In this interview, Kelly Harris, one of the team leaders in Home Based Care at Anglicare Victoria (Australia) talks about the ups and downs of recruiting carers. She also describes the many changes to Home Based Care services in the last 15 years.
Increase in demand and support needs
‘I started in foster care in 2005. Since then the team has grown from 6 staff in 2005 to well over 25 staff (in the Home Based Care team) in 2020.’
Kelly has also noticed that the children coming into care have much more complex support needs than in the past.
‘With a significant increase in trauma-related issues in children, it can be difficult to get appropriate programs and assistance for children and families. A larger emphasis is now placed on getting a diagnosis because without a diagnosis, the child and carer are often ineligible for financial and program assistance.
‘Care is also becoming more inter-generational—we are seeing more children of people who have been in care themselves coming into care.’
More carers needed!
The increase in the number of children needing services also means that the demand for carers has grown.
‘Getting carers on board is one of our biggest challenges. Most prospective carers who begin the process will drop out due to life changes, unsuitability or change of heart—maybe 5 out of 100 who initially show interest will become a registered carer.
‘Carer retention is also an ongoing issue. Carers leave for a myriad of reasons—they may start their own family, their personal situation may change or they retire.’
Other changes to services
But that’s not all that has changed.
As a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017), several changes have been made to the way services are developed, monitored and delivered. While these changes are positive and necessary, they can create additional challenges for workers and carers.
‘The Royal Commission recommendations have led to a greater need for compliance—workers are required to check in with children more often, connect with foster carers around their experience with the child, and provide more support for carers.
‘As the children coming into care have much more complex needs, carers require a higher level of support from workers. At the same time, there is a greater emphasis on compliance, which means that more of our time is spent on paperwork. This leaves less time for workers to interact with carers and children. It can be hard to balance these demands.’
More awareness of the cultural needs of Aboriginal children
There is also a greater awareness that Aboriginal children coming into care need carers who are culturally competent and who have a deep regard and respect for the child’s cultural heritage. Kelly notes that:
‘Twenty-five to thirty percent of children in care are Aboriginal children—given that only around 3-4% of the Australian population identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, this is a huge over-representation.’
While organisations try and place Aboriginal children with Aboriginal carers, this isn’t always possible. In these cases, the non-Aboriginal carer has to demonstrate that they are able to support the cultural needs of the child.
‘Compliance changes have meant that there are more stringent requirements for carers of Aboriginal children—carers must have undergone Aboriginal Cultural Competency training. Best practice within our agency requires that this training be completed before an Aboriginal child is placed with a non-Aboriginal carer.’
How do you recruit carers?
Kelly says they start with the needs of the child when trying to find appropriate carers.
‘Instead of fitting children with carers, we look to fit carers with children. We have a broad range of questions for carers to help us create the best fit between carers and the type of care the child needs.’
She notes that it’s important to have carers from a range of different backgrounds.
‘The diversity of carers is greater than ever before. People from all walks of life are now becoming carers—people who are employed full-time or part time, young people, singles and people in same sex relationships.
‘We work with carers to identify their skills, experience, strengths and interests as this helps us to work out the type of care that they can provide—knowing more about a carer can help us build a better connection between the carer and the child.’
While the role of carers has become more complex, Kelly says there is much more support available than there has been in the past.
‘The expectation on carers is higher now but carers are given more support and training around the needs of children. There is more awareness of the trauma that children may have faced, any ongoing issues and the targeted care that they need.
‘Carers are now much more mindful of the child’s background and are well trained. They are provided with continuous training to implement strategies that are helpful to the child. Training is now much more interactive, rather than just book learning—it now involves real scenarios with workers and experienced carers.’
What is the end goal of Home Based Care?
Ultimately, Kelly says, the aim of the program is to keep families together, whenever they can.
‘Workers will work with the child and carer and will do whatever is possible to assist the child’s parent/s in accessing the assistance needed to reunify with their child.
‘The work done in Home Based Care is a collaboration between the carer, child, family and other services. The end goal of the program is reunification of the child and parent.’
If you would like to find out more about becoming a foster carer with Anglicare Victoria, visit https://www.anglicarevic.org.au/what-we-do/providing-homes/foster-caring/
If you live outside Victoria, Australia, search for your local foster care provider.