|Foster Care Week 2013 has been an enormous success, with 20 separate activities held across Victoria to celebrate the contribution foster care makes to our community.
As well as raising awareness of foster care, the week has highlighted some pressing challenges that our system needs to overcome to improve the delivery of care to these particularly vulnerable children, and support the carers that welcome them into their homes.
The Centre’s Foster Care Futures breakfast brought 70 policy experts from agencies, the Department and academia together to discuss the future directions of foster care in Australia.
Bernie Geary, the Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People, opened the event with a particularly heartfelt acknowledgement of the importance of foster care, while recognising the value of those that volunteer to undertake this crucial role. A transcript of his welcome is available here.
Keynote speaker Marilyn McHugh from the University of NSW delivered a succinct and powerful message for the Victorian government – raise reimbursements. She described how unreasonable it is to ask foster carers ‘to do the job they do but not give them the money to do it’. This was a consistent theme across Foster Care Week, with almost universal acknowledgement of the need to improve financial conditions as a matter of urgency. Victorian reimbursement rates lag dramatically behind the ACT, NSW and Queensland, and sector staff identified this as a fundamental issue needing immediate attention.
Bev Orr from the National Foster Care Association spoke about the important of respecting and recognising our foster carers, reinforcing a key theme identified through the Centre’s research. Feeling disrespected or unrecognised is the leading cause of foster carers dropping out of the system, which further compounds our current shortage of foster households. The emphasis on care team meetings within enhanced models of care (like The Circle Program) has demonstrated improvements to carer attrition, and we will continue to advocate for the expansion of these therapeutic programs.
VACCA’s CEO Muriel Bamblett spoke about the challenges our system faces finding Aboriginal placements for Aboriginal children. One in every six young people living in out-of-home care have an Aboriginal background, which underlines the importance of the Aboriginal Out-of-home Care Plan currently underway.
CEO of Families Australia – Brian Babington – spoke last, raising some practical considerations for our sector since the change of federal government. Positively, he indicated support from the Coalition for a number of programs already underway, but we will have to wait for further action on these issues.
The success of the breakfast has led the Centre to reform the Foster Care Network, which will meet on 2 October to discuss the key themes emerging from the breakfast. If you would like to discuss these issues please contact the Centre on 9614 1577. We will report back on progress next month.