Foster Care

Ms SANDERSON (Adelaide) (11:31): I move:

That this house calls on the state Labor government to adopt the following policies released by the state Liberal Party to help protect our children by—

(a) extending foster care and kinship carer payments for young people to the age of 21 years;

(b) championing for a national register for social workers; and

(c) auditing all children living in residential care and identify if they can be moved into a foster care or kinship care home environment.

Currently, once a child in foster care reaches 18 years of age, all government support for their carers ends. This has led to a lot of vulnerable young people being asked to leave their homes once they hit 18, and this increases the rates of youth homelessness and drug abuse. The Nyland royal commission mentioned explicitly the difficulties faced by children in foster care as they approach their 18th birthday. In 2016, Anglicare Victoria, and most recently AnglicareSA, launched their Home Stretch campaign to lobby governments to provide support to foster care children up to 21 years of age.

The campaign highlights the added cost to the government of having an 18-year-old care leaver suddenly made homeless and interacting with the juvenile justice system. The Anglicare report states that young people who leave care at 18 have much higher rates of homelessness, arrest, hospitalisation and mental health issues. That is because the state has abandoned them too soon.

A Deloitte Access study revealed that governments would actually save money by investing in extending care from 18 to 21. The study showed that, for every dollar spent on extending support to age 21 the community would save between $1.40 and $2.69, depending on which state, in lowering the cost of social security benefits, hospitalisation and the justice system.

The savings to government are mostly accrued through the justice system. The Anglicare report shows the statistical positive impact to service providers of providing foster care support through to age 21, and the key findings were:

the probability of arrest is down from 16.3 per cent to 10.4 per cent;

the probability of homelessness is halved from 39 per cent down to 19.5 per cent;

the probability of hospitalisation is decreased from 29.2 per cent to 19.2 per cent;

the probability of pursuing further education is increased by staying at home from 3.6 per cent to 9 per cent; and

the probability of alcohol or drug dependence is decreased from 15.8 per cent to 2.5 per cent.

There are also benefits across a number of other domains, including improved mental health and physical health outcomes, reduced intergenerational disadvantage, and an increase in social connectedness. The greatest benefits are seen to exist in the estimated savings to housing supports, justice costs, and alcohol and drug costs. There are also saved costs that relate to commonwealth spending, namely, the reduction in welfare costs and a proportionate reduction in hospital funding costs. I will read from an earlier media release from the Liberal Party:

The State Liberals have announced a policy that will increase the age limit for which foster carers and kinship carers can receive support for child ren in their care from 18 to 21 .

' This policy is driven by the realisation that cutting off support to out of home carers when the young person they are looking after reaches 18 increases the chances of these young adults ending up on the streets or in prison…

The National Swinburne study on youth homelessness found that 63% of Australia’s homeless young people has been in care. Another study found that 50% of care leavers will end up in jail, unemployed, homeless or a new parent soon after leaving care.

' It makes no sense to push these vulnerable young people out of the home they are being protect ed in the moment they turn 18…

' Sky high rents, a very tight jobs market and the absence of a broader familial network all work against these young people being able to find their feet if forced to leave the protection of their foster carers’ home.

Foster carers who love the children they have been looking after are often unable to continue to support when the carers payment is withdrawn leaving the young people in an incredibly vulnerable situation.

Those that do continue to support these young people out of their own pocket are consequently much less likely to be able to care for other, younger foster children.

F orcing these young people out of their foster carers home at 18 is at odds with the trend for children to stay in the family home well into their twenties

A Deloitte Access Economics study revealed that governments would actually save money by investing in extending care from 18 to 21 years.

As I have mentioned, governments could save between $1.40 and $2.69 for every dollar spent by lowering the costs of social security benefits, hospitalisation and the justice system. I request that the government look into that as quickly as possible so that South Australia can be the first state to pick up such an excellent initiative that will really help our children and young people. Most recently, I heard that 30 per cent of foster-children leaving care are homeless within the first 12 months.

The second policy initiative I am calling on the government to follow that the Liberal Party has announced is the registration and regulation of social workers. To give a time line of how long this has been going on in the industry, the request for this to happen took place in 1988 when the PSA, following a motion that was passed by the PSA social workers industrial committee, determined to pursue the issue of state registration for social workers. On 14 March 2007, the Legislative Council appointed a select committee to examine and report on Families SA. It was held in the executive summary section 2:

Although much of the work undertaken requires, as a minimum, the skills of a qualified social worker, many caseworkers are underqualified for the task they are required to undertake. A better system of training is required.

Lack of experience and training may also explain why some caseworkers fail to adequately verify facts and case notes

On 31 March 2008, the commissioner Mullighan report into the Commission of Inquiry (Children in State Care and Children on APY Lands) report recommendation 5 and 6 published that 'Families SA extends its screening process for employment'. In 2009, a parliament select committee report noted that Professor Scott, Director of the Centre for Child Protection, recommended registration of social workers. The recommendations similarly upheld the recommendations of the Mullighan inquiry. In January 2015, the Public Service of South Australia (PSA) submission to the South Australian royal commission into child protection, at part 1, section 8, published that 'the PSA considers that registration would be of benefit to the clients of the department and to social workers'.

On 9 April 2015, in findings of the inquest into Chloe Valentine, the State Coroner, Mark Johns, stated, 'I recommend that a measure be introduced which provides for registration of social workers.' On 28 January 2016, in findings of the inquest into baby Ebony, the Deputy State Coroner, Anthony Schapel, repeated the recommendations of the Chloe Valentine inquest and also recommended that a measure be introduced which provides for the registration of social workers. I worked on this policy for several years, which was released over a year ago as a Liberal initiative.

There is growing community concern in light of coronial findings of both the baby Ebony and Chloe Valentine cases that social workers should be registered and regulated within South Australia. This profession is responsible for protecting and enhancing the wellbeing of some of our community's most vulnerable and marginalised members. It is therefore very important that social workers are suitably trained, qualified and competent. At the present time, there is no legal registration for social workers in any state or territory jurisdiction.

In comparison, psychology is a profession that requires registered members, where claiming to be a psychologist when not registered can attract a significant penalty of $30,000. The Australian Association of Social Workers has been particularly vocal on this topic and believes that regulation will put in place standards for the entire profession, that a regulatory body will set safe and competent scopes of practice as well as the provision of continuing professional development, that there is further possibility of disciplinary process or processes and that there is a need for a higher level of scrutiny in general.

The Australian Association of Social Workers is a professional body representing social workers throughout Australia. Membership is voluntary and it has more than 7,500 members, having been formed in 1946. In order to assist the Australian Association of Social Workers with its self‑regulation, it has a code of ethics, a practice standards manual and other guidelines. Its strongest attribute is, however, the accreditation standards that it sets for social workers at universities.

In light of the above, between 1 July 2013 and 30 July 2014, the ethics complaints management service of the AASW received 50 complaint inquiries. Of these, 27 inquiries were told that the AASW could not assist because the particular social worker was not a member and it was out of the scope of the AASW in general.

It is therefore hard to ascertain the precise harm being done in the community as a direct result of the lack of regulation. Where it takes place, harm can be significant and wideranging psychological, sexual and/or physical to children, the elderly and others. Some estimates provide that up to 18,000 social workers around Australia are working outside a regulatory framework. There is no doubt that this poses a strong risk to the wellbeing of the community's most vulnerable.

It is evident from the reports provided to the Chloe Valentine and baby Ebony cases that the safety and general wellbeing of the community would be assisted and enhanced with such registration. The matter was also raised in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. There are examples from overseas, including from the United Kingdom, where misconduct has led to social workers being struck off the register and therefore being unable to practice.

The AASW proposes that its social workers be identified by a trademark logo that confirms their accreditation. This could inform members of the public that the social worker has accreditation, membership with the AASW, a commitment to a strict code of ethics and a commitment to a minimum amount of annual continuing professional development. I call on the government to follow that through on a national basis.

The third point of my motion is to call on the government to undertake an audit of all children and young people living in residential care facilities to ensure every effort is being made to place them with a family. Residential care is an option of last resort, yet there are currently around 345 children in residential care, and 188 in emergency care, as at 28 February 2017. Research shows that home-based care is the best option for our children and young people. Residential care can be challenging for children and young people and the workers. For many children, residential care adds to their feelings of instability and uncertainty.

Not only is it not an ideal situation for our most vulnerable children and young people but residential care is also one of the most expensive services to provide. In the latest ROGS, I believe residential care was up around $389,000 per year per child, whereas home-based care would be a maximum of $61,880 per child per year. It should be noted that the former guardian for children and young people, Pam Simmons, has previously called on the government to close larger residential care facilities as the best model is in-home based care.

A visit to Tregenza House in 2015 with minister Close revealed four children aged five, seven, eight and nine years old who had been living in residential care for three years. Three of the children were siblings who had three other siblings and another one on the way who were living at home with their parents. So, they were a family group living there for three years at $389,000 per child in a very poor form of care.

There was a five year old there who suffered from cystic fibrosis. She was removed because her mother could not manage her medical condition. I asked why a nurse was not provided in order to keep the family together rather than separating the family. I think this policy was enacted in Victoria and they were able to place children very quickly, because many of them go in, are left and simply forgotten. There are many children who, with other enhancements to their family life, could be at home with their family or in foster care. I commend this motion to the house.