in September the report would be handed to Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard.

“The inquiry report is currently being prepared and attention is being given to all matters raised in the submissions,” they said.

“The inquiry report will include recommendations for reform.”

In its submission to the inquiry, Connecting Foster & Kinship Carers alleged child protection authorities had engaged in misconduct including forging carer signatures and threatening to remove their biological children.

It claimed some of its members felt threatened, bullied, harassed and intimidated by workers employed by the Child Protection Department, with carers feeling “powerless” because they had little or no recourse to complain.

The group said it was “confident the inquiry will receive a number of individual submissions attesting to these concerns”.

“In any other organisation, if people were treated the way carers are, there would be action and outcry,” one carer was quoted in the submission.

In a statement to InDaily in May, the department’s deputy chief executive Fiona Ward said she valued the “incredible important contribution” that all South Australian carers make by providing a safe and nurturing family environment for children and young people.

She said the department “know the important of listening to our carers and are committed to working with them to continuously improve the way we work together to support children and young people”.

Ward told InDaily last week that any “relevant” recommendations from the inquiry’s report would be considered as part of its “ongoing reform work in this area of practice”, referring to care concern notifications to the child abuse report line.

The foster and kinship care inquiry is one of several reviews currently underway into South Australia’s child protection system.

Other inquiries include former Police Commissioner Mal Hyde’s investigation into the involvement of government agencies with the families of six-year-old Charlie and seven-year-old Makai, whose deaths are being investigated as suspected criminal neglect.

by Stephanie Richards, inDaily