Foster and Kinship Care

Extract from Hansard - House of Assembly 11 September 2019

I rise in support of this motion. Last week, during Child Protection Week, there were many events held across the state to acknowledge the work of all those in the community who support children and families impacted by child abuse.

Significantly, the eighth national conference of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, commonly known as SNAICC, was held in Adelaide. As the largest conference of its type in the Southern Hemisphere, over 1,000 delegates gathered to workshop and hear from a variety of stakeholders to assist in achieving their vision for their people. I had the great pleasure of speaking at the conference dinner and detailing the initiatives of my department and the government to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people in care.

Last Friday, I opened the Q&A forum of the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) in Adelaide. Building on the theme that 'child protection is everyone's business', this year saw the introduction of child development communication to promote the message that kids do well when parents are supported and that, to raise thriving kids, parents need support to navigate life's choppy waters.

As a government, we are better supporting families. We have committed $2.8 million into intensive family support services to work with families in the hope of keeping children safe at home. This has commenced in the north and will be starting soon in the west. Our government has also committed $1.6 million to family group conferencing to help identify and build capacity within families and avoid removals where it is possible to keep children safe at home. Our child and family assessment and referral networks are located in the north, the south, the west and Mount Gambier and work with families from pre-birth to the first 1,000 days in order to better support families—again, to keep children safe at home with their families.

The government also has a tender process underway for social impact investment aimed at improving outcomes for children and young people in care, after they leave care and to reduce the number of children in care. Last week at the Royal Adelaide Show, the Department for Child Protection joined Connecting Foster and Kinship Carers—the state's peak carer body—to host a stall promoting foster care at the Show. The stand generated a great deal of positive feedback throughout the 10 days and was supported by many of the foster care agencies.

This week, Foster and Kinship Care Week, the focus shifts to our carers. At the end of June, there were 1,536 children and young people living with foster carers, and 1,854 children with kinship carers. I am pleased to report that family-based care has risen from 83 per cent to 85.8 per cent over the last two years; however, there is still a long way to go to reach the national average of around 93 per cent. We have also delivered an election commitment to extend foster and kinship carer payments to 21 year olds, which commenced in January this year.

From opposition, carers would approach me and share their frustrations about the child protection system. I heard about the lack of information they received about children in their care, that calls were not being returned in a timely manner, and the limited circumstances in which they could make decisions in relation to children in their care.

Since forming government, I have been motivated to improve our carer experience. The Children and Young People (Safety) Act has been fully enacted for almost 12 months. Under this legislation, carers are to be involved in decision-making related to children and young people in their care. There is also a duty on the department to provide carers with certain information both before and during a placement, and the voice of the child is now strongly recognised. As a government, we also introduced the broadening of qualifications for front-line staff, filling long-held vacancies, freeing up more time for our staff to return these calls and have more interaction with children and their carers.

This week serves to raise awareness in our community of the contribution of our carers. Through the month of September, more than 20 lunches and dinners are planned across the state to say thank you; however, throughout the year as a government we will continue to be supportive and respectful of our carers, who do an incredible job.

With the wonderful help of our foster care agency partners, my goal of a net increase of 50 new foster carers was achieved last financial year but there are always more needed. To anyone interested in fostering, I would encourage you to call 1300TOFOSTER or to take the quiz on my department's new foster care website

Last week, I announced that the government will consult on the details of a policy on the practice of open adoption as a genuine permanency option for children and young people in care. Although the Adoption Act already provides for adoption from care in South Australia, the provisions have not been used for the last five years. Some of you may have heard adoptee Emmah Money, who was on the ABC last Friday morning talking about her experience, and I will quote:

I’ve gone on to do amazing things myself y’know I’ve published a book, I’ve got two children, I’ve travelled the world. I’ve done a lot of amazing things and it’s because of being adopted and having my parents have so much love for me. And I always say I feel like I was the chosen one.

Emmah also goes on to say that having the option to be adopted could be a really positive thing for so many kids. It is irrefutable that the evidence shows that for children and young people who cannot safely live at home, family-based care is the most desirable option for the vast majority of these children. Open adoption will simply be another permanency option to be considered when it is in the best interests of the child. There are many heartwarming stories.

At the Royal Adelaide Show last week, I had a touching conversation with a lady who was there with her daughter and her foster son, whom she had had in her care for seven years. I asked if she had heard the new announcement. When I asked if she had heard that adoption was now going to be available, she could not even speak. Her eyes welled up with tears. She was so overcome with emotion at the thought that this little boy, whom she already considered to be her family, could actually become her family.

It really made very clear to me just how emotional this is and how many foster carers are out there who have dreamed of this moment of being able to adopt. I spoke to a foster carer in Whyalla a few months ago, floating the idea of how she would feel about adoption. She has five children in foster care. She said, 'If you offered me $1 million on one hand or the ability to adopt my foster children, I would take the adoption any day of the week.'

There are a lot of heartwarming, wonderful stories of foster carers helping out throughout the regions and in the city areas. There are sisters who have taken on siblings so the children can stay together and Port Pirie grandparents who have been carers for over 22 years and supported over 100 children. I extend my sincerest gratitude and thanks to each and every carer who has chosen to care for these children and young people who could not safely remain at home. The kindness, love and support you give them allows them to embark on the path of healing in a safe and stable environment.

I am committed to reform. I will continue to meet with stakeholders, service providers, community groups, carers, children and young people and the non-government organisations and listen to suggestions on how to improve our child protection system. I thank the member for Badcoe, and I commend the motion to the house.