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Foreword

AFCA Priorities for Action in 2002–2003

Reporting on Progress

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Care

Allegations of Abuse in Foster Care

Financial Conditions in Foster Care

Good Practice in Foster Care

Permanency and Long-term Stability in Foster Care

Relative Care

Support for Foster Carers

Training and Accreditation of Foster Carers

Supporting Strong Parenting in the Australian Foster Care Sector

The Costs of Caring: A Study of Appropriate Foster Care Payments for Stable and Adequate Out of Home Care in Australia

AFCA Contact List

 

continued....

Securing a Safe and Effective Foster Care System

Australian Foster Care Association

Priorities and Position Statements, 2002–2003

Securing a Safe and Effective Foster Care System

 

Commentary:

The Australian Foster Care Association (AFCA) membership consists of representatives of the recognised Foster Care Associations of each State and Territory. The above statement represents the position of AFCA as at 30 June 2002. This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement, but rather covers the major issues raised by foster carers in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander care. The statement has been produced to encourage:

  • Quality outcomes for children and young people in care;
  • Satisfying partnerships between foster carers, Indigenous carers and workers; and
  • Consistency across the nation.

Definition:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are over-represented in the care system throughout the country. This situation requires both urgent attention and special culturally appropriate programs to address the particular issues faced by this group.

Acknowledgements:

  1. The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in the care system is unacceptable.
  2. The current problems faced by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are the responsibility of us all.
  3. Early intervention and support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families is crucial.
  4. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers need to be assessed with recognition of their cultural practices and within their community norms and boundaries.
  5. Despite every best effort to place an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child in accordance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, some children and young people may not be able to be placed with appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers. Non-Indigenous foster carers should complete a cultural orientation program.

Issues:

  1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers require training, assessment and supports that are sensitive, non-judgemental, and culturally appropriate; and recognise the life experiences, community practices of the people; and values cultural diversity.
  2. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers need to be recruited, trained, assessed and supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers, agencies or community councils.
  3. Financial and non-financial support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers should be the same as that afforded to non-relative mainstream carers.
  4. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers will commonly be relatives of the children and young people placed with them and this in itself requires special support and understanding.
  5. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers should be included in the decision-making regarding placement and movement of children and young people in the care system.
  6. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle should be strictly adhered to and reviewed by a committee wherever this is not possible.
  7. National genealogical tracking should be part of standard casework for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people entering care.
  8. There needs to be recognition that issues facing remote, rural, urban and traditional people are very different, requiring different solutions, programs, sensitivities.
  9. Programs and camps that are culturally educative for children and young people in care are urgently needed to provide knowledge, pride and support for individual children and young people.
  10. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers need to be provided with opportunities to attend training and discussion forums within their State and nationally to exchange ideas and experiences, to gain support from other carers.
  11. Non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers need to be provided with appropriate training and access to cultural support structures.

Commentary:

The Australian Foster Care Association (AFCA) membership consists of representatives of the recognised Foster Care Associations of each State and Territory. The above statement represents the position of AFCA as at 30 June 2002. This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement but rather covers the major issues raised by foster carers in relation to the raising of issues or allegations. The statement has been produced to encourage:

  • Quality outcomes for children and young people in care;
  • Satisfying partnerships between relative carers and workers; and
  • Consistency across the nation.

Definition:

Allegations can occur in foster care due simply to the nature of the work undertaken and the experiences of the children and young people requiring care. A range of issues may be raised involving the day-to-day activities of the foster family; the standard of care afforded the child or the harm or risk of harm to the child. Foster carers are particularly vulnerable and worldwide research indicates that the longer a carers are in the system, the higher their chances of being notified to the authorities.

Acknowledgements:

  1. Foster carers need to be informed and educated in relation to the raising of concerns and allegations against them, their rights and responsibilities in these circumstances, and the processes that will be followed.
  2. Foster care families are not required to be “super” or “perfect” families. They are "real" families and will experience many of the disagreements, competition for attention, juggling of everyone's needs, medical crises, tantrums, etc. as any other family.
  3. Some children and young people coming into care, or their parents, have a history of making allegations in order to break down a placement. They need to be assisted to understand the consequences of their behaviour.
  4. Foster carers are not the only party responsible for the protection of the child or young person and the provision of quality care. This can only be achieved if all parties work collaboratively in a supportive and open relationship where responsibility is shared. Failure of workers to respond to requests for assistance or failure to provide agreed support must be taken into account in any investigation.

Issues:

  1. Foster carers need to be informed and educated in relation to the raising of concerns and allegations against them, their rights and responsibilities in these circumstances and the processes that will be followed.
  2. The process and framework used to address concerns and allegations in foster care must be published and made readily accessible to foster carers.
  3. Concerns and allegations raised need to be treated with sensitivity, and a process undertaken that ensures the protection of the child or young person and the protection and dignity of the foster carer/s.
  4. Decision-making regarding how to approach the raising and assessment of concerns involving foster carers must have a consistent framework.
  5. Where possible, concerns need to be raised in the least intrusive manner, that is, as part of general casework. Where this is not possible, low key, informal assessment needs to occur. Only in the most serious of cases should foster carers be subjected to a full formal assessment that may also include members of other Departments such as the police.
  6. Foster carers, in all cases except where criminal activity may have occurred, have a right to be informed in person or by telephone and then in writing that concerns have been raised, specifically what these are, how they are to be addressed and within what timeframe.
  7. Foster carers have a right to access legal advice and support and to be assisted by an advocate.
  8. During any process where concerns are raised, foster carers should have free access to independent and departmental counselling, and support for themselves and the children in their care, access to their State or Territory Association, family, friends and other members of their support network.
  9. Where allegations are to be addressed with the foster carer in a formal way, this should be conducted by an independent authority or person not directly involved with the foster carer or the child or young person in placement.
  10. Children should not automatically be removed from a placement. Removal should only occur in extreme cases.
  11. Foster carers are to be acknowledged for the difficult work they do and have the opportunity to defend themselves against any concerns or allegations raised in a way that is fair and non-judgemental.
  12. Communication during the raising of a concern or allegation must be verbally clear and extensive in detail and must also be made available to the foster carer in writing.
  13. In all interactions with foster carers over concerns or allegations, those making the assessment must take into consideration the effects of the contribution or lack of response by other parties to the situation. That is, has the placement agreement been adhered to, have requests from the foster carer for support and services been responded to, have offers of assistance been made etc.
  14. Timelines for the commencement and completion of any process must be clear and should be within 24 hours of the receipt of information for commencement and not longer than 30 working days for completion (except in exceptional circumstances).
  15. Outcomes of meetings and assessments should be well documented and should focus on future development rather than punitive measures.
  16. Copies of all reports and outcome documents must be provided to the foster carer within the 30 working days timeframe for completion.
  17. The outcome of an investigation should be advised to all parties interviewed as a part of the investigation process. This is particularly important in instances of unsubstantiation.
  18. Copies of reports must also be filed on the foster carer file, signed by the foster carer and as received by the foster carer, and on the file of the child or young person to whom the concerns or allegations relate.
  19. Foster carers must be informed of their right to appeal any information contained in the reports or any action resulting from the assessment. They must be assisted in accessing their rights of appeal.
  20. Follow-up with the foster carer and the child or young person must occur and should include the offer of free debriefing or counselling by an independent person.
  21. Financial costs associated with legal advice, lost income from work, babysitting costs, counselling etc should be met by the Department where the concerns or allegations are unsubstantiated. Foster carers must be informed of their right to claim financial outlays.

Commentary:

The Australian Foster Care Association (AFCA) membership consists of representatives of the recognised Foster Care Associations of each State and Territory. The above statement represents the position of AFCA as at 30 June 2002. This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement but rather covers the major issues raised by foster carers in relation to the financial conditions of foster carers. The statement has been produced to encourage:

  • Quality outcomes for children and young people in care;
  • Satisfying partnerships between foster carers, relative carers and workers; and
  • Consistency across the nation.

Definition:

Caring for children and young people is expensive, and more so for those who have experienced abuse or neglect in their early life and have additional needs. The financial support for children and young people placed with foster carers is the joint responsibility of the States and the Commonwealth.

Acknowledgements:

  1. Foster carers are volunteers and are currently heavily subsidising the care of children and young people across the nation.
  2. Foster carers do not receive a salary or regular income from foster care.
  3. Foster carers do not wish to be paid in a professional sense for the work they do, but cannot sustain the current level of costs associated with being a foster carer.
  4. Inequity exists across the nation in regard to reimbursement rates to foster carers.
  5. Some foster carers are deemed ineligible for various Commonwealth payments due to income/assets testing, when children or young people in care are deemed to be the dependents of their foster carers rather than of the State.
  6. All foster carers should be held accountable in a broad sense (not itemised accounting) for the monies they receive for the care of the children and young people placed with them.
  7. Foster carer reimbursement must continue not to be classed as income to maintain tax-exempt status.

Issues:

  1. Fostering allowance and clothing allowance need to be paid to foster carers immediately a placement commences, not in retrospect.
  2. Reimbursement of additional costs to foster carers needs to be timely, adequate, documented, accessible, transparent in process and consistently applied.
  3. Assessments of the needs of highly challenging children needs to be completed quickly and additional financial costs associated with their care agreed upon.
  4. Dual payment of foster carers for the same child or young person needs to occur where the child or young person is placed in planned respite care as part of case management or in respite so that the full-time or usual foster carer can take a break before resuming an on-going caring role.
  5. Costs, apart from on-going daily needs, involved in the education of a foster child should be paid (eg: camps, tutoring, text books, equipment, fees, representing school, senior formal etc).
  6. Children and young people in care need to have free access to ambulance transport, preschool, kindergarten and childcare based on the child's Health Care Card recipient status.
  7. Funds need to be made available for children and young people in care to achieve social and physical development through attendance at such activities as drama, music, ballet, sport, tutoring etc.
  8. Family Tax Benefit and Child Care Benefit (or an equivalent payment) should be automatically available for all children and young people in care.

 

Commentary:

The Australian Foster Care Association (AFCA) membership consists of representatives of the recognised Foster Care Associations of each State and Territory. The above statement represents the position of AFCA as at 30 June 2002. This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement but rather covers the major issues raised by foster carers in relation to good practice. The statement has been produced to encourage:

  • Quality outcomes for children and young people in care;
  • Satisfying partnerships between foster carers, relative carers and workers; and
  • Consistency across the nation.

Definition:

Good practice in foster care predominately depends on the commitment of all parties involved to work on issues of partnership. Where good practice occurs, the outcomes for children and young people in care are significantly improved. Further, the work satisfaction levels of both workers and foster carers increases.

Acknowledgements:

  1. Good practice is occurring around the nation and needs to be acknowledged, shared and celebrated.
  2. Good practice needs to appear in the simplest of tasks through to the management of extremely complex tasks.
  3. Good practice is the responsibility of all parties within the sector.
  4. Evidence based good practice from overseas needs to be researched and, where appropriate, strived for in Australia.

Issues:

  1. The achievement of good practice needs a commitment by all parties.
  2. An open, honest and trusting relationship between the parties is needed to allow good practice to develop.
  3. Good practice can only be achieved where parties have a mutual respect for each other's roles and are committed to equality of power.
  4. Good practice includes:
  • recognising the role and contribution of foster carers, and the treatment of foster carers as an equal member of the corporate parent/caring team;
  • the children and young people in care are involved in decision making concerning their lives wherever possible and appropriate;
  • actions and interactions such as how people are spoken to, the level of information shared, open and honest communication and the provision of support;
  • adherence to the requirements of legislation and commitment to policy such as placement agreements, planning meetings, reimbursement of claims, handling of concerns and allegations, renewal of approval, etc;
  • commitment to responsibilities such as the development of children's life histories, encouragement of positive family contact, dealing with the emotions and behaviours of children in placement, etc;
  • improvement in learning such as ongoing training, attendance at seminars, support groups, etc; and
  • recognition of the role of others, such as the sharing of positives and negatives, joining in social events, etc.
  1. For the future development of good practice, the following are required:
  • a system for the collection and publication of good practice from the eyes of all parties involved;
  • gatherings focussing on the showcasing of good practice;
  • shared practice workshops; and
  • funding to pilot and report on programs and projects to improve outcomes for children and young people in care.

 

 

Commentary:

The Australian Foster Care Association (AFCA) membership consists of representatives of the recognised Foster Care Associations of each State and Territory. The above statement represents the position of AFCA as at 30 June 2002. This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement but rather covers the major issues raised by foster carers in relation to permanency or long-term stability. The statement has been produced to encourage:

  • Quality outcomes for children and young people in care;
  • Satisfying partnerships between relative carers and workers; and
  • Consistency across the nation.

Definition:

Many children and young people entering the care system often drift with decisions made only about their short-term care. Permanency or long-term stability for children and young people in care has an impact on the identity of the child or young person. It is one of the most significantly important variables in the success and ongoing stability of placement for a child entering the care system from a young age. Decisions about stability are made in a variety of ways across the country.

Acknowledgements:

  1. The decision for a child or young person to remain in care in the long-term is a difficult one, but nonetheless, one that needs to be made so that planning with direction can occur.
  2. The focus of the decision to place a child or young person in long-term care must be focussed on the child, not the biological parents. Wherever possible and developmentally appropriate, the children or young people should be involved in decision making about their care.
  3. Decisions such as that for a child or young person to remain in care long-term, should not be made by front line workers but by senior staff. Following such a decision, the role of front line staff would be to consistently implement the plan of stability.
  4. Governments should have the right to step in and remove the decision making power from parents where this is necessary to ensure the long-term stability of a child or young person.
  5. The needs of foster carers and children or young people in care are best met in a system that separates the provision of short-term care and long-term care.

Issues:

  1. Efforts for the reconnection of children or young people with their families should occur at an intensive level from when the child or young person is taken into care. If progress is occurring, then efforts for reunification should continue. When progress is not acceptable and reunification cannot occur, a decision must be made on a stable, long-term placement. If a second or subsequent child is taken into care from the same family, decisions on reunification or long-term care should be fast tracked.
  2. Once a decision for long-term care has been made, careful selection of the foster carers must be undertaken to ensure the needs of the child or young person are matched to the strengths of the carer. (Carers include foster carers, relative carers, guardians and adoptive parents.)
  3. Where foster carers are designated short-term or long-term care providers, consideration should be given to continuing the current placement and altering the status of the foster carer should this be an option supported by all parties.
  4. Contact between the child or young person in long-term care and their family should be encouraged and arranged between the carer and the parent wherever possible. Consideration needs to be given to the frequency and type of contact given the long-term nature of the placement and the goal of stability for the child or young person.
  5. Long-term care should be supported financially in the same way as other care placements.
  6. Worker support should be available to the carer and child or young person when needed.
  7. At all times, young people in care, and where appropriate, children, should be consulted about their placement.

Commentary:

The Australian Foster Care Association (AFCA) membership consists of representatives of the recognised Foster Care Associations of each State and Territory. The above statement represents the position of AFCA as at 30 June 2002. This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement but rather covers the major issues raised by foster carers in relation to relative care. The statement has been produced to encourage:

  • Quality outcomes for children and young people in care;
  • Satisfying partnerships between foster carers, relative carers and workers; and
  • Consistency across the nation.

Definition:

Relative care occurs when a child or young person is taken into care and placed with a person approved or nominated under state legislation as a relative carer (sometimes also referred to as kin or kinship carer). A relative carer may be a person:

  • To whom the child is related by blood or marriage; or
  • Who is a member of the child's community; or
  • Who is considered as family or a close friend; or
  • Someone with whom the child has a previous significant connection.

Acknowledgements:

  1. Relative care is the preferred option for placing a child or young person taken into care if a safe and appropriate placement is available and sufficient support is provided.
  2. Relative carers should be trained, assessed and screened to ensure that the placement is appropriate for the child or young person and also for the relative carers.
  3. Placements with relative carers usually occur prior to the carers attending any approved training and accreditation process for foster carers. Usually they have no previous experience of fostering.

Issues:

  1. Formal initial and on-going training and approval/accreditation should be available for relative carers with the same support and conditions as for accredited or approved foster carers. This includes renewal of accreditation or approval.
  2. A suitable process for providing initial information (including a handbook) needs to be available and used at the time of placement (or beforehand if possible).
  3. Relative carers should have an assigned worker to maintain contact with both relative carers and the child or young person in care in order to provide support and to help in meeting standards of care.
  4. Support should be provided to assist with sensitive intra-family issues as well as to facilitate any child-specific and on-going training required.
  5. Financial support should include all relevant State subsidies and Commonwealth Benefits available to accredited or approved foster carers.
  6. Relative carers should be aware of the standards of care and accountability required of them and these should be no less than for approved or accredited foster carers.
  7. Relative carers provide care for a child requiring protection and should have access to the same support, training, processes and rights as approved or accredited foster carers as well as meeting the same responsibilities.
  8. If relative carers are subject to an allegation, it should be treated in the same respectful and open process as for accredited or approved foster carers.
  9. Relative carers should be encouraged to join a local support group of foster carers and to become a member of their State Foster Care Association.

Commentary:

The Australian Foster Care Association (AFCA) membership consists of representatives of the recognised Foster Care Associations of each State and Territory. The above statement represents the position of AFCA as at 30 June 2002. This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement but rather covers the major issues raised by foster carers in relation to support for foster carers. The statement has been produced to encourage:

  • Quality outcomes for children and young people in care;
  • Satisfying partnerships between foster carers, relative carers and workers; and
  • Consistency across the nation.

Definition:

Support for foster carers encompasses a wide range of areas. It can include everything from a listening ear when needed, to the commitment of funds to undertake major extensions to a home to facilitate placement of a sibling group.

Acknowledgements:

  1. Foster carers are volunteers.
  2. Foster carers are not paid for what they do.
  3. Foster carers are multi-skilled people and whilst many do not have a formal qualification, their life experience is invaluable.
  4. Foster carers are generally very resourceful and have an extensive network of friends, family and professionals upon whom they call when needed.
  5. Often, when a foster carer contacts a departmental worker, they are not looking for solutions, but genuine understanding and consideration for the difficult tasks they face.
  6. Current levels of support to foster carers are inadequate and the continuation of the fostering system is at risk if this is not addressed as a matter of urgency.

Issues:

  1. Foster carers are significantly under resourced in the area of support.
  2. Foster carers need support in the form of:
    • full re-imbursement of foster child related costs;
    • access to appropriate support on a 24 hour basis;
    • regular respite and leave entitlements;
    • dedicated telephone lines to officers/workers for requests;
    • computers for email communication with workers;
    • regular follow-up visits and planning meetings with workers;
    • trauma and grief counselling by independent counsellors;
    • full and accurate information about the child or young person prior to placement;
    • up front placement grants and allowances from State and Commonwealth departments;
    • placement grants for new children, sibling groups or children with special needs;
    • full reimbursement for additional out-of-pocket expenses and a fast and efficient system for claims;
    • full inclusion in information sharing and discussion of decisions that affect the child or young person;
    • full assistance with medical and educational needs of the child or young person;
    • additional support for the care of children and young people with disabilities;
    • regular training, and support to attend conferences and seminars;
    • funded advocacy and legal services, lobby groups and peer support groups;
    • insurance cover; and
    • regular updates of policy changes, newsletters and foster carer manuals.

Commentary:

The Australian Foster Care Association (AFCA) membership consists of representatives of the recognised Foster Care Associations of each State and Territory. The above statement represents the position of AFCA as at 30 June 2002. This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement but rather covers the major issues raised by foster carers in relation to training and accreditation. The statement has been produced to encourage:

  • Quality outcomes for children and young people in care;
  • Satisfying partnerships between foster carers, relative carers and workers; and
  • Consistency across the nation.

Definition:

The full and ongoing training and accreditation of foster carers is critical to the standard of care provided to the children and young people in placement. Acquisition of knowledge and the development of a strength based model of partnership can only occur through groups of foster carers and workers coming together and sharing their experiences. The opportunity for learning must be afforded to every foster carer in every State.

Acknowledgements:

  1. More and up-to-date knowledge means better working relationships and better outcomes for children and young people in care.
  2. Without initial and ongoing training, foster carers are putting themselves and the children and young people for whom they care at risk.
  3. Training for workers occurs more often and in a more consistent manner than for foster carers.
  4. Much can be achieved from the opportunity of workers and foster carers learning and teaching together.

Issues:

  1. Prior to accreditation/assessment, foster carers should undergo a minimum number of hours of training, covering the same basic content, providing an accurate and honest picture of fostering. This could possibly be linked to a national TAFE or similarly accredited course. Relative carers should also have access to this training.
  2. Training of foster carers must involve the State or Territory Foster Care Association and/or foster carers for the duration of the training.
  3. Foster carers interested in becoming trainers should undergo training for this task.
  4. Foster carers participating in training as part of the training team should be paid or recompensed (eg: equal number of hours of housekeeping paid for).
  5. All costs associated with foster carers attending training should be met by the foster care agency or department to ensure that foster carers are not out of pocket (travel, parking, babysitting etc).
  6. Assessment and approval/accreditation of foster carers should be conducted in partnership by a worker and a trained foster carer.
  7. Newly approved/accredited foster carers should be mentored by a more experienced foster carer in a buddy system.
  8. A series of follow-up training sessions should be available to new foster carers during their first year.
  9. A range of ongoing and specialist training packages should be available to all foster carers throughout the year. Specifically these should include First Aid and infectious diseases training, and wherever possible, also include courses in general parenting skills to cope with a range of behaviours in children.
  10. A variety of media should be used to assist in learning (videos, audio tapes, work books, home study, online).
  11. Foster carers should be approved/accredited for an initial period and have regular ongoing renewals of approval/accreditation.
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