Child Welfare – It’s a Long Term Commitment

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) says all children in care have a right to be nurtured and cared for in safe, healing environments, and that the overwhelming majority of carers responsible for these children are dedicated to doing just this.

The NSW out-of-home care sector comprises 13,000 carers who care for nearly 20,000 children and young people who cannot live at home. Less than 5 per cent of these children and young people are living in residential care settings, housing about four young people at any one time. The children who come into residential care are generally traumatised and in need of specialist therapeutic care.

Acting CEO Dr Wendy Foote says the vast majority of foster carers are doing the most amazing job, providing love and care to these vulnerable children. While most children return home, some go on to become permanent members of the family, with a small number of children being adopted.

“All of these children and young people have sad stories and many have experienced unacceptable harm and trauma,” Dr Foote said.

“What drives this sector is the quest to help turn around the lives of our community’s most vulnerable children, creating safety, permanency and opportunities for them to reach their full potential. Most non-government organisations (NGOs) working in the sector are not for profit. Many agencies raise additional funds to in order to be able to provide a level of care in addition to government funding.

“The work they do involves high risks and safety issues, but until we develop a system that has a greater capacity for prevention and early intervention, we will always be managing complex needs and high risk.

“Investing more in early intervention services that support struggling families earlier so they can stay strong and grow together is key to stemming the numbers of children entering out-of-home care.”

According to Dr Foote, government and non-government agencies have worked together successfully over the past five years to transition children in care from the government to NGOs - thus separating the responsibilities of safety and care in order to improve the overall system and refine the respective areas of expertise.

She said there are many bright examples of great innovative work being carried out in the sector, which in turn is translating into positive experiences for children and young people. For example:

  • Caseworker visits and six-month reviews in which children have a say.
  • Electronic personal files collecting children’s individual life stories.
  • The development of individualised strategies to re-engage children and young people back into education and school.
  • Annual surveys asking children and young people about their happiness and feelings of safety.
  • Weaving children’s voices and opinions into all levels of organisational functions and practice, from their six-monthly reviews through to board governance.
  • The joint development of a Therapeutic Care Framework that will be used in the recontracting of residential care services in November.

“Recent reports from the NSW Department of Family and Community Services Pathways of Care Longitudinal Study of children in care reveals that when foster carers are supported by their caseworkers, children thrive,” Dr Foote said.

“And we know that stability in care is associated with good educational outcomes – one of our strongest markers of a positive life trajectory.”

Dr Foote said ACWA’s members welcome independent scrutiny by statutory agencies such as the Office of the Children’s Guardian and the NSW Ombudsman as there will always be a need to manage complex needs and high risk.

“As a community we all need to do better, not just in keeping children safe but in preventing their entry into care in the first place,” she said.

The Association of Children's Welfare Agencies is the New South Wales peak body representing non-government organisations which provide services to vulnerable children, young people and their families.