The future of Australia’s out-of-home care children is looking more promising following the Victorian government’s initiative on pumping $128 million into the out-of-home care services. To create a sustainable carer pool remains a challenge for those working towards a better living environment for these children. Katie Hooper, CEO of Foster Care Association of Victoria shares with us her views on the current foster care system and what we can do to improve it.
The Foster Care Association Victoria recently expressed that foster care will disappear within the next three years unless changes are made. What do you think are the main reasons causing carers to leave the system?
Katie: For many years foster households have effectively cared for children that cannot live safely with their families. However over the past five years, the carer pool has shrunk due to an accelerating exodus of foster households and a shortage of new families volunteering to enter the system.
During this time, the financial stress experienced by Victorians carers has continued to grow. These financial strains are being cited as a reason for families leaving the foster care system.
The financial strain is twofold. First, there is a low rate of reimbursement in Victoria. Second, the system has an unclear, complex and lengthy process for gaining access to daily expenses and other payments for children.
The increased bureaucratic complexities within Victoria’s system are also driving carers away. The delivery of care includes DHS, CSOs and then foster carers. We believe that a delegated authority should be pushed as close to the child as possible.
Each year the number of people entering the system is smaller than those who leave it. What are the main challenges in getting more people to become foster carers and how can we overcome them?
Katie: There are a number of areas we need to look at in recruiting carers. We need to:
1. Build the foster care ‘brand’. Make it something people want to do by removing the existing stigma and promoting positive stories.
2. Improve the recruitment process to make the journey from initial expresses of interest to accreditation seamless and swift.
3. Promote fostering as an option to new segments of the community and have a responsive system to meet these needs.
Some people argue that the professionalisation of foster care could be a suitable solution to overcome the shortage of carers. Do you think this is a viable option and why?
Katie: FCAV sees the core components of a professionalised foster care system as being:
1. Foster carers who are adequately reimbursed for their caring role
2. Foster carers who attend comprehensive, relevant and accessible training
3. Foster carers who are supported by a therapist for the child and receive supervision for the carer
4. Foster carers who are involved in the care team and decision making and are thoroughly respected for the role they play
Moving towards a more professional model that incorporates these core principles is essential. It is absolutely viable and the refusal to do so is core to the decline we are witnessing in Victoria’s system.
FCAV modelling shows $6.65 million is needed annually to bridge the gap between reimbursement payments to carers and the cost of looking after the state’s most vulnerable children. How can the funds be raised and what are the hurdles in getting the funding that foster care needs?
Katie: The primary challenge is that addressing this shortfall requires the government to deliver an injection of new money. Politicians are rightly calling for evidence that quantifies the likely benefits that new resources will deliver, which our sector has been building over recent years. This year we have taken this to the next level with a sustained campaign to ‘save foster care’ and publically scrutinise these issues through the 2014 Victorian election campaign.
The case for additional funding is on strong ground as there is a clear cost-benefit to investing in areas that will improve the performance of the foster care system. As well as offering the best results of any form of out-of-home care, the average home-based care placement annually costs around 10% of the average residential placement.
We know that children that should be in home-based placements are ending up in residential care because of the current limitations of Victoria’s foster care systems. This is clearly contributing to terrible outcomes for children requiring state protection, but is also an inefficient way to spend taxpayer money.
Our sector’s responsibility is to argue this case clearly and with unity. An effective state care system is essential, so with public support we are confident that government will introduce reforms that improve the way they manage their care responsibilities.
You will be speaking at the 2014 Out-of-Home Care Summit, to be held on the 23-24 June in Sydney. What would be the main message that you’d like share with the out-of-home care stakeholders at the event?
Katie: Retaining and supporting carers already fostering is where our effort needs to be placed. Investing in recruitment processes without addressing the systemic issues is short-sighted and destined to fail. We believe that the role foster carers play needs to be valued with a new culture supported by adequate resourcing.
The 2nd Annual Out-of-Home Care Summit will take place on the 23rd and 24th June at Pullman Sydney. For more information about the event program and to register, please visit the event website.