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Foster families standby for spike in number o -

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Foster families standby for spike in number of children needing care

The World Today - Wednesday, 17 June , 2009 12:22:00

Reporter: Emily Bourke

PETER CAVE: The New South Wales Government is predicting a worrying spike in the number of children
who will need foster care in the next 12 months.

In the State Budget handed down yesterday, the Government boosted its funding to community services
to $1.6-billion, a large proportion of which will go towards the cost of caring for abused and
neglected children.

The Government is forecasting almost 19,000 children will need to go into some kind of out of home
care.

But are there enough carers to cope with the ballooning numbers?

Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: The latest figures on children in out of home care in New South Wales make for
staggering reading.

But finding a safe place for abused or neglected children presents a more worrying challenge.

Depending on who you speak to, foster carers are either leaving the system in droves or new carers
are being recruited all the time.

The Foster Carers Association of New South Wales no longer has the financial support of the
Government but continues to advocate for carers.

Denise Crisp is the president of the association which has 600 members. She's says the pool of
carers is shrinking and it's because of the Department of Community Services (DoCS).

DENISE CRISP: The carers now are doubling up and tripling up. With very high needs children, you
know, no carer is supposed to have more than six but I know of some that have got eight.

The department's losing foster carers because they treat them so poorly. The carers are often
treated worse than the families they've removed the children from.

EMILY BOURKE: How so?

DENISE CRISP: Well, we're basically told that if we sort of advocate the kids or ask questions,
we're told it's none of your business, that, you're just the carer.

EMILY BOURKE: But that's not a universal experience. Kim Hawken is a regional coordinator with
Connecting Carers New South Wales, a group that's funded by the State Government to provide
services and support to foster carers.

KIM HAWKEN: And my area extends from Taree on the mid-north coast up to Tweed Heads on the border
and out west to Narrabri and Moree. So I'm in touch with a lot of carers. The need is so great with
regard to the number of children coming into care that realistically some carers would definitely
feel that they are under a lot of pressure to take more children on. But generally speaking, the
carers that I am in touch with are still enthusiastic, if you like, to work within that system.
They understand there is a lot of stress involved.

EMILY BOURKE: Do you believe that carers are treated well by DoCS and that they have enough
support?

KIM HAWKEN: Most of the carers that I deal with know how to develop a good working relationship
with the department so that when times are tough, it doesn't mean that they're always going to
agree with decisions that are made but we're talking about carers becoming more able to put forward
their points of view, to be involve in discussion and decision making.

But looking at the carers that have that negative experience, many of them are not involved with
support. Many of them either isolate themselves or are isolated geographically and don't know of
the different ways they can engage with other carers and with support networks that are in place
for them.

EMILY BOURKE: There are just over 2,500 carers on the books in New South Wales, plus thousands of
carers who are looking after the children of their own family members.

But over the next 12 months the State Government is predicting almost 19,000 children will need to
put into alternative care.

Linda Burney is the New South Wales Minister for Community Services. She says the boost to the
department's budget will go towards extra support for carers in the system.

LINDA BURNEY: We're spending something like $628-million a year on foster care or out of home care,
and that's an increase of about $133-million. But one of our challenges is - and we're working on
it very hard at the moment - is in fact increasing the carer numbers in New South Wales.

EMILY BOURKE: How can you do that, how can you encourage more carers to come on board?

LINDA BURNEY: Well we've actually got new carers coming into the system as we speak. There are a
number of ways that we do it, we have a very targeted campaign to increase the number of foster
carers in New South Wales and New South Wales does have the most generous, in Australia, of
payments to foster carers, payments to raise those children.

In fact we were spending about $20-million on the new payment systems for foster carers. But we
also have a whole range of support programs in place. We have a thing called the Foster Care
Support Teams, they're right across New South Wales to make sure that people who do go into foster
care get the support that they need while they're foster carers.

PETER CAVE: Linda Burney, the New South Wales Minister for Community Services, ending that report
from Emily Bourke.