The increase in the cost of living in Australia has increased the financial pressure on family care. As a result, the government is realigning and prioritising its policies and funding on improving out-of-home care.
We have the opportunity to interview Josh Fergeus, President, Foster Care Association of Victoria, prior to his presentation at the upcoming Out-of-Home-Care Summit 2013.
Are there preventatives services that we can improve on? If so, what might they be?
The role of respite care is hugely undervalued. Many carers would love the chance to provide regular respite care as a preventative measure, assisting families in crisis to remain together during their times of need. However, the system is geared to only respond once families have effectively broken down, leading to many children entering out of home care when this would have been rendered unnecessary through earlier intervention. Access to good respite care often makes all the difference, and yet many foster care providers are unable to offer this preventative service as government demands that all their attention be focused on child protection clients. We would like to see respite care funded as a model distinct from mainstream foster care, given the status it deserves.
How can we best support carers?
The key to properly supporting carers is for local, state and federal governments to have a proper understanding of the caring role. Agencies need to talk to one another, and the barriers which exist for carers who are trying to provide the best quality care they can to extremely vulnerable children and young people need to be removed. An excellent start would be for all jurisdictions to agree to immediately start providing carers with financial reimbursement for the true cost of providing care. Thousands of Australians take on this role which will change their entire life and take them away from their friends, family and career so that they can support government in making a difference – the least we can do is ensure they’re not incurring huge out of pocket expenses as well.
What is your view on the development of therapeutic models of foster care?
In Victoria we have seen pilot therapeutic models implemented with a lot of success. The program evaluations show terrific benefits for children and young people, their carers and their families, as well as impressive economic benefits for government. However, we are yet to see any indication that these tremendously successful models will be rolled out to all children and young people in foster care, and they remain available to less than 10%.
What would you say might be the biggest shortcoming of the OOHC system, and its largest strength?
The biggest shortcoming we see currently within our out of home care system is the inability of decision-makers to respect the evidence and take a long-term view. There are now well-documented solutions to many of the problems we face, but there is a lack of political will to get the job done. Our work is largely hidden from the public eye, and understanding of the realities of out of home care is basic at best. The greatest strength the system has are the many thousands of volunteers who work tirelessly day and night for the benefit of our most vulnerable children and young people. They are too often ignored, disrespected and undervalued.
If you could redesign the OOHC system, how would you do it?
I think we need a great deal more consistency across all Australian jurisdictions, and a stronger focus on prevention and early intervention. There is some terrific work being done out there, but many excellent projects struggle for funding beyond the pilot stage despite excellent results.
If you’d like to hear more from Josh, catch him in action at the upcoming Out-of-Home-Care Summit 2013. Looking forward to seeing you there!