National Volunteer Week 2021

NVW2021 Logo Colour WEB pngNational Volunteer Week (NVW) is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteers. From Monday 17th to Sunday 23rd May 2021, NVW will celebrate the significant contribution of our volunteers who dedicate their time, resources and energy to help others. For none is this more applicable than our Foster Carers. 

Foster carers are volunteers providing a home, family life and care to children and young people who are unable to live safely with their parents. Many of these children have suffered traumatic events and the role of carers is critical for providing these children with a stable and nurturing home environment.

The need for carers has significantly increased in recent years because the number of children entering care has increased to approximately 9000. Regrettably, there are not enough carers available to meet demand with the recruitment of new carers unable to keep pace with the number of carers leaving the system. There are a range of complex reasons for the long term decline in carer numbers including:

 

  •  changes in contemporary volunteering preferences
  •  aging of the carer population
  •  increasing complexity of the needs of children entering care
  • systemic issues impacting carer support and word of mouth recruitment
  • COVID-19 pandemic accelerating and exacerbating the above issues.

 

The FCAV is advocating for the development of a well-rounded carer recruitment strategy that focuses on carer retention as well as recruitment as Victoria moves into the recovery stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The failure to retain experienced carers is costly because it is much cheaper to retain carers than recruit and train new carers.

Preliminary data from the FCAV’s Carer Snapshot 2021 indicates that there has been yet further  decline in the number of active carers and the recruitment of new carers. Further, the number of carers on hold has increased significantly. These three measures of carer numbers tell the same story—that is that the long term decline in the number of carers has likely accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is well recognised that carers on hold are at increased likelihood of exiting the system in the next 12 months.

 

The FCAV supports the Governments recent $5.8m funding of Fostering Connections—which is the sectors foster carer recruitment campaign. There will always be a place for broad based advertising and awareness raising. Nevertheless, the FCAV believes that there is a major gap in the current carer recruitment arrangements because of the failure to properly fund carer retention strategies. To make the most of the carers that are recruited there also needs to be a focus on retaining current experienced carers.

 

It is well recognised that high levels of carer churn are a significant problem. Carer churn is the phenomenon of high attrition rates of existing carers who are in turn replaced by new carers—a large percentage of whom then drop out. High attrition rates are caused by a range of problems which are associated with systems failures related to supporting carers with the things they need to provide the best possible care. These include birth certificates, Medicare cards/number, reliable transport, child care and appropriately funded therapeutic support services.

 

The FCAV estimates that it may cost $10,000-$15,000 to replace a carer when a carer leaves the system*. This is because of the high costs of recruitment which includes advertising, agency referral, information sessions, training and accreditation processes. In addition, future carers may be put off from volunteering because of bad word of mouth. Academic literature is clear that the most effective method of recruitment is positive word of mouth from other carers.

The Government is presently in the process of reactivating the draft Carer Strategy which is intended to address longstanding systemic carer issues. However, the Carer Strategy is presently unfunded. The FCAV has strongly advocated for funding for the Carer Strategy so that effective carer retention programs can be developed and implemented including:

 

  • a help desk to obtain birth certificates
  • speedy provision of medicare numbers
  • timely registration of births and provision of birth certificates
  • passports
  • funding counselling and peer group support networks; and
  • funding of the Client Support Funding Framework (the key funding source for accessing education, health and recreational supports). 

 

The theme for NVW 2021 is Recognise. Reconnect. Reimagine. which acknowledges that it is time to celebrate and thank volunteers for the vital role they play in our lives. Recognising how the sector can better support carers is vital to protect our pool of foster care volunteers. 

 

*based on associated costs outlined in various external reports available on request.