12.0 The provision of foster payments in Australia from the carer
This section of the document provides comments on carers’
experiences in receiving care provider payments, subsidies and allowances.
The comments included have been drawn from carers and carer associations
throughout Australia. The inclusion of a comment does not necessarily
mean the situation applies throughout Australia, but rather that
it is a significant issue for a particular group of carers. The
comments are made in good faith as honest feedback and as an attempt
to identify issues carers believe need to be addressed and modified
in today’s care system.
Looking after children is expensive. Looking after foster children
is even more expensive. Carers who have monitored their own expenses
in caring for and raising children claim that foster children are
at least 50% more expensive to raise than their own children.
AFCA believes that:
- carers very strongly believe that children in care are the moral,
legal and financial responsibility of the State/ Territory government
- NOT the carers;
- carers should be fairly compensated for the challenging role
they undertake; and
- subsidies and allowances made to carers should reflect the real
costs of providing foster care for a child or young person.
Carers want to provide a professional quality standard of care
for foster children and young people, and do not generally expect
a “professional” salary to do this. Carers do, however,
expect and need adequate, full and prompt reimbursement of out-of-pocket
expenses. They also require increased payments to cover actual everyday
costs of providing care, so that they do not have to meet these
out of their own pockets. Payment of subsidies and allowances should
also recognise the specialist skills of carers and the skills they
are required to use in providing for children from difficult backgrounds,
with challenging behaviours or special needs or disabilities.
Carers are prepared to sacrifice their privacy, and give freely
of their personal time and effort, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,
to achieve positive outcomes and quality care for the children and
young people in their care.
Often carers become long-term parents by default because of delays
in the system which have extended placements well beyond the originally
agreed limit. They are then caught by their affection for, and obligation
to, the children in their care. The decision to take on children
long-term in these cases, therefore, was not informed by full knowledge
of the financial commitment this entails.
12.1 Basis of payments
Many States and Territories have based their payment regimes on
Lovering’s estimates. Lovering’s estimates were regularly
updated and published until 1999 by the Australian Institute of
Family Studies. Since then three models have been used to determine
the costs of children. Two of these used data derived from the Australian
Bureau of Statistics Household Expenditure Survey, to identify what
is spent on children by choice to estimate the costs of children.
The third model , developed by the Budget Standards Unit (BSU),
of the Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW, has identified the goods
and services needed by a variety of households to establish the
costs of children. This last method was used to inform the NSW government
in making their most recent carer payment variations.
As at June 2001, a study on the costs of children in care is being
finalised using the BSU method. In this study, the standard costs
have been unpacked and re-packed specifically for the foster care
sector. Extensive testing of the estimates throughout Australia
has also been conducted to ensure their validity. Carers are looking
forward to the publication of this study so that the discussion
on the costs of children in care and carer payments is better informed
and concerns can be addressed.
12.2 “Payment” terminology
There is a range of terminology used throughout the sector to describe
the payment of subsidies, allowances, re-imbursements etc. Some
of these terms are specific, others are interchangeable.
There are carers experiencing difficulties when foster payments
and allowances have been described as ‘pay’ on the statements
they have to produce to establish a proof of income, entitlement
eligibility or tax status with financial institutions, the Australian
Taxation Office or at the time of applying for benefits available
through Centrelink and State housing authorities. As payment of
subsidies, allowances and re-imbursements are usually considered
to be tax-free and not to be declared as income, the careful description
of direct credits to carers’ bank accounts and on other similar
documents would significantly ease the administrative difficulties
for these carers.
12.3 Uniformity in payments
There is no uniformity across the nation in policy formulation
or in the application of policy relating to the provision of payments
and allowances. Carers encourage the development of a more realistic
and equitable national model to address this concern with, hopefully,
a clear drawing together of all the issues. In the interim, carers
also encourage a more consistent approach to the determination of
the components of the standard allowances.
12.4 Payment of “real” costs
Carers recognise that there are various formulae used throughout
Australia for determining the payment of allowances for children
in care. We note that these formulae are generally based on a “normal”
child’s needs. Carers also accept that there are economies
of scale that can be achieved when there is more than one person
in the family unit. However, foster children are not ‘normal’
children with ‘normal’ children’s needs. By virtue
of being in care they have additional needs. These needs usually
translate into needs for additional services, additional clothing
(see 12.19), special equipment and more.
Carers also note that whilst the “basket of goods”
figures are often quoted as the basis for determining the carer
allowance rates, there are items not included in this approach which
carers in various States are expected to absorb within their basic
allowance. These include to varying degrees: housing; transport;
school fees, transport and uniforms; child care; medical and dental
expenses. It is of concern to carers that the number of carers is
not keeping up with the demand for placements. One of the major
reasons for this is the inadequate, late or non-existent reimbursement
of the real costs carers incur. In other words, the standard subsidy
is not meeting the basic costs of care.
12.5 Access to allowances
This document provides details of a range of allowances and entitlements
available to support a foster placement. Evidence from the 2000
national carers’ survey suggests, however, that carers often
do not access many of the allowances and entitlements available
to them. This is either through lack of knowledge about them, or
because of the difficulty in gaining approval to access them. If
Departments and agencies actively supported and facilitated carers
to access such allowances and entitlements, carer disillusionment
with the current systems and carer resignation rates could be significantly
reduced. Volunteers in other sectors usually claim re-imbursement
for such activities as a matter of course. Carers would appreciate
the same practices being extended to them.
12.6 Carers’ administration costs
Carers regularly incur significant incidental costs associated
with placements. These include phone calls, postage and emails;
and transport to and from case conferences, care planning meetings,
court hearings, access/contact, training, support meetings and consultations.
These costs are obviously higher in rural areas (see 12.23). Generally,
these costs are ignored or the items are expected to be absorbed
within the standard subsidy.
12.7 “Normal” children
Currently standard allowances and subsidies are based on the costs
associated with “normal” children. However, the majority
of children coming into care are not “normal”. These
children are in care because they have special needs, often as a
result of negative experiences and abuse experienced prior to being
removed from their families, or through not having their own family.
In reality, children in care have a range of specialist medical,
educational, developmental and psychological needs which are in
addition to those of the “normal” child. These may have
occurred as a consequence of the abuse/ deprivation suffered prior
to entry into care or, they may be the result of being taken into
care. Some of these problems may not be apparent at the time of
placement and may manifest themselves several years later. For example,
issues of abandonment and self-identity commonly arise at adolescence
for children in care. These needs require considerable time, skills
and financial resources from carers. Existing payment scales do
not acknowledge or compensate for this.
Furthermore, studies have shown that these children are more seriously
affected than in the past and carers comment that the children display
more ‘challenging behaviours’ than previously. These
children require considerable time, skills and financial resources
to overcome their early histories.
In particular, children in care are often in need of extensive
and extended counselling compared to their cohorts. Generally speaking,
they are also educationally disadvantaged and may need extra tutoring
or special programs at school. Social skills may be underdeveloped
and inclusion in after-school activities or other sporting/recreational
activities is encouraged to assist them to develop their potential.
All the above require financial input, either directly through
the payment of fees or charges or indirectly through transport costs,
equipment or uniform expenses.
Carers are prepared to facilitate the meeting of these children’s
needs but do not consider that they should be expected to meet them
either in part or in full from their own pockets. Carers have also
reported examples of special needs for a child being paid for by
the “State” in one placement, but not in a subsequent
placement for the same child, even though the needs remain unchanged.
Provision of foster care for sibling groups is recognised as a
particular challenge for the sector. There is a limited supply of
carers who are willing and able to take on such groups. Many carers
are supported when they do take on such placements with special
supports, services and facilities being put in place in recognition
of the additional demands being placed on the carers. The goodwill
of the carers is sorely tested, however, when such supports are
then withdrawn without the carers’ agreement, while the carers
are expected to continue to maintain the placement.
12.8 Payment reliability
Carers generally receive payments on a fortnightly basis. There
appear to be few problems with this system for carers with established
and settled placements.
Delays and short payments do occur, however, with crisis/emergency
payments and sometimes with shared care arrangements. Discretionary
payments and mutually agreed out-of-pocket expenses reimbursements
often take much longer than two weeks to be received and can extend
to in excess of six months.
12.9 Commonwealth government payments
In some States and Territories carer payments are reduced or ceased
once a child in care receives a Commonwealth payment on a regular
basis, particularly those relating to Youth Allowance and Disability
Allowances. Carers have reported that whilst this may be a positive
step towards a young person becoming independent, it often disadvantages
the carers financially. They still have to provide for the care
for the young person, do not always receive the board component
of the allowance, and lose the “fringe” benefits/entitlements
associated with the previous form of payment and which are not available
under the new payment method.
Furthermore, some carers have reported significant reductions in
the joint net income of carers and the young person in care when
such practices occur. Some of these have been the vicinity of $10
000 per annum, when a Commonwealth payment is received and a State/Territory
payment is either reduced or ceased. Such actions have created tensions
within placements or even destabilised them. The need for the young
person to negotiate with the carer on issues such as board has created
In some States where State payments cease when a Commonwealth payment
is received, despite the fact that the Commonwealth payment is not
meant to cover all the items the State payment previously covered.
The disadvantages experienced by carers are significantly greater
for those carers on lower incomes and pensions than they are for
those who are supporting a placement through higher wages and other
independent sources of income. Neither group should have to supplement
the carer allowance to the extent they do.
12.10 Mutual obligation
Carers provide foster care on a 24-hour a day, 7 day a week, basis
for the duration of a placement. If a child attends school, carers
are often occupied during the ‘child free’ part of their
day undertaking roles to support the child’s placement. These
include attending meetings and appointments, assisting at schools,
arranging appointments for the child and other activities associated
with disturbed or traumatised behaviours. Some carers report they
have an agreement with the school to be available to collect the
child from school during school hours in case of difficult behaviour.
For older children who for some reason are not attending school,
there are just as many demands placed on the carers to ensure the
safety of the young person, attending therapy, counselling, alternative
It is therefore disappointing to see that the Commonwealth government
does not recognise a foster carer’s contribution to society
for mutual obligation purposes. There are numerous examples of cases
where carers are placing foster children into occasional day care
or making other child care arrangements, often at the carer’s
own expense, simply so that the carer can perform their additional
voluntary work obligations ‘outside the home’ as is
12.11 Means testing
Carers do not support the means testing of their own incomes to
determine a child’s eligibility for a Commonwealth payment.
Most children coming into the care system are eligible for Commonwealth
entitlements prior to placement, and again on return to their own
families. During a placement, either the parent(s), or the State/Territory
are the guardians of these children, not the carers. It is therefore
inappropriate to apply a means test to the foster child’s
temporary carers to determine a foster child’s continued eligibility
for payments. Carers strongly believe that the financial burden
for covering the suspended entitlement whilst in care should not
be left to the ‘volunteer’ to pick up. They commend
the one State which makes a payment to their carers to compensate
12.12 Access to Health Care Cards
Most children coming into care have been listed on a Health Care
Card prior to placement. Before 1 July 2001 this entitlement was
not routinely transferred with the child. Carers were then required
to re-apply for a HCC and be means tested (see means testing above)
to determine if the child should retain their entitlement. The ability
to access such an entitlement facilitates significant savings on
the costs of medications for the foster child. In some states it
also allows the child to access state benefits such as Education
Maintenance Allowance, pre-school fee relief and free Ambulance
travel. Carers welcome the recent Commonwealth government initiative
to make Health Care Cards available to all foster children in their
12.13 Family contact / access
Carers’ report they are often expected to cover the costs
associated with family contact and access from their regular allowance,
or from their own pockets, despite most States having a policy of
covering such costs. These costs can include travel, accommodation,
food, spending money for the child during access, and compensation
for lost income whilst attending, supervising or transporting a
child to contact / access. These costs often vary from one visit
to the next and therefore need to be identified and provided for
as separate payments, not from the carers’ own pockets. Carers
also regularly report that they have incurred additional costs when
visits fail due to a ‘no show’ by the birth parent(s),
or when visits are cut short without notice. There is a need for
a better balance between facilitating contact / access, completing
the required paperwork and carers not being out of pocket for such
Carers do not agree with the practice occurring in some agencies/departments
of ceasing the payment of their care allowance during contact /
access visits which extend over night but are not of a significantly
longer duration. Carers still have to meet the ongoing costs associated
with maintaining the placement and often providing for the daily
child’s needs. Carers also have to put in additional effort
to facilitate the access by preparing the child (even when the child
does not wish to attend), supporting the contact / access whilst
it is occurring through phone calls and visits; provision of food,
medications, nappies and other special needs; collecting the child
early if necessary, and then restabilising the child on its return
to the foster home. When such events occur repeatedly, carers develop
the belief that they are being used, physically and emotionally.
They are also financially penalised for having to put in even more
effort on these occasions. Perhaps some form of a “carer retainer”
payment could be made on such occasions.
12.14 Child support
Carers have reported instances where workers have pressured the
carers to claim child support payments from custodial parents where
they have been in receipt of a child support payment from a non-custodial
parent. Such impositions on carers are inappropriate and beyond
the scope of the carers voluntary role and legal status.
12.15 Mileage allowance
All carer associations have reported that the figures provided
earlier in this document do not reflect actual practice at the coal
face. Mileage payments, when made, are usually lower.
An equity issue also exists in the payment of mileage allowances
to carers as opposed to workers to transport a child to contact
/ access or appointments. Carers report that they are receiving
a nominal or significantly reduced mileage allowance for transporting
a child in their own vehicle when compared with paid workers who
receive standard public service rates or significantly higher rates
than the carers. There are also issues associated with paperwork
requirements, and complex and demanding approval processes. Allowances,
where pursued, are often not being paid in a timely manner or for
the full amount agreed to in a case plan.
12.16 Respite Care
Carers consider they should have access to respite care without
having to pay for it themselves. This should be seen as an integral
part of supporting the placement and be a part of the case plan.
Carers report dissatisfaction with the practice occurring in some
agencies/departments/States of ceasing the payment of their care
allowance during respite periods. As in the case of short access
visits, they still have ongoing costs associated with maintaining
the placement, providing for the child’s daily needs and replacing
shoes and clothing not returned with the child. This is particularly
so in short periods of respite of 2-3 days. Respite care is also
used at times by carers to repair or restore the home to a “normal”
state because they are unable to do this when the child is in the
home. The arguments for retaining some form of “carer retainer”
payment as suggested above (see 12.13) apply to both access visits
and to respite care.
12.17 Discretionary payments
There have been variations reported in the payment of discretionary
payments in all parts of Australia and in the processing of discretionary
payments. Reasons for variations include, different workers (even
within the same office or organisation); different locations within
a State or organisation; varying interpretations of policy documents;
and timing within the budgetary cycle. Insufficient funds and competing
priorities for existing funds, for example school camp vs tutoring
or essential orthodontic treatment for another child, are also cited.
It is apparent that with budgets facing more and more constraints
over time, an increasing number of children’s’ needs
of a discretionary nature are not being met.
12.18 CPI increases
It is very rare for the full CPI increase to be passed on in carers’
payments and allowances. The reality is that many carers receive
a portion of the increase or no increase at all. An inequity exists
here in that workers and residential carers are more likely to receive
a greater or full flow on of the increase in their salaries. Also
of concern has been the lack of any regular CPI adjustment to subsidies
and allowances prior to the introduction of the GST, thus discounting
the real value of the GST compensation.
12.19 Clothing, foot wear and leisure goods
Carers regularly report that they have difficulty in meeting the
real costs of the child or young person in care. Of particular note
is clothing and footwear, particularly when a child comes into a
placement with none, fails to return from access or contact with
their belongings, or when the child or young person is experiencing
rapid growth spurts. Foster children also tend to be harder on clothing
and footwear and less respectful of their belongings. The flow on
impact of the GST on clothing, leisure activities and goods has
also added to the costs burden for carers at a rate higher than
was generally compensated for.
12.20 Education and school expenses
Some carers report satisfaction with the payment of costs associated
with schooling, but others report difficulties in claiming payments,
whether they are mandatory or discretionary. In general, many carers
consider there is scope for a more equitable arrangement to be made
to cover the costs of school uniforms (annually or as necessary),
tutoring, subject fees and levies, school photos, school sport and
extra curricular activities, excursions and trips. The criteria
should be the benefit to the child, irrespective of the cost.
Carers do not support the practice encouraged in some agencies/departments
of encouraging a child in care to take the “cheapest”
study package option available. They support every child selecting
the package which will best meet the child’s future needs,
regardless of the cost structure.
12.21 Medical, specialist, dental, pharmaceutical, counselling,
ambulance and hospital
Carers generally use the free health system whenever possible or
on departmental insistence. However, carers nationally have reported
major difficulties in accessing public health services due to long
waiting lists and geographical difficulties. This has in turn resulted
in delays for those requiring treatment. Lack of timely access to
some services, such as counselling, is also resulting in placement
breakdown when carers are unable to sustain the effort required
to assist a child or young person with major unresolved issues.
Many carers with private health insurance are prepared to add foster
children in longer term or permanent placement to their health cover.
The goodwill of this gesture is lost, however, when carers are unable
to recover costs associated with legitimate items not covered by
Medicare or health funds, gap expenses, and transport costs to and
from appointments. Carers believe that the provision of these payments
should be mandatory and not left to carers’ own resources.
Many departments and agencies provide Hepatitis B and other necessary
vaccinations free of charge to their carer families. Some, however,
expect carers to meet these significant costs themselves. Carers
are of the view that their risk of exposure to such diseases is
significantly higher because of their carer role. Such costs should,
therefore, be met in full by the appropriate agency or government.
12.22 Variations between government and/or non-government agencies
Variations in payments frequently occur between government and/or
non-government agencies. Non-government agencies sometimes “top
up” allowances and pay additional allowances to meet the real
cost of children and young people in care. Non-government agencies
often use independent sources of funding to do this. Carers are
very grateful for this support from the non-government agencies
as the money is being used to benefit the child, but also carers
regret the relative disadvantage experienced by the children in
the government systems.
12.23 Rural and remote location needs
Rural carers face higher costs both in monetary terms and those
associated with ‘lost’ time compared with their metropolitan
counterparts. This is due to factors linked to distance and the
subsequent costs of travel and communication. Distances travelled
for foster care activities such as access, education, specialist
services and meetings are greater, as is the cost of fuel. Telephone
charges are often higher, with community and STD calls charged on
time and distance. Carers often need to contact workers who use
mobile phones, as they are often ‘on the road’. Regional
Department offices are also often sited in major towns or regional
centres. Furthermore, rural carers pay higher prices for basic items
such as food.
Access to, and availability of, specialist health and some educational
services is also limited in many rural areas. This, in turn, increases
travel expenses to major centres.
12.24 Kinship care
Carers recognise the principle of kinship or relative care is a
sound option for a child or young person who is unable to live with
its own family. At present many kinship carers receive little or
no support from within the formal foster care system. Carer Associations
are concerned that the kinship/relative carers are not receiving
the same amount of information, training and support as mainstream
foster carers in providing care for children and young people who
often have special needs and challenging behaviours. Of particular
concern is the high number of grandparents on age pensions providing
care for demanding and challenging young relatives without support
from foster care departments and agencies. This increases the potential
for these placements to break down and further damage the younger
12.25 Protection and damage to carers’ property
An ongoing concern to carers in most States/Territories relates
to the wear and tear and damage caused to their property (home,
contents and vehicles) as a direct result of their involvement in
foster care. Most children in care have little respect for others
property and belongings. This is shown by the number of insurance
claims made by carers for damage to belongings, houses and vehicles
which are directly attributable to foster children. Insurance companies
regularly refuse carers’ claims for damage caused by children
in care to carer’s property as these children have been ‘invited
into the home’ and therefore deemed to be under the control
of the policy holder. Where claims have been allowed, carers are
then further disadvantaged by a loss of ‘no claim bonus’.
12.26 Legal protection
Carers are concerned about their own legal liability. Their status
varies from State to State. With the trend to an ever-increasing
litigious society, carers are particularly concerned about their
legal status, their legal liabilities and indemnification. The potential
exists for them to lose everything they have, simply for the sake
of performing a ‘volunteer’ role.
Another issue relates to the harassment of carers by the members
and associates of the foster child’s family. Carers are being
advised by agencies and departments to pursue their own legal recourse
in such matters rather then seeking the support of their agency
or department to undertake such action on the carer’s behalf.
The personal pursuit of such action by carers is usually beyond
them due to the costs involved and leaves them in a particularly