Samantha Hauge - Foster Care Week speech

Carer Celebration Speech - Foster Care Week 2019 IMG 20190913 111251


Samantha Hauge CEO, Foster Care Association of Victoria


It’s Foster Care Week! It should be foster care week every week. But as our theme for this year suggests, let’s ensure this week serves to highlight the value that carers bring to the children in their care and to the community as a whole.


It is you, (and me), the carers who the system relies on.  First and foremost we provide a safe and welcoming place to land for children brought into care. But we all know that is the daily (and into the night) caring, nurturing and connecting with the children in our care where the true value of carers exists. It is you who they grow to trust and rely on for their needs and to thrive. Lives are healed and identities are made within your trust and care that set children and young people on their path to a future that isn’t defined by their past. It is too rare that we as a community recognise the sacrifices you make and dedicated work that you do every day to ensure our children are given the very best opportunity despite an unfair start in life.


When I think of foster care I often recall the many stories in literature that explore the social and economic dislocation of children and how they deal with those adverse circumstances to build happy, fulfilling and productive lives. Usually it is the search for connection with a caring adult to satisfy emotional and physical security which is a basis for future prosperity. Think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Anne in Anne of Green Gables, and more recently, Harry Potter which also deals with some of these themes.


The great novelist and social commentator Charles Dickens wrote about a boy called Oliver Twist in his master piece about the treatment of children in orphanages and work houses in Victorian England. As a result of the light he shone on the treatment of children in Victorian society, the word Dickensian has become a byword for cruelty, backwardness and decay.

His searing commentary includes the famous scene where Oliver has just consumed a thin bowl of gruel and has the temerity to ask for more. Please sir…..I want some more has become a famous line in the canon of English literature and still resonates today.


The sheer audacity of a child asking for what they reasonably need and the outraged response it received from the well-cared-for and well-fed strikes a chord with many carers today. This scene in many ways encapsulates the feelings of both carers, and the children in their care, when seeking the support services they require to thrive in contemporary Australia. They desperately need more.

In advocating for their children, carers know that in many instances what they are being offered is grossly inadequate. What that looks like in today’s context is under-funding of essential health, education and recreational support services with funding that is as thin as Oliver’s bowl of watery gruel.


The examples are all well known by carers and so persistent across the sector that they constitute an everyday reality. Take for example children who cannot get speech or occupational therapy.

And even if they can get access to these essential services, funding delays measured in half year or years are common place, with the carers paying for the services until the funding becomes available.

As many of you well know, carers often pay for these expenses out of their own pocket in the hope that they might eventually get some of the money back. And of course many carers end up permanently out of pocket. Think about that for a moment……carers who are volunteering their homes and their time 24 hours a day and 7 days a week are also paying for the essential support services for the child in their care out of their own pocket. And many carers—most of them women—work shorter hours and voluntarily reduce their incomes so that they can be on hand to support their children with long-term implications for their own personal welfare such as their superannuation in retirement.


The grim reality is that in this context the slogan The Value of Carers definitely has a dollar figure attached to it. And the frustration and anxiety this causes wears carers down and has obvious implications for carer retention.


We know that the funding framework for providing early intervention support services is significantly underfunded and oversubscribed. We also know that carers and children have to compete for the services that they need through a system of pooled funding. So some children get some or all of what they need while many children miss out altogether. The dreadful reality is this Russian roulette style funding process ends up beggaring thy neighbour. It is definitely Dickensian in both its operation and effect.


I want you to know that the Foster Care Association of Victoria is actively addressing this insufficient funding framework with the Minister and the Department of Health & Human Services.  We have met with them, and will continue to meet with them, to address this critical issue. What’s urgently required as a first step, and what we have discussed with the Minister, is a commitment to undertake an analysis of the benefits and costs of properly funding early intervention support services as part of a bid to get increased funding. This builds on and seeks to further the objectives and aspirations of the Roadmap for Reform which has focused on early intervention services as a way of both addressing and ameliorating the impacts and consequences of trauma.


We also want a guaranteed amount of funding per child.


And for the funding to be administered by your agencies, not the Department.


We want a clear, transparent and consistent framework to support funding applications.


And we want streamlined decision making to facilitate early and responsive access to essential health, education and recreational needs.


We believe that all these requirements are essential to address the widely acknowledged deficits in the current scheme and will help build a truly effective early intervention support service.

We are also actively seeking to increase the Victorian carer allowance. The research has been done and we now know the carer allowance falls short of covering the true cost of providing foster care by an average of $70 per week, per placement. This means that on top of everything you already provide, you need to contribute $3640 from your own pocket each year. This does not include loss of income.

We must ensure the ongoing stability and sustainability of our foster care system and increase the allowance which falls short of most other states in Australia.

Another important stream of advocacy that the FCAV is undertaking is a project called I.D 100. As part of our quest to modernise the foster care system we need to give children in care the tools to participate in 21st century Australia. This means that children need 100 points of identification such as a birth certificate, medicare card and passport to be able to undertake everyday social and economic activities such as:

  •  getting a tax file number so they can work,
  •  opening bank account and getting a credit card so that they can use online commerce,
  •  a medicare card to access universal health care, and
  •  getting a driver’s licences or passport so that they can travel.


Without the necessary identity documents, children in care are unable to do all the things that other citizens take for granted with significant implications for the ongoing social and economic development.


We are also actively and passionately supporting the Home Stretch Campaign. Our state care system cuts off all support, care, and assistance to young people on the day they turn 18 – they are left to fend for themselves.  What an awful way to spend a birthday that should be such a wonderful celebration.

The Home Stretch campaign advocates to extend the age of state care to 21 which will give them the opportunity to finish school, find employment, access stable accommodation and provide them with care and support.

We know that 18 is a young and vulnerable age for these young people who have already had difficult lives to be facing issues of personal welfare and trying to make their own way in the world.

As the people who have taken on the responsibility of caring for children and young teenagers, nurturing them through therapy, connecting them with education, nutrition, social and legal supports we do not simply cease caring at a defined age point on their 18th birthday. We take responsibility for ensuring that our young people do not drift alone into their burgeoning adulthood. We know that a stable and loving home is a right, not a privilege for our young adults. 

Up to now, we have taken on that responsibility unsupported. We have had to find the funds, resources and time to provide all that support with no formal place in that young person’s life, no ongoing training or case management and no financial backing.

Carers wear the costs and complexities of helping their young charges apply for tertiary education.  Navigate access to Austudy. Navigate the NDIS. The searching and applying for jobs. Completing a first income tax return. Securing a deposit and a place to live. Many of our 18 year olds are still at high school and getting their learners hours in to obtain a license, let alone ready to commence a totally independent life.

It was encouraging to hear in April this year, the statement from the Victorian Minister for Child Protection, the honourable Luke Donnellan who said that he believed it was the universal right of all young people in care to be supported until age 21.  The Foster Care Association of Victoria whole heartedly agrees with him.

Whilst the Andrews government has committed some funding to a very small number of young people in this situation, this sets another example of beggaring thy neighbour. How do you chose one young adult over the many others to receive entitlements, whilst the vast majority completely miss out?

The benefits of extending care to 21 have been identified economically, socially and emotionally. The data on extending care has been shown to mitigate the risks of young people falling to disconnection, dispossession, crime, unplanned parenthood, addiction, poverty, homelessness and the heightened risk of mental health issues.

By extending care we also support and sustain carer households to continue to provide that care. By extending care we show as a community that we value carers input into the lives of these young people in those complex, life changing three years.

Why are we procrastinating?


So, as you can hear the Foster Care Association is passionately and strongly invested in advocating for vital improvements across the system.

I also acknowledge that the government and the Department of Health and Human Services have embarked upon an ambitious and much welcomed reform agenda under the Roadmap for Reform.

The Roadmap for Reform seeks substantial system changes based on early intervention that should ultimately improve life for carers and the children in their care.

Initiatives such as our Carer KaFe, the Carer Strategy and even the new Kinship Care model are positive signs of the potential of this reform process.

The FCAV remains committed to assisting the government and the Department to help realise the ambitions of this reform agenda.


It is all too rare that we as a society recognise the extra qualities of parenting required to not just raise children and provide for their daily needs but to build stability and love into a child’s life where they have had none. Children and young people come to us from trauma, abuse, neglect and instability. They may have one or a range of disabilities, mental and behavioural issues to overcome. They have physical and social needs well beyond what most parents would know how to manage, let alone heal and nurture through. It is all too rare that as a sector we recognise the special skills set and resilience needed to battle with a system which is not built to skill, support or respond to carers needs adequately. Carers should be valued for who they are in the lives of children and young people in care. We are the people healing young lives today and creating futures for tomorrow. The true value of carers is what we are celebrating today.  Thank you