Voice of Carers

 


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Rowan Pulford

 

I’d like to talk to you today about the reasons for supporting carers and how that can drive positive change in the child protection system. I’m currently working for Foster Care Association with DHHS and funded by Ministers office on a Carer Support Strategy which will look at how the department can more effectively support foster carers.

 

While there are strategies to support volunteers in other sectors this will be the first time that a strategy has been developed in the child protection system anywhere in Australia. So it’s both new and innovative.

 

And why do we need a carer support strategy? The answer to that is because it makes sense on every level. Understanding the problems carer’s experience in getting simple decisions made can lead to better and more efficient design of administrative practices.

 

Supported and satisfied carers are more likely to be retained. And retained carers are more likely to improve recruitment outcomes through positive word of mouth. And perhaps most importantly of all, higher carer satisfaction is in the best interests of the child because it is more likely to lead to positive, stable and life enhancing placements. So understanding, supporting and responding to carer’s needs is in everyone’s interests.

 

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Jen Borrelli

 

I have been a foster carer for 13 years. I have had my 17 year old foster daughter with a disability in my care for 2.5yrs. As a single parent on one income with no care allowance or supports we have to face the prospect of her going to a group care home once she turns 18.

 

That will cost four times what it would cost to continue to support her in my care until she is 21.

 

I’m sad to be a part of foster care right now. The decisions being made across the sector seem to be based on the quickest way of ticking boxes with no consideration of the lives and homes these decisions effect.

 

This is one thing that could be done to support her to gain independence into adulthood. I call on the Government to extend care until the age of 21 urgently for all young people in care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marita Dunphy

 

Having built a long term relationship with a child who came into my care as a regular respite placement, returning home and in and out of residential accommodation, I have seen the impacts of the uncertainty and lack of routine.

 

She is now 24, and has been unable to firmly establish herself with secure accommodation and employment.

 

These days, families are providing for children to 25 years of age, however transition preparation for children in home based care commences at 15 – and the reality is that no young person is ready for those conversations.

 

The research is in – there have been 6 studies in 7 years nationally, and 4 global studies. 

 

Other countries have extended the age to 21 years and yet Australia is lagging 20 years behind. I have recently heard young people express that they feel as though they are being 'sent into the world with a blindfold on'.

 

We need to start thinking in terms of interdependence not independence. The Roadmap to Reform needs to assist the next generation as part of its plan for early intervention. Otherwise it’s just a recurring cycle. 

 

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Debbie Green

 

My husband and I have three adult birth children, and we were  accredited foster carers almost three years ago. We immediately commenced our fostering journey with three aboriginal children, (we affectionately call our earth children) with varying disabilities, trauma and complex needs.

 

From our experiences carers face the real threat of placement breakdowns, and stress due to lack of funding and support systems currently in place in Victoria.

 

Carers need a professional program of volunteer and paid respite carers who are trained in trauma and behaviour management and disabilities, to give carers a much needed social life and time out. 

With the increasing awareness and diagnosis of trauma, disabilities and of foetal alcohol syndrome, especially in regional areas, among children in care, we need more funding to help them reach their full potential. The shortfall in that funding comes out of the unpaid carers reimbursement or own financial pocket, to avoid the child or children in our care missing out. 

It’s not just about the funding, but we need a simpler way of accessing funds and supports.

 

Foster Caring isn’t just a job, it’s an unpaid 24/7 role we choose to undertake, and see the smiles, and joy as our chosen children develop into productive young adults in our community. 

Increasing leaving care until age 21 is vital for most young people in foster care, especially for those at risk of homelessness, mental health, disabilities who function well under their biological age. It should be a top priority in the budget. However, having  more trained respite services, more trained agency and DHHS staff and a simpler system, would mean our role on the front line, and being vital ‘boots on the ground’ is made easier and more sustainable.

 

Please fix the system that’s meant to support us so we can get on with the 24/7 caring and repairing of the hearts and souls, of our most vulnerable children, who have most desperately lacked stability, connection, care, security already.

 

Our history is not our destiny.

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Megan Sadlier

 

My husband and I have been Foster Carer’s for 5 years. We recently moved Foster Care agency to VACCA, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency.

 

We made this move because we believe that best outcomes Aboriginal children in care comes from stability, grounded in their identity in connection with family, kin, country, culture and community. Across Australia 37% of children and young people in home based care are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

 

Closer to home, in Victoria 18% of our Aboriginal children and youth in care cannot be placed with kith or kin and must live in our Foster Care system. It is therefore critical at this time when foster carers, alongside the children in their care, are transitioning to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (known as ACCO’s), that we are able to rely on the growing investment in the capacity of these Agencies.

 

We need to feel confident that ACCO’s are suitably skilled, adequately resourced, have the human resources and are empowered to support us and the children in our care.

 

Today we seek assurance from current and future Governments that increasing investment is guaranteed to meet this challenge.

 

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Sue Anne Hunter 

 

I’m a proud Wurundjeri woman, a single mother and a foster carer.

 

I stand here today to acknowledge the Government’s commitment to Aboriginal Controlled Community Organisations and to also acknowledge the Government’s adherence to the best interest principles of Aboriginal children in Aboriginal care.

 

This is the most funding we’ve seen from Government and it will enable us to implement policies to better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in care. We now have a real opportunity to keep our kids culturally strong and proud.

 

We need continued support to keep our Boorai safe in culture and connected to their community.

 

We endorse the signing of the Wungurilwil Gapgapduir - Aboriginal Children and Families Agreement between Aboriginal Agencies and Family Services Agencies.

 

We look forward to more detail on the funding of services that guide culturally safe and informed foster care for all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people.

 

 

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Bev Rothwell

 

My husband and I are both retirees and have been foster carers for 3 years. We are enthusiastic about being foster carers and have been from when we first started but we have had so many challenges since then.

 

It’s not looking after the child that’s the problem, it’s the facilitation of it that is so complicated. Delayed decision making incorrect paperwork and inconsistencies are time consuming and frustrating.

 

We tried to get one child in our care into childcare. The Kindergarten said they wouldn’t accept the booking until they received assurance they would get timely paperwork and payment by DHHS. We waited 6 weeks for that decision and paperwork to be supplied with correct information. It took so much time we lost our placement for the child and had to go on a waiting list. On agency instructions we eventually got the child in for two days a week, paying the $100 registration fee out of our pocket. When a decision finally did come back DHHS allocated funds only covered 1 day a week so we had to pay out of our pocket the $114 a week for the second day of care for a month as the childcare centre need a months’ notice withdraw the registration, totalling over $440. After the child left our care, the centre continued to ring and send us emails harassing us about payment which DHHS was very tardy in making. The whole payment issue was very stressful.

 

There is an expectation of us as carers that we need to provide care beyond reproach in our role, but if we want something funded from the system it appears to be unable to meet reasonable requirements for the child in a timely manner.”

 

This isn’t working for carers.

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Kerryn Heazle

 

I’ve been a foster carer for 4 years now.

It’s easy to care for the children who come into my care. What’s not easy is feeling powerless and witnessing the systems around them let them down. As a carer I’m also sick of being undervalued. I’m an educated, intelligent person with a PhD who has chosen, in addition to working full time, to care for vulnerable young people with complex needs.  But I’m treated worse than a glorified babysitter. My input isn’t valued. I am the person that knows the children the best, but my opinions and ideas are rarely sought.

 

The 6 year old currently in my care has been with me since just before Christmas last year. When he arrived his speech was so compromised that he had major issues communicating. I immediately recognised that he needed a speech therapist especially as he was due to start prep at school in February.

 

Over the Christmas closure period I wasn’t assigned a worker but I said to the agency “you cannot send him to school like this.” The response came back that no, they wouldn’t fund speech therapy as it was an ‘intervention’. I was astounded and horrified by this verdict and believed this to be purely a financial decision.

Well, I couldn’t send him to school like that. With that lack of communication, he was at risk of bullying and falling behind from day one.

 

In the first speech session I took him to, the therapist showed him how to make the sound come out of his mouth instead of his nose and he became coherent almost overnight.

All throughout January I took him to 2 sessions a week costing me $180 per week and continued to push for approval to do so. In frustration I ended up contacting the FCAV, and after their advocacy with the agency and DHHS, I was finally given permission for his therapy but with the caveat that I continue to pay for it myself.

 He still attends weekly speech therapy, which fortunately is now funded by an Autism package which I manage, and his progress is outstanding. He is performing above the expected standard for reading at school, is confident and there have been no social issues with his peers.

 

I have also had to organise psychology support myself as we are still on the waiting list for SECASA after a referral being made over 12 months ago.

I am so angry that services that these children need are either denied or not accessible in a timely fashion. For this child who has so much potential and for all of the others in care, I will not roll-over or be silenced or accept the status quo of a broken system. I refuse to give up until things change.  

 

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Genevieve Mercieca

 

I have 9 children. Three biological children, 4 young Permanent Care children, and 2 boys who have aged out of Permanent Care.

 

I am new with my support to this project because I always believed that when the boys finished school they could either enter the workforce, or study and work part time to assist with their living costs.

 

I am now in the situation that one of the boys is currently at Melbourne University studying pre-medicine (we are very proud of him) but his study load precludes him from part time work, and the other is Autistic and will still be in High School until he is nearly 20! and will need our long term support to eventually gain independent living.

 

Given that most foster carers are in our situation – not high income earners and likely to continue fostering other children in need, extending the government’s financial support to 21 would seem to be necessary to give children the very best start in life (the barest minimum that they deserve!)

 

Jesse

I’m 19, meaning I aged out of foster care a year ago. Nonetheless, I’ve been with my foster family for just over 15 years. I would love to share with you my feelings on foster care.

For me foster care always meant so much more than just having a roof over my head and food on my plate. Foster care has really allowed me to be myself, to forget about my past and to achieve everything that I am capable of. By the way I don’t agree with the terminology that is used - Out of Home Care. For me, in foster care, I found my home.

I graduated high school last year and am now studying a Bachelor of Biomedicine at Melbourne University, a course I have dreamt of since I was 15. My intentions are to complete a medical degree and spend the rest of my life helping people.

I am often told that the success I pays a very strong homage to the power of the foster care system, and while I do believe this I have never felt that the title of ‘a success story’ fits my life. Honestly, I just feel like a normal kid, and that is only possible because of positive experience in foster care.

Whenever I am complimented on anything, my foster parents always like to joke that I inherited it form them, and, while they are joking I really do feel that I did get everything from them. They taught me how to treat people properly, how to live my life with respect, how to not let my past consume me, and how to love the people around me. I would never have accomplished anything without their endless support.

 

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They gave me so much more than just a home. Foster care gave me the ability to do anything I’ve ever wanted, it’s allowed me to live happily and forget about my past. Foster care is a part of me, but only in the best of ways.

Not every child is as lucky as I am, and few have the on-going support that I do. That support after 18 should not be random or discretionary – it should be available to all young people, regardless of whether they are at school, university, looking for a job, with a foster family, kinship carer or leaving residential care.

I’m 19, I achieved high results at high school and have always had the support of the people around me but even I don’t feel ready to leave home.

The law stating that foster care ends at 18 is old-fashioned and out of date. It is based on a time when the economy was different and people got married, had families and left home earlier. Now the cost of education, rent and living away from home mean young people need to stay at home for much longer.

My biological mother was a victim of the foster care system, so was I, and without my positive care experience, my children probably would have been also. Too often the need for foster care is a cycle, with generations being stuck in the system. The key to breaking this cycle isn’t expecting children to be independent at 18. The true key is looking after our young people, not just for their generation, but also for the generations that follow them.