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February 27th, 2024

Victorian foster carers still waiting for major allowance increase

The state government was urged to make major changes to the foster system last year, now 12 months on carers are quitting in droves.

Herald Sun, February 13, 2023 - 6:00AM

Kieran Rooney

A confidential report that called for Victorian foster carers to receive a major increase in their allowances has now been sitting with the government for a year, despite calls to act urgently on its findings and support the struggling child protection system.

Advocates have warned financial pressure is forcing carers out of the system in droves and putting more pressure on other overworked parts of the system.

Sections of an independent report by KPMG provided to the Andrews government, seen by the Herald Sun, recommend a 67 per cent increase in the total amount the state pays to foster carers.

The state has had the report since January last year but so far has refused to release it, citing it as cabinet-in-confidence.

The document shows Victoria lags behind Queensland and NSW in what is paid to foster carers in lower care brackets.

Under the current system, more money provided to carers looking after children with complex needs and payments are ranked across five levels.

KPMG’S report argues for flattening these levels to address financial difficulties and boost the total amount paid to carers.

It estimates this would have cost about $114m in the 2021 financial year, taking the annual spend to $285m.

The state government was sent a confidential report and urged to act on changes last year.

As cost of living bites, the government is again facing pressure to act on its findings.

Foster Care Association of Victoria chief executive Samantha Hauge called for a significant boost to the allowance and a simplified process.

She said the vast majority of carers were given the lowest payment tier but the needs of these children were often “grossly underestimated”.

‘Level 1 and 2 allowance rates are set well below the costs of living expected for an average child in Victoria,” Ms Hauge said.

“Unfortunately for many of our state’s foster carers that use of their own household budget to cover the real costs of care is not sustainable and we see an exodus of carers as rates rise and costs of living soar.”
Ms Hauge said shortages in carers, particularly in the regions, meant decisions were being made about who was available and not always what was in the child’s best interest.

In worst case scenarios, children were going into crisis accommodation or residential care.

“We hear about young people who end up having to commute two hours a day to school to remain connected with some of the only stable relationships they have in life,” Ms Hauge said.

Opposition child protection spokesman Matt Bach said the allowance needed to be lifted.

“I am biased but I think foster carers are saints,” he said.

“I started my life in foster care so I know the amazing work that they do

“At the moment, the foster care allowance doesn’t even cover basic essentials or the dentist’s bill and that has to change.”

The foster allowance increases each financial year and in July 2022 rose by 2 per cent.

For the same period, inflation in Melbourne rose by 6.1 per cent.

A state government spokeswoman said the state acknowledged the critical role of carers.

“Victorian children and families have access to more support services through a $2.8bn investment in the Child Protection and Family Services system over the last three budgets.”

Speaking to the media on Monday, Housing Minister Colin Brooks said investing in the state’s child protection sector was a key priority for the government.

“The Premier has indicated that child protection will be a key priority for him…so we’ll be looking forward to seeing what we’re able to do in the next few months,” he said.

Mr Brooks, who served as Child Protection and Family Services Minister between June and December last year, would not say if allowances for foster carers should be increased.

“I think we always need to be working with foster carers and kinship carers,” Mr Brooks said.

“We should definitely continue to listen to them and work with them about how we can best support them.

“I know that the Andrews government invested more than $2.8bn, in our last term, in child protection and the at home care sector — trying to reform that sector to prevent children coming into contact with the child protection system, to provide the supports early to families — so they don’t end up in crisis and we don’t see them in child protection or see them in out of home care.”

Journalists responded to a Campaign media release featuring a front page article in The Age December 3, 2023. With many thanks to Leigh and Bek Stevens, carers in Bendigo and Fiona and Mike Te Wierik, carers in Narre Warren, for outlining the impact of the low care allowance on their caring role. Thanks also to the over 50 carer submitters to the campaign who volunteered to be interviewed. Read in full here: https://amp.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/foster-carers-leaving-system-as-cost-of-living-low-allowance-bites-20231202-p5eohv.html 

Article paywalled text:  

Foster carers leaving system as cost of living, low allowance bites

By Kieran Rooney

December 2, 2023 — 7.30pm

Victorian foster carers receive the lowest base payment of any state in Australia, with the sector losing nearly twice as many carers as it recruits. Families looking after the state’s vulnerable children warn that the rising cost of living is forcing them to reconsider whether they can take them on and calling for an increase to the allowance. Michael te Wierik and partner Fiona have cared for more than 70 foster children. Data collected by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that 621 households exited the foster care system in 2020-21, while 317 were recruited. Foster Carer Association of Victoria (FCAV) figures collected in March 2023 show there was a 26 per cent drop in people going through the accreditation process. When combined with people leaving the system, this meant there were 100 fewer households available for placements this year. Michael te Wierik, who was Victoria’s Father of the Year in 2022, and his partner Fiona have cared for more than 70 foster children over 16 years. The Narre Warren father backs FCAV’s push to raise the rates because people are struggling with cost of living and taking on children is a big decision that’s not always appreciated by government and the community.

“If the remuneration was a bit more tailored to what was going on in the real world, and then people will probably be more inclined to do it,” te Wierik said. Victorian carers are paid the lowest base rate of any state, starting with $435 a fortnight for children seven and under. That rises to $450 per fortnight for those aged between eight and 10 and $499.90 from 11 to 12. The ACT, New South Wales and Queensland all pay more than $600 a fortnight for carers looking after children older than six. Western Australia’s base rates are closest to Victoria’s at $435 a fortnight for children six and under – but this rises to $512 for children between seven and 12.

FCAV chief executive Samantha Hauge said the care allowance needed to be urgently increased because it did not cover the day-to-day costs of caring for a child. “Victoria’s allowance rates are the lowest in the country by significant margins,” she said. “A Victorian carer of a child up to seven years of age only receives $217.80 per week to cover general household, education and health expenses. Many kinship, foster and permanent carers are forced to use their own money to pay for care expenses.″ Hauge said the allowance was too low before cost of living became a major issue, but the problem had gone beyond manageable levels over the past two years.

“In both the 2022 and 2023 financial years the Care Allowance was only indexed by 2 per cent when household inflation was over 6 per cent on both years, with the consequence that the already low care allowance has declined in real value. Hauge said Victoria was losing good carers as a consequence. “In fact, double the number that can be recruited year-on-year and vastly more than any jurisdiction around the country – there is no doubt about this causal relationship,” she said. “Carers are leaving the system because funding is slow to catch up to their real needs, and they simply cannot afford to continue this volunteer role. Financial and support imposts are also a barrier to carers entering the system.” The state government in January 2022 received a commissioned report from consulting firm KPMG that has not been released publicly, but The Sunday Age has seen parts of it. It backed a 67 per cent increase to the total amount paid to foster carers. It would have cost $114 million in the 2021 financial year if implemented, but the state government has not adopted the recommendation.

Bendigo carer Leigh Stevens said cost of living pressures had forced him and his partner Bek to think about their capacity to be part of the system. They have looked after 14 children over seven years.

“Any foster carer will say they don’t do it for the money,” he said. “This is the first time that we’ve really had to sit down and question whether it’s something that we can continue to do. “It is a topic of conversation that we never thought we’d have to have. Tossing up what the future looks like in our foster caring. Because everything’s just so expensive now.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing said it provided a range of support to kinship, foster and permanent carers and that the allowance was indexed annually.

"We continue to work with relevant stakeholders on further opportunities to support foster carers," she said. In May this year, carers were also able to access a $650 supplement payment for each child in their care.

Kieran Rooney is a Victorian state political reporter at The Age.

The Campaign story was then syndicated and featured on Channel 7 news:

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