ANGLICARE Victoria has reported a 70 per cent increase in the number of requests for foster care placements in Bendigo in just one year.
The organisation received 220 requests for placements in the first half of 2017, compared with 370 in the same period of 2018.
Care providers are calling for more foster carers, increasing the age from 18 to 21 for support, and greater financial support for carers as part of Foster Care Week.
Easing foster children into adulthood a priority for Anglicare
Reaching their 18th birthday is a milestone for most people, but for foster children it means a world of change.
Their foster family no longer receives financial support and their case support ends.
What comes next is unpredictable, but statistics show they are far more likely than other 18-year-olds to become homeless, relapse into substance abuse and ultimately enter the justice system.
Bendigo foster carer Cheryle Ludbey has fostered at least 30 children over five years, including older teenagers approaching adulthood.
Many come from backgrounds of unimaginable trauma – whether it be exposure to drug and alcohol abuse at a young age, to sexual and physical abuse.
Ms Ludbey said it was difficult to see troubled children forced into adulthood without proper support.
“Chronologically they might be 18, but their emotional maturity and social maturity is nowhere near that and even though they’ve had life experience of challenges, they probably don’t have the same maturity skills to deal with those challenges because of their past trauma,” Ms Ludbey said.
“I’ve been involved in the experience of trying to get somebody ready for that independence, and you feel a bit like you’re rushing them.
“You’re trying to get all of this stuff in a really short period of time, even things like Centrelink, starting to take care of their own health. For a lot of children they have mental health issues and they need to start taking care of themselves in regards to that, and they’re not always ready.”
She is a supporter of the Home Stretch campaign, which is calling on state and federal governments to extend care to people until the age of 21 to give them a “platform to make the right start in life”.
The campaign received bipartisan support in recent Tasmanian and South Australian elections, and care providers were hopeful of similar support ahead of the Victorian election in November.
Anglicare Victoria regional director Francis Lynch said Canada and the United Kingdom had seen success from continuing support for foster carers until their foster children reach 21.
He said it gave vulnerable people more options when approaching independence.
“It doesn’t mean that every kid who turns 18 has to stay in the care system, but it actually allows for kids who turn 18 to make that call and say, actually ‘I’m not ready and I want to continue to get support’,” Mr Francis said.
Growing demand and falling foster carer numbers
Even if care providers are successful in increasing the age to 21, there is still a growing demand for foster carers across the state, including Bendigo.
In the first six months of 2017, Anglicare’s Bendigo region had requests for 220 placements. In the same period in 2018, this had increased to 370 requests.
There are currently 106 foster care households with Anglicare in Bendigo.
There were also 10,300 children in state care in Victoria in 2017, an increase of almost 60 per cent in four years.
Nationwide, the number of carers is decreasing by thousands per year, while children requiring foster care is increasing, particularly among teenagers.
Ms Ludbey has cared for foster children as part of respite arrangements that can last for days or weeks. She has also cared for children for a year at a time.
Her role involves ensuring children are going to school, adhering to health requirements, and general day-to-day tasks. She has control over whether she accepts a child.
Ms Ludbey said patience and understanding were personality traits required for foster carers.
“You have to have flexibility in your attitudes because children that come from a difficult background are not always going to respond the way that you expect,” she said.
“They might also be distrustful of you because they’re used to being in difficult environments. Establishing that trust can be difficult.
“Be prepared to give a little bit of space to people so that they’re not highly pressured.”
Responding to abuse findings from out-of-home care
The foster children themselves also have a greater say than in the past.
They are able to talk to workers privately without the carer present in order to raise concerns about the care they receive.
During the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, about 40 per cent of sessions related to out-of-home care.
Mr Lynch said the evidence from those who experienced abuse in the foster care system had been important in improving the safety for children.
“The system is a lot more scrutinised than it’s ever been,” he said.
“If there is evidence that something is not right then we will address it. The system is very accountable in the way that it’s run these days.
“We want to trust our carers. We act in ways where we give a lot of responsibility to carers and support them.
“We also have got to be realistic that it’s a hard job and we do need to investigate if something comes up.”
Anglicare Victoria is part of a drive to find more foster carers as part of Foster Care Week this week.
There is also a push to increase the financial support for carers, with about 200 joining with the Foster Care Association of Victoria to protest on the steps of Parliament House on Tuesday.