The Hon. JAN BARHAM
This evening I speak about foster care. For the majority of young people today, their journey to adulthood often extends into their mid-twenties. It is a journey from restricted to full citizenship, from a childhood status characterised by dependency to an adult status derived, in part, from choices. Such life-course choices from which adult rights and responsibilities flow are mediated by the impact of a person’s socioeconomic background, their ethnicity, their gender and any disability they may have. In contrast to the extended transitions made by most young people, the journey to adulthood for many young care leavers is shorter, steeper and often more hazardous. Yet, against many odds, some of these young people have succeeded. They have found fulfilment in their careers and personal lives. What has contributed to the resilience of these young people? How have they been prepared for and assisted during their journey?
Foster carers are people who voluntarily care for children and young people in our community who are unable to live in their own home, irrespective of whether that may be for a few days or until a child becomes an adult. Foster carers stretch their family circle to give children and young people the necessary care, safety and support they require during a very difficult time in their lives. The new Fostering NSW foster care recruitment drive has been a great success and shows how working together with non-government organisations can really make a difference. Around 60 per cent of all new inquiries about foster care during the campaign were prompted by television, magazine, newspaper or online advertising, demonstrating that these advertisements really made an impact on the intended audience.
People become carers for a variety of reasons, but the main motivation is that they love and enjoy the company of children and have the time and energy to provide a caring home for them. More than 9,000 Australians have taken up the challenge of foster care. Although many children are in care there is not much information about how these children view their circumstances. The Child Guardian Report 2006 followed a survey on the outcomes experienced by children and young people in child safety systems in Queensland. The survey represented the views of around 31 per cent of all children living in Queensland foster care and residential facilities. At the time it was a landmark survey because it provided the first large-scale, balanced view of out-of-home care through the eyes of those experiencing it. No other Australian jurisdiction has undertaken such a survey, and indeed such information is lacking internationally. The survey revealed that the majority of children and young people felt their lives had improved since coming into care, with around 90 per cent of them indicating they felt they were better off since entering care. Ninety-eight per cent of children and young people who responded to the survey indicated that they felt safe in out-of-home care. Some of the comments about why children and young people felt safe included:
“No one harasses me here. No one annoys me here. I don’t get bullied, don’t get pushed and shoved. “This family is a very caring home”
Other positive responses were that 98.9 per cent of young people surveyed stated that they felt their foster carer treated them well, and 84.5 per cent of young people surveyed stated that things had improved for them in the past 12 months, saying things like:
“They have improved because I am placed with my current carer. “I am treated with more respect. I am happy most of the time”
In addition, around 95 per cent of young people and 93 per cent of children said the rules and discipline at their placement were reasonable, and 94 per cent of young people and 93 per cent of children said their possessions were treated with respect at their placement. Of those surveyed, nearly 23 per cent of young people and around 29 per cent of children identified as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. This reinforces the need for us to stay focused on improving outcomes for Indigenous children and young people. The cultural appropriateness of placements for Indigenous children and young people is a particular concern. I encourage us all to remember the real and positive change that can occur in a child’s life because of good foster care. This is best summarised by one of the young people who responded to the survey. She said the best thing about her foster carer was, “I am not afraid to come home. She respects me with love. It feels like home and I am so happy here.” This kind of outcome that thousands of foster carers around Australia deliver is priceless.