By Matthew Gharakhanian

Foster carers and workers in the foster care sector say more and more children are being placed in foster care and there are not enough foster carers to cope with the demand.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies revealed approximately 12,420 children were placed in foster care during 2011-2012, Australia-wide, resulting in almost 40,000 foster children and almost 1,000 more children than 2010-2011.

Despite this, Sandra Mackenzie from TRACC South West Queensland, a family welfare organisation, says there are not enough foster carers who are now  spread too thin.

“Because of budget cuts, we’re asking so much more of our carers,” Ms Mackenzie said.

Anglicare workers in the foster care sector discussing what the industry is like. Taken from YouTube.

TRACC Service Manager Hayley Toon says Brisbane is especially bad when it comes to awareness of the issue of the need for more foster carers.

“There’s just a very severe lack of awareness in society that this is still occurring and a bit of that ‘I don’t see it so it mustn’t be happening’,” Ms Toon said.

This lack of awareness is just one of the problems that the foster caring sector faces.

“There’s still that stigma I think around children in care being delinquents and naughty and difficult and challenging, and there’s certainly aspects of that, but that’s not all of our kids,” Ms Toon said.

She says the fear of delinquent children on top of the lack of governmental support has caused several existing carers to cease their commitment to foster care as well as turning away potential carers.

Queensland’s setback

Alison Ingram from Anglicare Southern Queensland says one of the biggest problems with the lack of support is there are many children in foster care whose situations could have been prevented with earlier assistance.

“Queensland hasn’t invested well in prevention and early intervention programs across the state, so when it gets to a crisis situation, there are very few services that families can engage in voluntarily,” Ms Ingram said.

Ms Ingram adds that by the time the Child Safety Department does step in, the situation with the children and their biological parents have already reached crisis point.

“There are services out there but there are not very many of them in terms of early intervention programs,” Ms Ingram said.

She says working on this is the biggest key to helping the current situation surrounding the amount of kids going in to foster care.

Children’s playground set up in a foster care branch
Children’s playground set up in a foster care branch. Photo by Matthew Gharakhanian.

Change is needed

Commissioner Tim Carmody told the Courier-Mail in March that in Queensland alone, the number of children who were victims of substantiated abuse and neglect jumped 17 per cent to 6974 during 2011/12.

The figures show 2671 Queensland children , including 473 babies, were taken from their families.

Commissioner Tim Carmody also says the child protection and foster care system needs to be reviewed.

“There would be some children who are worse off from having been removed than they would have been if they’d been left alone,” Mr Carmody said.

“Surely the state has to be able to say, ‘Hang on, if we can’t place a child better than changing residences 35 times, why did we take the child from its parents in the first place?”

Liz Faulkner, a foster carer, agrees that something needs to change, but feels the Department undervalues the need to support biological families of children who go into foster care.

Ms Faulkner says not all biological parents of foster children are bad, and some just need a little help.

“There is a misconception that the department tries to help the biological families and I don’t think they do,” Ms Faulkner said.

“All the kids I have had, they wanted to go back to their families; they wanted the relationship to be healed somehow.

“I spoke to the department about giving me money to look after the kids and if they go back to the biological family why they wouldn’t give them any sort of support.”

Ms Faulkner also says, as a carer, you can feel like you live under a microscope.

“The fear of someone watching you over your shoulder is not appropriate,” Ms Faulkner said.

“How you balance that with making sure parents are looking after the children I don’t know but a better system has to be found.”