News Analysis Aboriginal

Kinship carers neglected

Currently over 8,000 children are in Victoria’s out-of-home care system because they are unable to live with their parents. The vast majority of these kids—roughly 5,500—are in kinship care, meaning they live with a relative, or people in their family’s social network.

The demand for kinship placements has more than doubled in the past five years as it is widely considered to be the best placement option for vulnerable children.

But despite the large reliance on kinship care, a new report from the Victorian Ombudsman has sounded the alarm on the treatment of kinship carers, describing them as “appallingly neglected”, specifically when it comes to a lack of financial support (p. 5).

The report warns a failure to address these issues “may compromise the stability of kinship placements and the wellbeing of kinship carers and children who need support and protection” (p. 9).

The Ombudsman’s investigation into Kinship Care also has some harsh words for the Victorian Government, declaring the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which oversees the out-of-home care system, has “failed to act in the best interests of some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged children by neglecting kinship carers”.

This is a withering assessment.

…a new report from the Victorian Ombudsman has sounded the alarm on the treatment of kinship carers, describing them as “appallingly neglected”…

 

It costs about $279,808 per year to provide residential care for a child (p. 7). Yet the vast majority of kinship carers receive just $14,812 annually, which is both the lowest level of financial support available under current arrangements and less than foster carers receive, despite both groups providing the same support to children (p. 8). Only about 40 per cent of foster carers receive the lowest level of financial support.

The disparity is largely due to the complex process for determining care allowances—which automatically assigns a low level of remuneration and then requires kinship carers to navigate a complex application system to receive any extra support—rather than any difference in the complexity of issues faced by the children.

http://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/getattachment/e944c115-b5bd-4b55-bcec-5d997bdbb9d7#page=22

Kinship carers, many of whom are grandparents on low incomes, often experience financial hardship as a result. They are also more likely to have lower levels of education and employment, and poorer health than foster carers (p. 8). Kinship carers often take children into their care in circumstances of crisis rather than in a planned transition.

The additional costs associated with providing care to children including food, shelter, furniture, education, childcare and healthcare can place increasing financial strain on carers. This in turn can undermine the stability of the care placement.

The Ombudsman’s findings echo VCOSS’ documented concern that kinship carers are the least well served by the child protection system, and their issues and concerns receive inadequate policy attention from the Victorian Government.

VCOSS members also report the difficulty in separating financial support for kinship carers from other support they need. VCOSS members say that, after a child is placed in kinship care, DHHS communication with the family is minimal. When allocated, case managers make infrequent contact.

The Ombudsman’s findings echo VCOSS’ documented concern that kinship carers are the least well served by the child protection system, and their issues and concerns receive inadequate policy attention from the Victorian Government.

 

VCOSS believes interventions by child protection workers are an opportunity to trigger intensive support for the whole family, to work towards the best outcomes for the child. At this intervention point, parents and kinship carers can receive parenting skills training, and information about trauma and family support.
The support offered to Aboriginal carers and Aboriginal communities is uniquely inadequate.

Vulnerable Aboriginal children are often placed with equally vulnerable Aboriginal families, who may have themselves experienced intergenerational trauma. Carers do not receive any therapeutic support for their own trauma, compromising their provision of a secure environment for the children in their care.

VCOSS members tell us Aboriginal kinship carers need support for their own issues—in conjunction with training and assistance on how to care for children with trauma.

The Victorian Government should be congratulated for developing a new model of kinship care which, in the words of the government, will:

  • Better and earlier identify kinship carers through new kinship networks
  • Strengthen connections for Aboriginal children and young people with family reunification supports, culture and community
  • Assist carers, children and young people through increased, ongoing and flexible support
  • Increase case management of kinship placements by community service organisations.

However, this new policy does not cover everybody. There are many ‘informal’ kinship carers across Victoria who do not have a direct relationship with DHHS and do not receive any help. Their need for financial and other supports is equally urgent.

It is crucial that all kinship carers, including those in informal care arrangements receive adequate funding and support, so placements are safe, secure and therapeutic.