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Carers desperately need a pay rise. . .

Carers desperately need a pay rise

By Ché Stockley.
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 15 March 2017.
http://vcoss.org.au/blog/carerspay/

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Foster and kinship carers play a crucial role in our society, helping raise the nearly 8,000 Victorian children who have been abused, neglected and abandoned, or for some other reason find themselves under state protection.

These kids are vulnerable and impressionable, and the efforts of their carers play a pivotal role in shaping their future.

Many people become carers out of circumstance and duty, or simply because the work is important and rewarding. In recognition of this critical role played by the state’s 1,500 carers—and the costs they incur along the way—the Victorian Government pays carers an allowance calculated on a sliding scale from $10,000 to $40,000 annually, plus loadings.

But these allowances aren’t keeping up with the true costs of caring for children.

Victorian carers desperately need a pay rise.

All parents know that raising a child can be an expensive juggling act, and that’s especially true when we’re talking about kids with complex needs. Carers are being left out of pocket about $4,000 each year (that’s a conservative estimate, before all the hidden and knock-on costs associated with raising a child are taken into account).

This shortfall is having an impact.

About half of kinship carers also report financial stress and 60% of people who consider becoming a foster carer are turned off because of the cost.

The issues go beyond money. The recruitment and retention of foster carers is also affected by:

  • The fear of missing out on opportunities;
  • Disruption to family life or career;
  • Frustration with bureaucracy;
  • A perceived lack of support;
  • Concern over the complex needs of the children; and
  • Sheer exhaustion.

Kids who may have been abused and neglected require special support, and foster carers need training to do this properly. But how can we expect busy foster carers to receive the training they need when they’re stressed, busy and cash-strapped?

When we place more demands on our foster carers, we have a responsibility to provide them with additional support.

In late 2016 the Victorian Government announced a $8.73m funding boost for foster carers. The money is earmarked for so-called “extraordinary expenses” like child care, transport costs, counselling, education and health expenses. But as any parent knows, these are not extraordinary costs—they are extremely ordinary.

So while extra funding is, of course, welcome, the package demonstrates we’ve a long way to go to truly recognise the stresses placed on carers and compensate them fairly.

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When we place more demands on our foster carers, we have a responsibility to provide them with additional support.

 

The Victorian package also included an additional $2.12m for training, such as how to care for children with a history of trauma. Once again, this is important and welcome money. However, it’s unclear if it will be enough to support carers to actually engage with training and also cover the additional costs a family may incur along the way.

Engaging in study has all sorts of hidden costs and barriers. Research conducted in Queensland found that simple things like arranging baby-sitting, providing a meal, offering flexible delivery modes, helping with transport and promoting training as a holistic support to improve home life would all go some way to making attendance at training more attractive for foster carers.

Victoria’s foster care system is far from perfect. Despite the best efforts of child protection workers, carers, community organisations, bureaucrats and politicians, we still fail children on a regular basis.

But the system is also continuing to fail the incredible people who open their homes and hearts to vulnerable kids every day.

While the government has started to recognise the huge burden carers carry on behalf of the wider state care system, more can be done.

Carers deserve more than our thanks and praise.

They deserve a pay rise, and they deserve training, development and therapeutic support.

VCOSS 2017 state budget submission (PDF)

 

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